After a 9-year absence at the FIBA World Cup, Canada returns to the world stage of international basketball, bringing in a new generation of prodigies poised to create lots of noise in China roughly a month from now.

Never in Canadian hoops’ history have we seen this collection of young talent across all five positions. But thanks to the proliferation of basketball in the country over the last two decades, USA’s North American neighbor has morphed into a hotbed for bona fide NBA players and now emerged as a legit threat to their dominance at the World Cup.

So what is the ceiling for Canada in the upcoming 32-team tournament? Believe it or not, Canada has the upside to really win it all with a deep roster, an experienced head coach, and most importantly, their familiarity with high-level competition.

Deep and deadly roster

Canada, barring more withdrawals, will field arguably the most talented team the country has ever assembled, with a strong likelihood that all of their 12 players will be current NBA players or incoming NBA rookies.

Denver Nuggets' point guard Jamal Murray is the biggest name in the pool and one who is expected to carry the heaviest load on offense for Canada. Fresh from inking a max contract extension (roughly $200 million) with the Nuggets, the former Kentucky Wildcats standout represented Canada in international tournaments such as FIBA U16 World Cup and Pan-American Games, where he averaged 16.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists to lead Canada to a silver-medal finish.

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NBA Los Angeles Lakers

NBA.com reported that the "No. 3 overall pick in June's NBA Draft, will reportedly miss the upcoming FIBA World Cup due to injury." The withdrawal of No.3 overall pick and New York Knicks swingman, RJ Barrett, is a big blow to Canada. Barrett is a veteran of international games, leading Canada to a title at the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2017 and playing a key role in two FIBA World Cup Qualifying games.

However, his decision to skip national duties is understandable given the enormous weight of expectation the Knicks put on him.

With Barrett out, Canada still has a talented reserve of players to fill in. Oklahoma City Thunder’ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Sacramento Kings veteran Cory Joseph, free agent Nik Stauskas and Euroleague sharpshooter Andy Rautins will provide depth in the backcourt.

For their frontcourt, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson, Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk and San Antonio Spurs’ Trey Lyles are all great options, while Dallas Mavericks’ Dwight Powell, Toronto Raptors’ Chris Boucher, Memphis Grizzlies Dillon Brooks and rookie forward Brandon Clarke are all capable of doing damage.

The optics shows this team possesses shooting, size, and length to go toe-to-toe with the best basketball teams in the world. In addition, all of these players have the flexibility to guard multiple positions, which has also become a norm in international play.

Nurse’ coaching

Another thing that bodes well for Canada at the World Cup is the hiring of champion coach Nick Nurse as their head tactician.

After leading the Toronto Raptors to its first NBA title, The Score notes that Nurse confirmed at their victory parade that he has accepted head coaching duties for Canada at the World Cup.

While he spent the majority of his coaching career in the G-League, the Raptors head coach is no stranger to international competition, as he had successful seasons with several teams in the British and Belgian basketball leagues.

Familiarity matters

But the biggest edge Canada will have over any other team is their familiarity with team USA. Most players on team Canada have played and even teamed up with players of team USA - the odds-on favorite to win the tournament despite missing the likes of James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and other stars.

Make no mistake, USA is still very formidable with Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Myles Turner leading the change. On the other hand, it’s safe to say that the USA will no longer have that shock factor against Canada, should they cross paths in the later rounds. Having played exactly the same NBA players year in and year out, Canadians are already used to the physicality and level of play these Americans bring to the court. They already know their tendency and weaknesses, so coming up with schemes to neutralize them won’t be very complicating.

The shockers

Canada’s fate at the FIBA World Cup will heavily depend on the availability of Murray and Thompson on the team. If these players commit along with other NBA vets and prospects, Canada will be a force to be reckoned with in the tournament.

Of course, the first step is to survive perennial powerhouses Lithuania, Australia and Senegal in a loaded Group H. Going 3-0 in the preliminary round would put them in a good position to take on likely Group G leaders Germany and France in the second round. Winning all preliminary games is a must if Canada wants to avoid an early showdown with the USA in the quarterfinals. Then again, the road to the final won’t be a cakewalk with contenders like Greece, Spain, Turkey and Serbia waiting down the road. If everything falls in place, Canada would be entering the finals as the slight underdog against the mighty USA - a game that could put Canada at the forefront of international hoops.

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