It was an impressive first outing for Alex Len as the Sacramento Kings big man led Ukraine to a comfortable victory over Great Britain in the opening game of Group C at EuroBasket 2022
There was an old saying in the Irish Super League in the 1980s. The Americans will score what they want, this was back when two were allowed on the floor in Ireland, so the real job was to limit what the Irish lads could do.
Great Britain seemed to take a version of this ill-advised approach to their opener with Ukraine. Alex Len (Sacramento Kings) and Svi Mykhailiuk (recently waived by the Raptors) were treated as unguardable so GB didn’t really guard them and instead opted to focus on shutting down the European based talents of their opponents.
It went about as well as you’d expect.
Ukraine opted to go double big early in order to impose their most obvious advantage over a British side that had plenty of athleticism but was at a serious height disadvantage. Alex Len could afford to toss a ball around between his hands while seeking an offensive board, granted he inadvertently sent it all the way over the sideline, as the challenge inside was meek.
It wasn’t exactly a doddle for GB in the paint as the other end. A nice looking move inside by Myles Hesson late in the first was indicative of the struggles. Cutting in from the corner was easy but he immediately met a yellow wall and he grimaced in frustration as his attack was quickly stuffed.
Were the British able to prevent Ukraine from being effective on the outside it might have been easier going but the paint dominance of Ukraine led to overcommitted on the inside by GB and this gave the Ukrainian back court ample room to pick them off.
Despite this, Ukraine were a touch profligate offensively and this kept the British in a fight they really had no right to be in on the balance of play. It was only towards the end of the first half that it felt like Ukraine had truly established a double digit rather than flirting with it. As it was, they led 42-32 at the break.
Len’s display was unquestionably the highlight of this game for Ukraine. Having been used far less than expected in the World Cup qualifiers before this tournament, the Sacramento Kings man was in imperious form throughout and paired particularly well with Artem Pustovyi in the double-big set-up. Both of his first half blocks oozed confidence while his shot selection showed intelligence throughout the game as well as proving far more efficient than most of his compatriots.
The numbers were good, if not eye-popping (especially to those that are more au fait with the bigger counting stats of the NBA), but it was more his general command of play. Ukraine dictated the terms of engagement throughout and Len was the core reason for this. His passing from the post was precise and that left GB in sixes and sevens trying to work out how to organise defensively.
Mykhailiuk, for whom this tournament is somewhat doubling as an audition for a NBA side to pick him up, got the counting stats back rolling in the second half. Having struggled to push the British aside in the first half, Ukraine’s improved efficiency was telling in the second as they won comfortably to leave them in good spirits before a likely decisive clash with Estonia on Saturday.