Why Paris 2024 will be the toughest Olympics ever for men's basketball

With LeBron James and Stephen Curry expected to play for Team USA and top international players like Nikola Jokic and Victor Wembanyama also set to feature, the Olympic men’s basketball tournament in Paris this summer will be the most competitive international basketball event ever staged.

The draw to determine pool play was held Tuesday at FIBA headquarters in Switzerland, the first step leading up to the July 27 start date. Here are a few things to know:

The NBA’s top stars plan to play

Last summer’s World Cup was largely devoid of the game’s best players due to numerous players being out for injuries or rest.

With the Olympic Summer Games returning to Europe for the first time since London 2012 and fans back after the closed-door Tokyo Games in 2021, expect plenty of interest across the basketball landscape.

Team USA-eligible players such James, Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards, Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum — as well as Jokic (Serbia), Wembanyama (France) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada) — are just some of the NBA stars from already-qualified teams who have said they want to play for their respective countries.

Several other big-name stars are hoping to help their countries qualify to play.

The field is not set

Eight teams have qualified and four spots will be determined by tournaments the first week of July. The process for getting one of these spots, especially for a team from talent-rich Europe, is daunting.

The United States and Canada earned automatic bids from the Americas region based on their performances last summer at the World Cup. Germany and Serbia got the Europe region’s bids, and France received an automatic bid as the host country.

South Sudan qualified from Africa, Japan earned Asia’s bid and Australia won the Oceania region’s spot.

There will be qualifying tournaments July 2-7 in Puerto Rico, Latvia, Greece and Spain. Six countries will compete at each site, with one team from each advancing to Paris. And there is the potential for some high-stakes games.

Spain is currently second in the world rankings but hasn’t qualified for the Olympics. It will get to play at home in Valencia, Spain, but is expected to get a serious test from the Bahamas, which last summer had NBA players Deandre Ayton, Buddy Hield and Eric Gordon come together for the first time to win a qualifying event in South America.

The most intense qualifying tournament could be in Piraeus, Greece, where there could be a showdown between the hosts (led by Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Luka Doncic’s Slovenia. Doncic led Slovenia to the bronze medal game at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 after having to first beat Lithuania in qualifying.

Antetokounmpo has said he hopes to play this summer after missing the World Cup due to knee surgery in 2023.

Italy, Lithuania and host Puerto Rico are candidates to come out of the San Juan region. Lithuania beat Team USA last summer at the World Cup and could have a dominant front line with Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, who missed that event with a thumb injury. Latvia reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup without Kristaps Porzingis, who missed the tourney with a foot injury.

Latvia will be the favorite at home in Riga, with possible challenges from Montenegro and Brazil.

The Olympics could be dominated by big men

One of the most important outcomes at the World Cup was Serbia snagging Europe’s last qualifying spot without Jokic, who was resting after the Denver Nuggets had won the NBA Finals. With Serbia advancing directly to Paris, Jokic will have a month to rest even if the Nuggets return to the Finals.

With their team also featuring Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has been excellent in international play, the Serbians will be heavy favorites to medal.

Wembanyama, who also rested by skipping the World Cup last summer, has focused on making his Olympic debut at home for years. Along with center Rudy Gobert, he will give the French a potentially devastating interior defensive presence as coach Vincent Collet is expected to play them together as France looks to avenge its loss to the U.S. in the gold-medal game in Tokyo.

Germany was brilliant in winning the World Cup, smashing Team USA on the interior in the semifinals with NBA big men Moritz Wagner, Franz Wagner and Daniel Theis, plus 6-foot-11 EuroLeague star Johannes Voigtmann.

All of this is why the Americans securing the commitment of naturalized citizen Embiid was vital last summer. Embiid, who also considered playing for France, has said he hopes to still play for the U.S. despite a torn meniscus that has disrupted his historic season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Canada is a wild card

Canada is second only to the United States in terms of overall talent — led by breakout star Gilgeous-Alexander and a host of other NBA players — but is ranked just seventh in the world.

The ranking takes into account performance over multiple years, which essentially made Canada a No. 3 seed for this Olympic draw.

That potentially sets up the most difficult group in Paris, featuring Canada along with Australia (the bronze winners in Tokyo), and the two winners from the Spain and Greece qualifying events.

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