As the NBA playoffs continue, 24 national teams across the world are vying for the final four open men’s basketball Olympic berths. The tournaments will run from June 29 through July 4 in Canada, Croatia, Serbia, and Lithuania.
For the women, their 12 teams have been set since February of 2020, when their Olympic qualifiers were held right before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world. The men were scheduled to compete last summer, but were obviously delayed for COVID-related reasons. Now, four different locations around the world will hold six squads each, featuring some of the best players teams in the world, even as some have already opted out.
Who will join Argentina, Australia, France, Iran, Japan, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States in Tokyo?
(All roster information is from FIBA’s Olympic qualifier roster trackers, which will be linked. Same for the world rankings.)
Group A: Canada, Greece, China
Group B: Uruguay, Czech Republic, Turkey
Relevant Rankings: Greece is currently sixth in the world, according to FIBA Basketball’s world men’s ranking, and is the only top-10 team in this tournament. Czech Republic (12) and Turkey (15) are the only other countries in the top 20.
NBA Player(s) Of Note: Canada’s roster has the most currently active NBA players of anyone competing this week, led by Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors and RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, among several others. Former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will also be representing Team Canada. The Greek National team does have one Antetokounmpo brother, Los Angeles Lakers swingman Kostas, who appeared in 15 games for the purple and gold this season. Chicago Bulls floor general Tomáš Satoranský, who led the Czech Republic with 15.5 points per game and a tournament-high 136 total assists in the 2019 World Cup, returns with the club, per FIBA’s complete rosters.
Who Else To Watch For: Greece is coached by … Rick Pitino, so we’ll start there. Pitino had coached Panathinaikos B.C. from 2018 to 2020 before taking the Iona head coaching job, where he just completed his first season back in the states. Pitino had briefly coached the Puerto Rican national team in 2015. Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is leading the way for Canada.
Additional Note(s): Greece hasn’t been to the Olympics since 2008, where they finished fifth for a second consecutive Games. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still in the NBA playoffs, so he obviously won’t be in Canada for qualifiers, but he could still commit to the Olympics if Greece qualifies. Prior to the 2019-20 season, The Greek Freak was one of many NBA players who competed in the FIBA World Cup, averaging 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest. Greece finished 11th out of the 32 teams in that World Cup, but the Czech Republic, who came in sixth, had the best finish of anyone competing in Victoria.
Group A: Mexico, Germany, Russia
Group B: Croatia, Brazil, Tunisia
Relevant Rankings: There are four top-20 FIBA-ranked teams headed to Split; Russia (9), Brazil (11), Croatia (14), and Germany (17).
NBA Player(s): The best NBA player listed is Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanović, whose Utah Jazz were just eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers last week. Croatia has other current NBA players listed, including Ivica Zubac and Dario Šarić, who are currently playing in the Western Conference Finals against one another, so we wouldn’t see them until the Olympics, if at all. Germany also has Orlando Magic forward Moe Wagner and Washington Wizards guard/forward Isaac Bonga. And Brazil has Anderson Varejão, who returned to the NBA to play five games with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.
Who Else To Watch For: There are a collection of former NBA players listed as well, including Russia’s Timofey Mozgov, Mexico’s Gustavo Ayón, and Tunisia’s Salah Mejri. The 7-foot-1 Mejri, a former Dallas Mav from 2015 to 2019, averaged a FIBA 2019 World Cup best 3.2 blocks per contest. Second on that list with 1.9 rejections per night? Three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Additional Note(s): Russia and Mexico finished 12th and 13th, respectively, at the ‘19 World Cup. Germany sat at 18th, and Tunisia earned the 20th spot. Russia also finished 12th without Mozgov. Croatia didn’t even qualify for the 2019 World Cup, but did finish fifth at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Group A: Serbia, Dominican Republic, Philippines
Group B: Puerto Rico, Senegal, Italy
Relevant Rankings: Serbia is the fifth-ranked team globally and finished fifth in the 2019 World Cup. Italy is currently at 10th in the world and finished ninth in the World Cup. Of the other four teams, only Puerto Rico (18) and Dominican Republic (19) are in the World’s top-20. P.R. and D.R. finished 15th and 16th in the World Cup, respectively.
NBA Player(s): There are three NBAers of note competing in Belgrade, and the host team has two of them: Boban Marjanović of the Dallas Mavericks and Nemanja Bjelica of the Miami Heat. Fellow Maverick Nicolò Melli will be representing Italy.
Who Else To Watch For: Igor Kokoškov, who was an NBA assistant coach from 2000 to 2018 before getting the Phoenix Suns head coaching job for 2018-19, is leading Serbia. He was fired after one season with the Suns and became an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings in 2019-20 before coaching Fenerbahçe Basketball in Turkey. There are also some wildly entertaining players who’ll be in Belgrade, like former NBA point guard Miloš Teodosić of Serbia, former Dallas Maverick Gian Clavell of Puerto Rico (who just had 45 points in the Greek League playoffs), and veteran guard Víctor Liz of the Dominican Republic.
Additional Note(s): There are two huge absences for this bracket, in particular, among others. 2020-21 NBA MVP Nikola Jokić has already opted out of the 2021 Olympics, meaning Serbia will be missing their top player. Puerto Rico’s JJ Barea, the 14-year NBA veteran who played in Spain’s top league this past season, has also opted out due to rest reasons. Outside of Serbia, who qualified in 2016, no one here has made the Olympics since 2004, where Italy won the Silver Medal and Puerto Rico famously upset the United States and later finished sixth.
Group A: Lithuania, Venezuela, South Korea
Group B: Slovenia, Angola, Poland
Relevant Rankings: Four teams are in the top 20, but only Lithuania (8) resides in the world’s top-10. Poland (13), Slovenia (16), and Venezuela (20) follow suit. However, Poland actually finished above everyone else in this bracket during the World Cup, taking eighth place and one spot above Lithuania.
NBA Player(s): Lithuania has listed two twin tower-like bigs in NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers and long-time walking double-double Jonas Valančiūnas of the Memphis Grizzlies. And, of course, all eyes will be on Luka Dončić of Slovenia, who has already made two All-NBA teams by the age of 22.
Who Else To Watch For: Poland’s Adam Waczynski led the team with 13.9 points per game during the World Cup but is not listed on their roster for the qualifier despite previously being included on the final 24. Poland does list Mateusz Ponitka and A.j. Slaughter, who each also averaged over 13 points per game in the World cup.
Additional Note(s): Lithuania men’s basketball has been a fixture in every Summer Olympics since breaking away from the Soviet Union prior to the 1992 games. Lithuania has placed eighth or better in every Olympics since ‘92, and they even won three straight Bronze Medals through 2000. In 2016, they finished seventh.