Luka Dončić is the headliner as 23 teams gather in four cities around the world. At stake? The final four spots in the men’s basketball field at the Tokyo Olympics. Dončić, the Dallas Mavericks superstar, leads Slovenia into the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania. He is one of four NBA players slated to play in Kaunas.
Twenty-six NBA players are participating in the four tournaments. In addition to Kaunas, the events are also at Belgrade, Serbia; Split, Croatia; and Victoria, Canada. In total, 11 national squads have NBA representation for the qualifying tournaments.
Can Dončić lead an underdog Slovenian squad to Tokyo? Can Serbia reach the Olympics without their most prominent NBA stars? These answers and more come July 4, when the four tournaments conclude.
Eight teams are already bound for Tokyo
As the Olympic hosts, Japan automatically qualified for the 2020 Olympics Being Held in 2021 (it’s a long title, sure, but more accurate). Seven other teams punched their tickets with their play at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. Also, 16 nations earned places for their national teams in the Olympic Qualifying tournaments based on their finishes at the World Cup.
The seven spots were spread across FIBA’s five zones: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.
Champion Spain and bronze-medalist France captured the two Olympic berths from Europe. Additionally, silver medalist Argentina joined the United States, which finished seventh, as the two Olympic representatives from the Americas.
The other zones had just one automatic qualifier each. Australia (fourth place) represents Oceania, Nigeria (17th) grabbed Africa’s spot, and Iran (23rd) qualified from Asia.
At the same time, qualifying tournament positions went to the top 16 teams that did not earn automatic Olympic berths. However, New Zealand dropped out and was replaced by the Philippines, with FIBA opting to keep the position in the Oceania zone.
Luka Dončić and Slovenia face an uphill climb in Olympic Qualifying event
According to a press release from FIBA, Luka Dončić has an NBA teammate for Slovenia, two-year veteran Vlatko Čančar of the Denver Nuggets. Lithuania, the tournament host, has Jonas Valančiūnas of the Memphis Grizzlies and All-Star Domantis Sabonis from the Indiana Pacers. Meanwhile, Korea, Venezuela, Angola, and Poland have no NBA players on their respective rosters.
At No. 8, Lithuania is the highest-ranked team in the field, according to the FIBA World Ranking.
No Olympic qualifier has as much NBA participation as the tournament in Victoria, Canada. More than half of the NBA players in the qualifiers are in Victoria. Of the 14 players there, eight are on the host Canadian squad. Leading the way are New York Knicks young star RJ Barrett and Golden State Warriors wing Andrew Wiggins. The rest of the Canadian NBA contingent is Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans Pelicans), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City Thunder), Corey Joseph (Detroit Pistons), Trey Lyles (San Antonio Spurs), Mychal Mulder (Warriors), and Dwight Powell (Mavericks).
Tomas Satoransky of the Chicago Bulls leads the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Turkey has a quartet of NBA representatives in Cedi Osman of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ersan Ilyasova of the Utah Jazz, Furkan Korkmaz of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Omer Yurtseven of the Miami Heat. Greece doesn’t have its superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. While he’s not a two-time MVP, however, younger brother Kostas Antetokounmpo of the Los Angeles Lakers is on board. Greece is the top-ranked nation in Victoria, currently at No. 6. China and Uruguay round out the participants in Victoria.
Four NBA players apiece in Belgrade and Split Olympic Qualifying tournaments
Elsewhere, Luka Dončić’s Mavericks have two players in the Belgrade event. Nicolo Melli suits up with Nico Mannion of the Warriors for Italy. Meanwhile, big man Boban Marjanović teams with Nemanja Bjelica of Miami. Serbia is without NBA MVP Nikola Jokić. Also, Bogdan Bogdanović is still busy with the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs. Belgrade’s event is down to five teams because Senegal withdrew due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico round out the Belgrade field. Serbia, at No. 5 in the FIBA World Ranking, is the top-ranked team overall in the Olympic Qualifying tournaments.
Meanwhile, at Split, the host Croatians have Jazz sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović to lean on. Brazil is represented by ageless Anderson Varejão of Cleveland. Germany, meanwhile, looks to get contributions from Moritz Wagner of the Orlando Magic and Isaac Bonga of the Washington Wizards. Also competing for Olympic berths in Split are Mexico, Russia, and Tunisia. Ninth-ranked Russia is the top team in this tournament, though Italy is ranked No. 10 and Brazil checks in at No. 11.
Luka Dončić going to Tokyo, but several stars will be missing
With the NBA entering its second straight shortened offseason, several superstars had second thoughts about Olympic participation. As a result, three-time Olympic gold medalist LeBron James and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry decided against going to Tokyo. A hamstring injury, meanwhile, prompted James Harden to decline a roster spot for USA Basketball.
Additionally, Jokić already informed the Serbian federation he’s out for Tokyo. Meanwhile, Lakers star Anthony Davis and Utah standout Donovan Mitchell. are also out. Chris Paul cited the Phoenix Suns’ deep postseason run, and Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry opted to focus on his impending free agency, per ESPN.
Once the 12-team bracket is complete, the men’s basketball competition in Tokyo begins July 25. The medal games are on Aug. 7.
Tournament and ranking information courtesy of FIBA.