The 2017 Eurobasket tournament starts Thursday, and three Knicks figure to be prominently involved.
Since international basketball isn’t exactly a specialty over here at P&T, we asked some questions of friend-of-the-site and Euro basketball expert Austin Green (Twitter: @LosCrossovers)
He and his compatriots did in-depth group preview podcasts for EuroBasket, covering all 24 teams, and they’re also planning to do some podcasts and articles throughout the tournament. Oh, and don’t forget to tune in during the EuroLeague season as well. You can subscribe to their Patreon site at this link for $5.
1. Does any country have a chance against Spain's juggernaut of hermanos?
Spain are definitely the tournament favorites, in part because they got their premier NBA talent to suit up. Most of the other big teams are missing really key guys, like France without Rudy Gobert, Serbia without Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica, Greece without Giannis Antetokounmpo (though Thanasis will be there #OAKAAK), etc. Spain have clearly benefited the most from NBA stars sitting this one out.
That said, when it gets to the knockout rounds, anything can happen in a one-off game. France is missing Gobert, Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, but they're still pretty loaded. They have a ton of creative perimeter guys plus Boris Diaw working his magic from the block. Serbia is led by an ultra-confident Bogdan Bogdanovic, and they have some big bodies that can bang with the Gasols (namely Boban Marjanovic). Latvia is a super-cool dark horse team, and don't count out Lithuaina (NEVER count out Lithuania in an international tournament) and Croatia, who are led by Dario Saric and Bojan Bogdanovic.
2. Where do you think Willy Hernangomez fits on this Spanish squad, particularly relative to the elderly Gasol Bros.?
Willy is going to come off the bench, but he'll play a big role, especially in the group stage when the competition is a lot weaker. The group stage is a grind with 5 games in 7 days, and Spain doesn't want the Gasols to expend too much energy early on. Against weak teams like the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary, Willy is going to play a lot and he should dominate for the most part. Against the better teams in the group (Croatia and Montenegro, who have Nikola Vucevic) and in the knockout stage, I think he'll play about 8-15 minutes per game depending on the matchup.
3. Lithuania strikes me as a good collection of talent without a real go-to guy. Who are the top players on that squad?
Jonas Valanciunas will be their go-to option for the most part. His role in the NBA has been reduced because he struggles with the speed of the modern NBA, but on the international level, he's still a beast. I expect him to have a really good tournament. Outside of Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas your boy Mindaugas Kuzminskas (KUUUUUUZ) will play a big role. Kuzminskas is 27 now, he's looking really confident after his NBA season and he's probably ready to get revenge on guys who little bro'd him in past international tournaments. Also on the wing is Jonas Maciulis, who plays for Real Madrid. He's a really tough combo forward with some shooting range. And at point guard, they have Mantas Kalnietis, who plays for Milano. In Euro hoops circles, we joke about National Team Kalnietis because he's always underwhelming during the club season and then balls out for Lithuania. Kind of like a watered-down version of Hoodie Melo.
4. Does Latvia have a chance to make some noise?
Totally. I love this Latvian squad, and recent betting odds I saw had them at 40/1 (so bet $10 and win $400). I don't think they'll win the tournament, but they're definitely a scary dark horse team that could win a medal. For whatever reason, Latvia just breeds 6'10”-plus dudes who can bomb 3s. They're going to be a matchup nightmare with Kristaps at the 5 and Davis Bertans (Spurs) at the 4. Then they have Orlando Magic stash Janis Timma at the 3, and he's a straight-up baller. Bertans' older brother Dairis is a 6'5 shooting guard and at point guard they have Janis Strelnieks, who is one of the best PGs in Europe and signed a big deal with Greek powerhouse Olympiacos this summer. They'll struggle against physical frontlines and they don't have a ton of depth, but one guy to watch off the bench is Rolands Smits, who I thought should've been drafted this year. He's 6'10, can shoot 3s, and dunked all over Real Madrid last season.
5. Who are the future NBA prospects worth watching?
Luka Doncic is the guy every NBA fan should be watching. He might be the best European prospect ever, and he's going to be a top 5 pick in the 2018 Draft unless something crazy happens. He's 6'8 and literally a basketball genius. There's no other way to put it. He's a freakin' magician with the ball, he makes incredible passes, he's already mastered the pick-and-roll, he's a knockdown shooter, a versatile scorer, and he is more athletic than most NBA observers are giving him credit for. He was 17 for most of last season and he was a top 10 or 15 player in EuroLeague, which is insane. His production at age 17 and 18 was significantly better than guys like Saric and Rubio in their early 20s. He's simply a joy to watch. He'll be the go-to guy on Slovenia, which also features Goran Dragic and the one and only Anthony Randolph, who is playing his first tournament with Slovenia after somehow receiving citizenship this summer.
Outside of Doncic, the level drops off significantly because draft prospects usually don't even make the rosters at this level. The fact that Doncic is the star for Slovenia speaks to the ridiculousness of his rise.
That said, definitely check out Icelandic 7-footer Tryggvi Hlinason. Mike Schmitz wrote an awesome article on him for ESPN.com. He has a fascinating background as an Icelandic farmer separated from the rest of civilization who never saw live 5-on-5 hoops until three years ago. Doncic's Real Madrid teammate Dino Radoncic could play a big role for Montenegro. He's a 6'8 wing with a lot of skills. Also Georgian big man Goga Bitadze is a draft prospect, as is Romanian PF Emanuel Cate.
In terms of draft-and-stash guys, there will be quite a bit. I listed them all in this tweet, except for Slovenian Vlatko Cancar, because I forgot he got drafted this year at #49 by the Denver Nuggets (whoops).
Also, a special shoutout to Alexey Shved, who will be playing for Russia. Knicks fans should know him well, and it'll be fun to watch him lead a strong Russian team with his shameless gunning.