EuroBasket 2022 is almost upon us. As trade rumors dominate the discussion, NBA fans are in a weird state of waiting for something to happen. Anything, really. This goes double for Knicks and Nets fans. New York’s pursuit of Donovan Mitchell and Brooklyn’s attempts to sort out Kevin Durant’s situation are the two biggest basketball stories in town.
Wouldn’t it be nice to forget the drama and watch basketball for a change? That’s where EuroBasket comes into play. Slovenia enters the tournament as the reigning champs. Luka Doncic was only a prospect on that 2017 championship team as Goran Dragic took home MVP honors. Suffice it to say, this year’s Slovenian team runs through Doncic much like the Mavericks do.
Give me Doncic doing ridiculous things on a basketball court over NBA trade rumors and internal squabbles. Unfortunately, one of my four random EuroBasket thoughts centers on the Mitchell trade negotiations, but it’s impossible to overlook. Anyway, here are those four thoughts:
The format for EuroBasket 2022 is nice and simple. Here’s the 60-second format breakdown sans the minutiae (tiebreaker scenarios, coin flips, point differential, etc.). There are four groups of six teams. Each team plays five games in the group stage with the top four teams in each group advancing to the round of 16. From there, the teams are seeded based on where they finished in the group and it’s single-elimination the rest of the way. Simple enough, right?
Here are the four groups:
Group A: Spain, Montenegro, Turkey, Georgia, Belgium, Bulgaria.
Group B: France, Lithuania, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Group C: Greece, Italy, Croatia, Ukraine, Great Britain, Estonia.
Group D: Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Israel, Netherlands.
Evan Fournier is playing through another busy offseason. Fournier is no stranger to playing through distractions. His EuroBasket experience will coincide with the looming Mitchell rumors, in which he is very much involved. His salary is the main reason for his involvement, but EuroBasket is a good opportunity to remind everyone that he’s more than trade machine fodder.
How he plays won’t affect his trade value in any significant way, but there’s always a fascination with watching a player play through trade rumors. Usually, we get to watch that unfold in February around the trade deadline, not September.
Fournier scored 18.7 points per game en route to a silver medal in Tokyo at the Olympics last summer. At the time, his free agency was up in the air and he ended up signing with the Knicks during the Olympics. Free agency and trade speculation isn’t the same. Still, it’s hard not to see something poetic about Fournier playing his most important international games while the NBA team he plays for could change overnight.
My gut tells me he’s still a Knick by the end of the tournament. He and Lithuania’s Rokas Jokubaitis (NY owns his draft rights) are the only current Knicks for fans to watch.
The three best players in the world are playing. Nikola Jokic is the two-time reigning MVP. Giannis Antetokounmpo won the two previous league MVPs and a Finals MVP in 2021. Meanwhile, Luka Doncic has three First Team All-NBA nods and a Rookie of the Year trophy after four years in the NBA.
There are obviously other guys who have an argument for the top three (yes, Philly, I know Joel Embiid is really, really good). But Jokic, Antetokounmpo, and Doncic (in whatever order) are my top three.
Even aside from this superstar trio, there will be a ton of NBA talent at EuroBasket. Rudy Gobert (France) and his three Defensive Player of the Years, Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Lauri Markkanen (Finland), and Franz Wagner (Germany) are all playing for their respective countries.
France will win the tournament. Give me Les Bleus. France has come close to winning its last two major tournaments in the 2020 Olympics (silver) and 2019 World Cup (bronze). They have two major tournament wins against Team USA, which is not to say that matters for this tournament, but it matters for the team’s overall confidence. Although key contributors like Frank Ntilikina and Nic Batum aren’t here, the French stack up well against anyone talent-wise and Vincent Collet brings experience and continuity on the bench.
With respect to the formidable Sabonis-Valanciunas frontcourt, Gobert and Fournier are the best duo at EuroBasket. Gobert dominates at the rim on both ends with the lenient FIBA goaltending rules and Fournier orchestrates the offense. No sportsbook would ever set a line on it, but I’d bet that France’s first possession of the tournament starts with a Fournier catch on the wing that leads into a pick-and-roll with Gobert. There’s a complementary continuity to their game that most other teams won’t be able to match.
There are flamethrowers like Jokic, Doncic, and Antetokoumpo leading talented and experienced international teams. Lithuania and Spain are capable of making some noise as well. But there’s no clear favorite to win it all. France always seems to show up in these major tournaments and go deep. One of these days they’re going to break through. EuroBasket 2022 feels like that time.