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NBA Offseason Weekly: Will Canadian Stars Topple USA in FIBA World Cup?

It was another slow week of NBA news. It will likely stay this way until trade standoffs end. At this point, these trade talks could extend into the 2023-24 season. James Harden and Damian Lillard continue to patiently wait for new homes.

With little on the news front, let’s look at the FIBA World Cup that’s littered with NBA stars. The first week of World Cup play is behind us. The second round is set to begin on Friday, which features 16 teams.

The United States has been a standout team with a +103 point differential over three games. Not much surprise here. However, one team has emerged as a serious threat to the Americans. Canada leads the field with a +111 point differential. Should we lock in Canada to win the FIBA World Cup (+380)?

Why Is Canada Dangerous?

Canada was on some sport betting radars ahead of the World Cup. Whoever laid money on the Canadians is thrilled, as the line opened at +900. This payout would be loads better than the +380. The sportbook’s huge swing isn’t a surprise, though. Canada has been that good.

Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged a career-high 31.4 points per game in the 2022-23 NBA season, is the star of the show. SGA has the fifth-highest average in the tournament at 22 points per game. He also holds the top field goal percentage among the top-five scorers. Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting an absurd 54.5%. The second-best? Jordan’s Rondae Hollis Jefferson at 49.1%.

This team’s more than just SGA. Forward Kelly Olynyk (15 points) and RJ Barrett (14.7 points) have been reliable scorers. Honestly, Barrett is capable of more after averaging at least 19 points over his previous two NBA seasons. Olynyk has looked great, particularly his 40% shooting on 3-pointers.

Shooting from beyond the arc has been a huge strength. Olynyk, Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Dillon Brooks are all shooting 40% or better from deep. These are Canada’s top four leading scorers behind Gilgeous-Alexander.

Surrounding the crafty SGA with red-hot shooters is a scary sight. Gilgeous-Alexander has a way of snaking his way through the lane, finding open shots. If you send doubles, he will have knockdown shooters awaiting passes. Could this recipe knock out Team USA?

Potential Head-to-Head Looms Large

Per Las Vegas odds, the Americans remain the betting favorite to win the World Cup (-130). Team USA’s backcourt has been impressive, led by Anthony Edwards (16.3 points) and Austin Reaves (11.7 points).

The Americans remain a dominant force, ranking second in points per game. Their 49.9% field goal percentage also leads the final 16 teams. However, Canada looks like a true threat.

The Canadians’ 3-point shooting could be a recipe for success. They lead the field at 42.6% from beyond the arc. This is by a wide margin, as Team USA and Mexico hold the second-best marks at 38%.

The United States has a daunting paint defense, led by shot-blocking savants Jaren Jackson Jr. and Walker Kessler. However, America’s roster does not feature exceptional defensive guards. Its perimeter defense could be susceptible to Canada’s perimeter shooting. Plus, guard Tyrese Haliburton has disappointed at only 8.3 points per game.

I know we are looking ahead. The head-to-head matchup could never happen, but if it does, we are in for a treat. The final 16 teams are in four groups of four teams each. The winner and runner-up of each group will move on to the quarterfinals. Team USA fell in Group J with Lithuania, Montenegro and Greece. Canada will compete with Spain, Brazil and Latvia in Group L.

America could cruise to winning Group J, and Spain (3-0) looks like the only threat to Canada. For now, we will assume both teams will win their group. If both teams advance, whether it be from a first-place finish or a runner-up, Team USA and Canada will be on opposite sides of the bracket. That means a potential head-to-head would not happen until the championship on Sept. 10.

Hopefully, we get USA-Canada in the title. It would be a terrific matchup with two teams who have steamrolled the opposition. If there’s one lesson from the early stages of the World Cup, take the Canadians seriously. They are a legitimate threat to take out the Americans, who have won two of the last three World Cups. Putting your money on Canada could yield a nice payout.

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