There was plenty of excitement when it was announced that Team USA would be playing all their 2023 FIBA World Cup games here in the Philippines. Pinoys get a few NBA players coming into the country to do promotions almost annually, but it's rare that we get an entire team of NBA players competing in meaningful games.
But just who exactly is going to play? Predictions are ripe for folly, but we could make a few educated guesses as early as now. First, let's take a look at all the factors we considered before making our list.
It’s pretty straightforward. Though we can never predict just how healthy a player will be in a few months’ time, we can eliminate a few players as early as now given their injury history.
Cade Cunningham would have been a perfect candidate for Team USA. At 21 years old, the former top overall pick would have been perfect for the World Cup as his Detroit Pistons probably would not have made the playoffs and he’d be fresh for some offseason reps. It's truly a bummer he got injured so early and had to get season-ending shin surgery.
There are also stars like Anthony Davis with rife injury history. Even if they don't end the season on the sidelines, they probably need some offseason treatment or just rest to be ready for the following NBA season. The World Cup is prestigious, but these players get a ton of money to be ready for their NBA season.
Age and schedule
Age and injuries go hand-in-hand, but this has been a recurring factor over the last two World Cups for the Americans. In 2014, they won the World Cup with the youngest Team USA roster assembled since they started sending NBA players in 1992. The trend sort of continued in 2019 when the All-NBA player on the roster was Kemba Walker.
Aging superstars like Steph Curry and LeBron James are way less incentivized to play for Team USA when they've already won international gold several times over. There are a few like Kevin Durant, who still like taking on the challenge of playing against the best teams in the world. But those guys would rather suit up for the Olympics. Since the World Cup and Olympics now happen on back-to-back years, it’s been harder to get the best NBA players to commit to Team USA, according to former Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo.
The USA has been good enough to earn qualification into the World Cup in the last two editions using G League players. Since they only need to finish as one of the top two teams from the Americas region in the World Cup, there might not be a sense of urgency to rally the superstars for 2023. The World Cup is the perfect place for young players to gain notoriety and play on a winning team with other high-level players.
With all that being said, here’s who we think have a great chance of playing here next year.
The Memphis Grizzlies star could be the headliner for Team USA next year. At 23 years old, he’s the most exciting American player full stop.
He was a notable omission on the initial list for the 2021 Olympics roster, so 2023 could be the prime opportunity for Ja to be the star of Team USA. The only hindrance to this could be how deep the Grizzlies’ postseason run goes. They have a great young roster primed to take the Western Conference by storm again. If they make history and bring the Grizzlies to their first ever NBA Finals or even just get them to the Western Conference Finals, Morant might be too fatigued to participate in the World Cup.
The first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft has plenty to gain by trucking the international competition with Team USA. Williamson is one of the future faces of the NBA. But as it stands, he could use a bit of a PR boost.
The glaring problems here is Williamson’s injury history. So far, he’s missed more games than he's played in the NBA, so the New Orleans Pelicans or Williamson’s representation may not be too thrilled with the risk of competitive offseason basketball. Even then, he’d have to be healthy at the end of this season for Team USA to be a possibility.
The Pelicans are also pretty good this season with a chance to be great if they get a couple of breaks in the postseason. Williamson and fellow Team USA candidate Brandon Ingram just have to stay healthy.
Still, could you imagine having Ja and Zion on the same team here in Manila? The Araneta rims may not be ready.
Among all NBA teams, the Cavaliers have the blend of young, exciting American players that could realistically be on the 2023 roster.
Team USA would probably be most interested in the Cavs’ two starting big men in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Team USA’s biggest weakness in the international game might be depth up front, so getting elite defensive players in Allen and Mobley would allow them to match up better with beefier European frontlines.
Allen was on the short list for the 2021 Olympic roster, but bowed out due to health concerns. Mobley was a part of the Team USA rosters that won gold in the 2017 U17 World Cup and 2019 U19 World Cup. Mobley could be this generation’s David Robinson – the poster boy for the elite American center in international competitions.
The Cavs also have Donovan Mitchell, who was a part of the 2019 World Cup squad that finished seventh overall in the competition. He was also unable to join Team USA in the 2021 Olympics. He'd have plenty of motivation to redeem himself on the international stage. In 2019, he was young and still making his way up the NBA pecking order. Next year, he would be seen as probably their best offensive player and a veteran.
Darius Garland is also a viable choice. The Americans are deep at point guard, but Garland is definitely one of the top young playmakers in the NBA. Garland played in Team USA exhibition games last year before the Olympics, but ultimately didn’t make the roster.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The only reason the two Boston Celtics on this list aren’t any higher is because they have a great chance at making the NBA Finals again this season. But both players are still young enough to want to continue playing for Team USA.
Tatum, having already won an Olympic gold medal, might not be as keen to join Team USA next year. Brown wasn’t on the Olympics roster in Tokyo, so he definitely has more to gain.
Both were also part of the 2019 team that went seventh in the World Cup. A bit of redemption could be in order for them. Pinoy Celtics fans, keep your fingers crossed.
The Indiana Pacers are fun, but they’re likely not making the playoffs this season. That makes us optimistic that their star Tyrese Haliburton would be available next summer.
Haliburton is breaking out this season as the Pacers’ lead playmaker and could make his first All-Star team. His game is also incredibly adaptable. At six-foot-six with a solid wingspan, Haliburton could realistically guard up to three positions in a FIBA tournament. He’s one of the best defensive players in the US. He also doesn’t need the ball a lot to be effective on offense.
He wasn't even considered on the 2021 Olympics roster, but Haliburton should be one of the hot names next year once Team USA begins their process of selecting players.
With the way the Toronto Raptors’ season is going, Barnes could have plenty of time in his hands come the offseason.
Barnes is having a rocky 2022-2023 campaign, after many expected him to take a leap this season. Playing for Team USA could be perfect for the former fourth overall pick to up his stock and add to his game.
Team USA could also use someone like Barnes – a big forward that can also defend quicker guards, rebounds well, and is a solid playmaker. There are plenty of matchups that Barnes could solve with his length alone.
Though Team USA tends to lean young in FIBA events, there’s always room for a veteran or two to make the team. Brook Lopez brings the size and physicality in the paint that Team USA would need to matchup against the bigger Serbians or Spaniards.
He's played several times for Team USA, but hasn’t won gold yet. So, despite being 34 years old and playing for a team primed for a deep postseason run, Lopez should still be one of the top considerations next year.
There are few smarter and more effective defensive players in the world than Bridges. He’s been one of the key pieces to the Phoenix Suns’ success over the last few years. On Team USA, he could be a great weapon off the bench as a designated stopper with solid shooting.
There have been talks of Bahamian Deandre Ayton possibly becoming an American citizen and playing for Team USA, but there have been no updates on that in the past few months. Devin Booker and Chris Paul also have their Olympic gold medals already. Bridges is the most likely Sun to suit up for 2023.
The list of names, so far, has been rooted in reality. But come 2023, there are likely going to be more American role players that fill the roster.
Names like Utah’s Jared Vanderbilt, New Orleans’ Herb Jones, and maybe even Golden State’s Jordan Poole, given his connection with Team USA head coach Steve Kerr, come to mind.
A fun one would be Orlando’s Bol Bol. He’s found a voice in the Magic offense and it would be interesting to see him stretch his wings in FIBA play.