With the stars of EuroBasket dropping like flies, the 2017 edition has taken plenty of blows before a ball is tipped. Emmet Ryan looks at the impact the absences of big names like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Sergio Llull will have on the competition and what we can expect to see happen next
Toodles Giannis. Ah feck, Llull’s gone for how long? And Danilo, oh dude, really? It’s not been a good summer for the poster boys of EuroBasket (granted, including Gallinari as a poster boy is a bit of a stretch). With the stars falling, it’s going to be an interesting and nervy few weeks for FIBA as the road to Cluj-Napoca/Helsinki/Istanbul/Tel Aviv winds down. We’ve been down this road before. In the run-up to the the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Paul George suffered a season ruining injury. Then Kevin Durant, literally the face of the tournament on FIBA’s promotional materials, withdrew.
As it turned out, things worked out pretty well in terms of the USA’s display. Everyone was fascinated by the Splash Bros, for a week we thought Kenneth Faried was a wildly under rated star in the making, and Anthony Davis did no harm to his case as being the presumed Alpha Big to come in basketball. Derrick Rose’s comeback wasn’t exactly what we hoped for but Kyrie Irving came good in the knockout rounds (although Faried still should have won the MVP trophy) and folks joked about James Harden’s defence.
The bigger upside however was the deviation from the script. Serbia, who had a pretty forgettable run in group play, caught fire with some just plain wow stuff in the knockout rounds. Spain, who were expected to waltz to the the final, were taken down in the quarter finals by France in an utterly dreadful game of basketball…never re-watch it, even if you are French, it’s that bad…before Les Bleus fellow to Milos Teodosic and the gang.
Oh, yeah, Milos. He’s out too. This is not looking great at all. The absence of Milos certainly weakens Serbia’s shot at the title but it could also make the Istanbul group more open. Serbia should still top the group, comfortably, but dropping a game in group play now looks far more plausible.
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The Llull and Antetokounmpo losses are the most significant. Giannis is the biggest deal when it comes to a Euro’s Q factor right now. Nobody touches him, not Kristaps, not Doncic, nobody. With Llull, aside from the far bigger blow of him basically being gone for the guts of the next season, he was the home-based star. We got to see him deliver an epic season last year, even as he fought like only he can in the Euroleague semi-final loss to Fenerbahce. Here was the guy who plays here, stays here, who was going to belong on that same pedestal as the NBA guys.
While this is all far from ideal, it’s going to create opportunities. In terms of star power, Kristaps Porzingis is about as good a substitute for Giannis as you could hope for while Luka Doncic will surely have even more of a spotlight on him now that his Real Madrid back-court partner Llull is gone. Admittedly, there is still time until the tournament so, with that in mind:
Someone find Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic, and stick them in bubble wrap until EuroBasket
— Ball in Europe (@bie_basketball) August 20, 2017
Looking beyond those two, Dario Saric will surely see this as a chance to make another big summer statement. Then there are those who are clearly high calibre ballers who haven’t been getting the same level of hype, like Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic, and the Gasol brothers.
Having Pau and Marc together in what will almost certainly be their last EuroBasket together, although Pau miraculously turning up in 2021 would be a very Pau thing to do, is kind of a big deal. There are still plenty of narratives to work with before we see how things shake out.
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The way things are going to shake out is also getting more interesting. Cluj-Napoca, admittedly, looks like a three-headed monster with the only battle being who gets fourth but outside of that the competition remains pretty open.
The beauty of EuroBasket is that dumb stuff tends to come out of nowhere to shift the tournament radically. FIBA could just do with the next shock not coming until the games actually begin.
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