The 2023 FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup will get underway this Friday, August 25, with games being played in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia for this year’s event. As is the case at most every international basketball event, Team USA is the heavy favorite at -125 to win it all, but the Americans finished seventh at the 2019 World Cup (where Spain beat Argentina in the finals) and are bringing a young team without much of any international experience, meaning the outcome of this year’s tournament is far from a certainty.
As such, a number of teams have hopes of making a run at the World Cup crown, while plenty of others are looking to take a stride forward with the best result in their country’s recent basketball history. In Group D, there are a pair of European sides led by NBA big men looking to make a solid run in the tournament as Lithuania, led by Jonas Valanciunas, and Montenegro, led by Nikola Vucevic, are the favorites to reach the second group round. They are joined by Egypt and Mexico to round out the group, who are longer shots to come out of the group (odds via DraftKings).
Here we’ll look at the players to watch, full schedule for the group, and biggest game from Group D.
Players to Watch
Ehab Amin (Egypt): The Egyptian squad doesn’t feature any household names here stateside, but Amin (listed some places as Ehab Saleh) was their scoring leader in 11 qualifying game appearances, averaging 14.5 points per game in the African qualifiers. In the fronctourt, it’s Amr Abdelhalim who is their most potent scoring threat, as he scored 42 in their final qualifier game, a 97-77 loss to South Sudan.
Rokas Jokubaitis (Lithuania): While Lithuania’s national team is known for its big men (in current form and historically), Jokubaitis leads the way in the backcourt. The 22-year-old point guard plays his club ball for Barcelona and is their best table setter, averaging seven assists per game in his two qualifier appearances and notching 10 points and seven assists in their warmup against Finland. If Lithuania is going to make a deep run in the tournament, they will need some backcourt play to match their frontcourt strength and Jokubaitis is the most likely one to deliver on that.
Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania): Lithuania, when at full strength, can deploy one of the best big man duos in the world with Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, but with the Kings star sitting out of the World Cup, it’s the Pelicans center that takes center stage. Valanciunas averaged 14.5 points in his two qualifier appearances and had 21 points and 16 boards in tune-up action against Finland. He is a physical presence in the paint that will be difficult to handle for a lot of smaller teams, and in a tournament missing some of the biggest (literally) stars, that makes Lithuania a tough out.
Pako Cruz (Mexico): On a Mexico squad that can light it up from three (38 percent from deep in the FIBA Americas qualifiers), Cruz leads the way. He knocked down 46.3 percent of his threes on 8.4 attempts per game for Mexico in eight qualifier appearances, averaging 17 points per game to lead the team. If Mexico is going to emerge from a group filled with skilled big men, they’re going to need to get hot from deep and Cruz represents their most dangerous shooter.
Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro): The headliner for Montenegro is Vucevic, as the former All-Star who now plays in Chicago will lead the way in their quest for a berth in the second group stage (and potentially beyond). Vucevic will get to return to leading man status after having to take a tertiary role with the Bulls alongside Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, and it should be fun to see him get to operate in all of his preferred spots. It also could be a rejuvenating experience for him before what the Bulls hope to be a bounce back season in 2023-24.
Schedule/TV Info (all times EST)
Mexico vs. Montenegro, 4:30 a.m., ESPN+
Egypt vs. Lithuania, 8:30 a.m., ESPN+
Montenegro vs. Egypt, 4:30 a.m., ESPN+
Lithuania vs. Mexico, 8:30 a.m., ESPN+
Egypt vs. Mexico, 4:30 a.m., ESPN+
Montenegro vs. Lithuania, 8:30 a.m., ESPN+
Game to Watch
Montenegro vs. Lithuania: The game that should decide the group based on pre-tournament expectations is also the final game of the group schedule on August 29. It will be a terrific matchup in the paint between Vucevic and Valanciunas that will be of intrigue to NBA fans, and should one of these teams have stumbled in an earlier game against Egypt or Mexico there could be even more on the line.