From the group battles, to invididual stories, through to the whole matter of who lifts the trophy, there’s a lot to digest with EuroBasket 2017. Emmet Ryan will be on site in Istanbul throughout the tournament but, before he flies, the BiE editor wanders through the many narratives that will shape this competition depending on the perspective of each supporter
The switch two years ago was far bigger in terms of impact than anyone could have imagined. The competition has long been held across multiple cities but multiple countries on top of that added another dimension altogether. EuroBasket was suddenly four tournaments leading into a fifth crossed with the one natural rhythmically competition. Second time around, people are ready but that doesn’t mean you can account for everything.
It’s starting on a Thursday
This is one that really could catch folks off guard. There are a bunch of reasons, the format certainly helps with Tel Aviv as a host city, but the big upside is that it means more rest days are built in for the players. Tournament play is gruelling at the best of times and back to back to backs are eliminated from the tournament as a result of the change in start.
Covering the competition
For the first week of play in 2015, this corner saw exactly zero action from venues outside of Berlin. BiE lacks the resources to cover multiple venues on site or to even have someone based remotely to monitor the groups where we aren’t on site. That can narrow the view immensely, particularly with regards to the weaknesses of sides getting overplayed. It’s easy to forget that the three other groups aren’t perfect. When following the likes of BiE, bear that in mind. All journalists on site are going to have to deal with that unconscious bias based on what they see in person.
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The Dragon’s last flight
Goran Dragic has announced that this will be his last run with the Slovenia national team. In terms of what he has given to this side, particularly at EuroBasket 2013 and the World Cup in 2014, there’s no much more that can be asked of him. As the draw breaks however, this might be his best ever shot at a medal. It’s the right time as well considering where his career is. Dragic is 31 and still has plenty left in the tank but by the World Cup he’ll be 33 and 35 for the next EuroBasket. He want to finish on a high and he’s got a chance to hand over the reigns to Slovenia’s next great.
The most visible European prospect to have not played a competitive second on US soil ever comes into this tournament with tremendous expectation. No player prior to Doncic has been as easy for NBA observers to follow as Doncic, between ACB and Euroleague he’s logged a lot of minutes against serious competition that were streamed globally. Doncic defies the term of a European mystery more than any player before him, yet Helsinki will still be the first time a lot of NBA fans watch him play.
It’s going to be fun to follow because the Slovenian side isn’t as strong and certainly not as a deep as Real Madrid so his role simply will be bigger. Throw in the familiarity of playing alongside Anthony Randolph and the chance to play alongside Dragic and it’s a great recipe.
The NBA report
There have been many withdrawals by stars, not just NBAers as Sergio Llull’s injury showed, but there’s still a decent corps coming over from the US to play for their national sides. Spain has the biggest contingent with 5, including both Gasol brothers and Ricky Rubio. With three Croatians, Tomas Satoransky of Czech Republic, and Nikola Vucevic of Montenegro also in Group C, Cluj-Napoca will be hosting 10 of the 27 NBA players participating in the tournament.
Kristaps Porzingis pairing up with Davis Bertans is going to keep plenty of eyes on Group D in Istanbul as Latvia look to have a real medal contender in place here. Serbia however could prove the more interesting side because of who they don’t have. Even without Milos Teodosic, Serbia should still top the group but it’s just plain interesting to see what Serbia will look like without the new member of the Los Angeles Clippers. We’re just not used to seeing that.
Elsewhere the absence of the biggest Euros in the NBA will individually hurt teams, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo, but not so much groups. Group A in Helsinki still looks like an absolute riot, with Doncic as a prospect and fun looking French side all with Lauri Markkanen in front of a vociferous home Finnish crowd.
In terms of team representation, the Spurs and Knicks each have three at the competition, in both cases the roles of the three players with their national side don’t always match up with their NBA paymasters. Porzingis is, naturally, the man in New York and Latvia while Willy Hernangomez has developed more of a role for the Knicks than he has yet for Spain and Mindaugas Kuzminskas is unquestionably of far more importance to the Lithuania side than he is in New York. Of the Spurs trio, Pau is Mr Spain and a heart with offensive legs for San Antonio, Bertans is Latvia’s second option where he’s…well he’s not that in San Antonio, and Joffrey Lauvergne is a key part for France while he’s not on the same level of importance in the NBA while still clearly being a reliable guy to have around.
