On the eve of EuroBasket 2022, the cover was all for them. The three NBA phenomena, coming from Europe and inextricably linked to the jersey of their national team, are ready to bring back to Ljubljana, Athens, or Belgrade that gold medal.
Instead, the stars have already returned home and are watching the final from their television set without even reaching the semifinals. Should they be blamed? Why the top players in the competitions couldn’t get a medal?
Here’s the answer.
The trio delivered
Nobody can really blame the players themselves for the failure. Speaking by the numbers, all three of them had a phenomenal tournament.
To be exact, according to the efficiency rating – the Eurobasket way of taking account of all stats – Giannis Antetokounmpo was first (32.7), Nikola Jokic second (31.7) and Luka Doncic fifth (27.1), behind two other players who practically carried their teams as far as they could. Bulgaria’s Sasha Vezenkoc is third (31.2) and Finland’s Lauri Markkanen is fourth (30.4).
It has to be noted that the player following Doncic is Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas, but with an average of 21.8 efficiency per game, a long gap from the top five.
Nobody can really say that the Joker, the Freak, and Magic Luka were not themselves. On the contrary, they pretty much dominated. Giannis is the top scorer of the tournament (29.3 ppg), with Doncic being the fourth best (26 ppg). Jokic is the fifth-best scorer (21.7 ppg) and also the fifth-best rebounder (10 rpg) with Giannis being sixth (8.8 rpg).
So what really happened?
Nikola Jokic: The Serbian question
He finished the tournament averaging 21.7 points, 10 rebounds, 4.3 assists, shooting 66.2% from the field, 46.2% from three points, and 90.9% from free throws. You can say that he was attacked on defense, but this is not news and nobody expected him to be a defensive stopper.
And in the crucial loss against Italy, the Joker returned home after his best performance statistically (32 p., 13 r., 41 EFF), while the rest of the team couldn’t contribute as much.
The game turned upside down after the ejection and the reactions of coach Gianmarco Pozzecco, which, despite many Serbs stating the opposite, totally changed the momentum of the game. You can attribute to that at least the breakout night of Marco Spissu who scored 22 points after averaging five in the previous five contests.
Meanwhile, Serbia had no reaction from the bench, while Italy was making big shot after big shot, and things quickly went south.
The blame here went straight to coach Svetislav Pesic, who will remain in his position and already declared that he will not change his ways. And even if he didn’t say that, what would you expect from a 73 years old coach who has already won the Eurobasket and the FIBA World Cup?
The truth is that Serbia dominated a relatively easy group phase and in the first sign of adversity, they seemed uncharacteristically shocked.
The future outlook for Serbia remains more than positive. The team is expected to present itself even stronger in the upcoming FIBA World Cup – if they qualify – having not only Jokic and Micic as their main stars but also Bogdan Bogdanovic who was injured this summer.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: a reliable three-point shot missing
Although Greece was eliminated in the quarterfinals, the Milwaukee Bucks star ended up challenging even the scoring numbers of Greek Eurobasket legend Nick Galis. Galis famously scored 30+ points in every game of the Eurobasket 1987, which ended up being the big bang of Greek basketball as the host Hellas won the tournament, beating the USSR in the final.
Giannis became the first Greek player since then to score at least 25+ in every game he played in the tournament.
However, it was evident since the first knockout game against the Czech Republic that things are not going to be easy for Greece, which survived the Round of 16, but couldn’t make it past the hosts Germany.
With all the attention of the defense on Giannis and without a solid threat from the perimeter, Germany had a 20-1 run at the start of the second half that mentally destroyed the opponents.
On the offensive end, except for Giannoulis Larentzakis (4/4 3PTS), the three-pointers of Tyler Dorsey (2/7 3PTS), Kostas Sloukas (1/4 3PTS), Kostas Papanikolaou (1/4 3PTS) and Giannis (1/5 3PTS) didn’t fall, despite many of them being open. Mind you that Greece finished the tournament shooting 34,9% on threes. Not exactly bad, however, it’s a number that gives hope to every opponent, guiding them to the risk of trying to contain Giannis, while leaving three-point shooters open.
On the defensive end, Greece let at the start of the game Germany get hot with 7/8 threes, and when in the second half the defense changed and the switches pushed Giannis in the perimeter, Germany took advantage of the mismatches in the paint for easy buckets and offensive rebounds, while continuing shooting excellently from the three-point line.
Greece finished the game shooting 31% in threes, while Germany had an admirable 55%, for a total average of 40% in the tournament up to this point.
Still, the progress made by Giannis compared to the stubborn, but inexperienced player in FIBA rules seen in the 2019 World Cup, has been widely witnessed.
But the lack of a solid outside threat is haunting the Greek national team, as it also haunted for years the Milwaukee Bucks. And it has to be noted that entering the tournament with the two centers of the team, George Papagiannis and Kostas Antetokounmpo, injured, didn’t help either.
The positive outlook is that this was just the first tournament for coach Dimitris Itoudis with the national team – a two-time EuroLeague winner, but a rookie in FIBA tournaments – and also the fact that outside Tyler Dorsey, Greece may also have the option of adding Naz Mitrou-Long on their roster, if he gets a Greek passport, due to his Greek heritage.
The same happened with Dorsey, whose mother is half-Greek, but then the Greek national team, while having to use either Mitrou-Long or Dorsey for the sole, permitted naturalized spot on the roster.
Luka Doncic: “That’s on me”
Of the three main stars who came out of EuroBasket 2022 earlier, Luka Doncic was the only one to appear at the press conference alongside his coach after the decisive loss against Poland.
This can be considered first and foremost as a move that solidifies him as the leader of the future for the team on every level.
And although the defeat came not only because of his performance (14 p., 11 r., 7 a., but 5/15 FG and 6 turnovers), he did not want to find any excuses. On the other hand, he did play injured, getting an injection in order to stay on the court and fight after having back pains in the second quarter.
Contrary to Serbia and Greece, Slovenia was in the game until the last minutes. After a terrible first half in which Poland led by 19 (58-39), Slovenia came back with a 24-6 run. Ultimately with Doncic fouling out with two minutes left and Mateusz Ponitka registering just the fourth triple-double in Eurobasket history, Poland got the win.
The bad news for Doncic is that Goran Dragic who came back from national team retirement for this tournament will be missed. And while there’s a solid core of Cancar, Blazic, Prepelic, Muric, and Tobey on the roster, the talent pool of Slovenia is not vast.
That’s why the team will focus on continuity with coach Aleksander Sekulic staying on his bench and Doncic having to push forward without hoping for a real talent boost in the near future.
On paper, Doncic without Goran Dragic onboard gets clearly less help from his teammates compared to Jokic and Giannis. That happened also in this tournament with Slovenia being in theory a team of good shooters, especially Prepelic and Blazic, which finished the Eurobasket with a 31% efficiency from the three-point line.
The nature of the tournament
In FIBA tournaments after the Round of 16, there’s no room for mistakes. That’s part of the charm, but it’s also an opportunity for huge upsets. Think less on NBA terms and more on a March-Madness-like situation.
And when any team plays against Jokic, Doncic or Giannis has the biggest motivation ever to create such an upset. There’s also an old practical saying among coaches in those tournaments. It’s always better to lose one game during the group stage, just for the team to get over the anxiety of defeat and be more ready when adversity comes in knock-out contests.