The field in the 2023 men’s FIBA World Cup has been trimmed to eight teams. After two rounds of group play, the eight nations still standing enter a knockout-style, single-elimination tournament until a champion is crowned.
The tournament has been full of surprises so far. Defending champion Spain is out after the second round of group play. France was one of the first teams eliminated with an 0-2 start. Team USA took its first loss to Lithuania by getting pounding on the glass and giving up too many open threes. Meanwhile, Canada has emerged as a potential super-power led by the brilliance of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the team’s point guard. Latvia and Italy have made unlikely runs to the quarterfinals. The World Cup remains wide open.
As the tournament transitions to the knockout stage, here’s how we’d rank every team in the field by their chances to win the championship.
Italy has had more talented rosters over the years, but the group bursting into the quarterfinals has found a new way to win almost every night. Italy only has one NBA player on the roster in Utah Jazz reserve wing Simone Fontecchio, but they’ve found success by attacking the offensive glass, limiting turnovers, and playing tough defense. Fontecchio has been dynamic as a 6’8 wing scorer, showing an ability to hit tough shots in the halfcourt while making plays in transition. The Italians don’t have a ton of shooting — they shot 31.2 percent from three in group play — but big man Nicolò Melli has helped give them second chance points on the glass. Italy plays an intense, team-oriented style of play that has been a joy to watch. USA will be a big favorite in the quarterfinals, but Italy won’t make it easy on them.
Latvia is the World Cup’s giant slayers, knocking out both France and Spain on their way to an unlikely spot in the quarterfinals. Latvia is beating teams with pristine spacing and knockdown shooting so far: they’ve taken more three-pointers than any team to reach the quarters, and they’re making 40.2 percent of their triples since the tournament started. Davis Bertans is their biggest offensive weapon with deep range and a super quick trigger from three. Opponents rushing to close out on Bertans has helped open the floor for everyone else. Andrejs Grazulis has been a potent inside-out scoring threat and defensive playmaker, while former Brooklyn Nets second rounder Rodions Kurucs adds some offensive creativity and rebounding as a 6’9 forward. Latvia will have to launch threes to make Germany sweat, but after what we’ve seen this tournament, it would be silly to doubt them.
Lithuania’s stunning upset of Team USA in the final game of group play was a continuation of what we’ve seen throughout their 5-0 start. The half-court offense has been executing at an incredibly high level since the tournament began. Jonas Valanciunas is a battering ram inside, creating space with his broad shoulders and finishing with soft touch. When Valanciunas needs to kick it out, Lithuania’s shooters have been on fire from three-point range. Through their 5-0 start, Lithuania knocked down 46.4 percent from three, the best mark in the tournament. Lithuania has been the top rebounding team in the field, and they pounded USA on the glass on Sunday with a 43-27 advantage. The hot shooting has to continue if Lithuania’s going to keep winning, because they rarely get anything easy in transition. The defense doesn’t gamble for steals, instead choosing to funnel everything to Valanciunas inside as one of the tournament’s best shot-blockers. This is team that knows what it wants to do on both ends of the court.
Serbia’s offense is a coach’s dream: low turnovers, efficient inside scoring, and shooters dotting the perimeter ready to fire a three at every opportunity. Serbia is making 69 percent of its two-pointers and better than 37 percent of its three-pointers to help form the World Cup’s most efficient offense right now. The inside-out attack starts with Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who gives Serbia a three-level scorer who can take over late in games. Big man Nikola Milutinov might be the most impressive non-NBA player in the field so far, shooting 71 percent from the floor in group play thanks to his crafty finishing. Nikola Jovic, the 20-year-old Miami Heat forward, raises the ceiling of this group with shooting touch at 6’9 and ability to make plays in transition. Serbia knows exactly what it wants to do offensively, and it isn’t going to beat themselves. This team simply has a really high floor every time it plays, and that’s why we give them a slight edge over Lithuania in the quarters.
Luka Doncic has no equal in the World Cup. The Dallas Mavericks mega-star is by far the best player in the field, and capable of carrying Slovenia to greatness all by himself. Doncic’s heliocentric style of play works wonders in FIBA ball, bullying overmatched defenders at the point of attack, either getting a clean look at the basket or free throws on seemingly every drive. Doncic’s teammates try to space the floor and fire threes around him. If those shots happen to fall, Slovenia can beat anyone on any given night. Slovenia’s biggest red flag is obviously a lack of rim protection. Former Virginia Cavaliers standout Mike Tobey has been automatic as an inside-out scorer for Slovenia at center, but he doesn’t offer much shot blocking. Slovenia will have to rely on its offense to put up a ton of points every night, but that isn’t such a bad plan with Doncic at the controls. With the Canadians waiting in the quarterfinals, we’re set for Luka Doncic vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matchup on one of the biggest stages in international basketball. Get your popcorn ready.
We haven’t seen the best of Germany yet, and they’re still playing like one of the top teams in the field. The Germans have been without star wing Franz Wagner since he injured his ankle in the first game, but they enter the knockout round with a clean 5-0 record. Dennis Schroder has been the team’s engine, consistently collapsing the opposing defense and blending scoring and playmaking at a high level. Daniel Theis is Germany’s rock in the middle — owning the glass, protecting the paint, and finishing inside as the roll man. The German shooters caught fire in their beatdown of Luka Doncic and Slovenia on Sunday, hitting 15-of-31 (48 percent) shots from the deep. There isn’t a ton of rim protection defensively, but Germany can really ratchet up the ball pressure with Schroder and Isaac Bonga and get into the passing lanes — only Team USA has more steals of any team to reach the knockout round. If the younger Wagner brother can come back, Germany has all the pieces to be a championship team.
Canada’s run in the World Cup was on life support trailing Spain in the fourth quarter of an elimination game on Sunday. That’s when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over. The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar scored or assisted on Canada’s final 17 points to complete the comeback, and in the process qualifying Canada for the Olympics and knocking out defending champions Spain from the World Cup. SGA didn’t do it himself: Dillon Brooks was outstanding himself, scoring 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting while playing excellent wing defense. Add in R.J. Barrett’s slashing drives, Kelly Olynyk’s inverted playmaking, and Dwight Powell’s paint protection, and Canada has both the talent and fit to win this tournament. First, they need to get past Luka Doncic and Slovenia in the quarterfinals. It doesn’t get any better than Shai vs. Luka in a win-or-go-home game with the whole world watching.
1. United States
Team USA’s lack of size inside was evident against both Montenegro and Lithuania in second round play. Lithuania dominated USA on the glass and pounded smaller defenders switching on the backline to earn an unforgettable upset win. Talented big men should continue to give the Americans trouble as the field gets tougher moving into the knockout round, but the U.S. still has the ultimate advantage in the open floor. There’s no stopping the USA in transition, where Anthony Edwards is a force getting downhill, Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves have dazzled making plays for themselves and others, and the wings can fill the lanes to finish. If Team USA can get the game going up-and-down, no one in this field can stick with them.
Kerr made a bold change to the starting lineup, inserting Josh Hart for Brandon Ingram. Hart gives Team USA another glue guy who can defend, rebound, and won’t hold the ball offensively. The trade-off is the lack of shooting, which has hampered the American attack a bit in the halfcourt. While there are some small cracks in the foundation here, the U.S. still has the most talent and highest ceiling of any team in the tournament because of their depth, their speed, and their one-on-one scoring ability. The U.S. finishing with the title is no guarantee, but they still look like the favorites even after the loss to Lithuania.