I’ve put a full sheet of which NBA players are at EuroBasket for anyone who wants to keep track of who hasn’t pulled out.
So, the big thing to bear in mind is that nobody wants to meet Spain until the final and preferably they would like aliens to abduct them (although Alex Proshuta told me on Twitter that probably wouldn’t suffice) so the route through the tournament goes ‘Avoid Spain, hope for other nice things to happen’. In Group D that means finishing 4th (first knockout round) is an unpleasant prospect while finishing 2nd in Group B or 3rd in Group A isn’t all that appealing either (quarter finals).
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This didn’t happen last time, when Spain still won, but Spain were also comparatively more beatable then. If Slovenia goes along with the odds but get through the first knockout round, we could get a great old battle between Spain and Slovenia to book a spot in the medals rounds.
The hosts and the hosts
The four country part is one where all hosts are equal but one is a whole lot more equal than others. We saw that with France where Lille, which hosted the knockout rounds, was quite the intimidating environment throughout (making the Pau Gasol game even more memorable as a result). Turkey gets that edge this year and nobody has them pegged as medal contenders but if they can avoid Spain in the first elimination round, that crowd could count for an awful lot in the knockout stages.
The fun factor
Oh there’s a lot to watch here, especially for those who aren’t glued to this competition every time it comes around. I’ve picked a few cool things to keep an eye out for and top of the list is with the primary hosts, Turkey.
Bobby Dixon, the naturalised player, gets to link up once more with Ufuk Sarica who was his coach at Pinar Karsiyaka when Dixon spearheaded a miracle championship run. Sarica’s got a knack of getting far more out of the assets at his disposal than most coaches, despite not being someone that would be considered a tactical mastermind. Beyond the strategy, Sarica is clearly a man who can connect with players and in the marathon of sprints that is this kind of tournament, that can go a long way.
Finland’s crowd, naturally, will be one to watch but within that group there’s also the ultimate underdog. Iceland qualified for EuroBasket for the first time ever in 2015 and comes back in 2017 as massive outsiders. The tiny nation has shown it can punch way above its weight however and throwing in prospect Tryggvi Hlinason adds a nice wrinkle as traditionally this side is used to operating without a clear big. In Hlinason they’ve got one that an awful lot of folks in Europe are keeping a close eye on. Poland meanwhile has a chap called Mateusz Ponitka who has a habit of being a human highlight reel in the national jersey…Ponitka games are usually crackers at EuroBasket.
Over in Tel Aviv, there’s the a couple of aspects that should stand out. The players not called Pachulia on Georgia include two fantastic talents that are dripping in confidence. Giorgi Shermandini and Tornike Shengelia are pure Mamba mentality guys and that should count for a lot. Meanwhile Germany’s hoping Dennis Schroeder wants the mantle of this now being his team in the post Dirk era.
And lastly in Cluj-Napoca, Adam Hanga is a heart with legs. Yes, he is also the Euroleague defensive MVP, a former draft pick, and really excited about his move to Barcelona, but getting to EuroBasket means a huge deal to him. He doesn’t want the journey to stop in Romania so look for some iron man stuff from him there.
If not Spain then who?
The other medal contenders really spread out in this one. Latvia are everyone’s dark horse to grab a medal, which is almost a kiss of death from the off. Serbia, if they can win their group, look well placed to hang around in the knockout stages. Lithuania come into this on the back of two straight silver medals and, once more, nobody is expecting that much from them which immediately ups their chances. France have enough to hang around despite their depleted roster while Greece and Slovenia will both hope the draw breaks well enough for a good run. It’s quite clustered essentially because…
…it’s so hard to look past Spain
When Giannis Antetokounmpo was still coming, it looked like Greece could seriously challenge for gold. Now, even without Sergio Llull, Spain’s quality and pedigree makes them whopping favourites. You have to go back to 1997 for the last time they failed to make the medal rounds, going out narrowly to Russia and finishing 5th.
In this tournament they have the Gasol brothers together at EuroBasket for almost certainly the last time, the Hernangomez brothers looking to make a mark, a fit and clearly interested Ricky Rubio, and a lot more behind that. Spain is built to run with teams early and outlast them late. It’s going to take a meltdown comparable to the 2014 World Cup quarter final for this side not to win it all.
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