While the NBA sits in the doldrums of late summer, across the Atlantic Ocean the continent of Europe prepares for one of their biggest basketball tournaments, the EuroBasket. The action kicked off in the wee hours of this morning with Slovenia topping Poland and the games will continue for just over a fortnight with the tournament culminating in a championship game on September 17th.
Are there any Denver Nuggets playing?
There are two members of the Denver Nuggets organization that are playing in Eurobasket. The most recognizable is second year forward Juancho Hernangomez who expects to be a prominent part of the rotation for favorites Spain. While Hernangomez has been involved in the Spanish National Team program for some time, including being an extra practice body for their preparation for the 2015 Eurobasket, this is his first time playing in the tournament. Despite not having any Eurobasket experience, Juancho and his brother Willie are looking to bring their home country glory while also becoming the new top brother duo in Spain (the title is currently held by Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol).
The other Nugget in Eurobasket is a relative unknown to Denver fans: Vlatko Cancar. Cancar was a second round pick in the most recent NBA draft and is not expected to play for the Nuggets for some time, if at all. However, Cancar is one of the better players to come out of Slovenia and found himself a spot on what might be the strongest Slovenian team ever. Like Hernangomez, this will be Cancar’s very first EuroBasket competition. Unlike Hernangomez however, Cancar is not expected to get much playing time, given the talented Slovenian roster that features Goran Dragic, Anthony Randolph and…
Most exciting player to watch
Luka Doncic hands down is the most exciting player at Eurobasket with all due respects to Kristaps Porzingis. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the 18 year old phenom is pegged to be the first player taken off the board in the 2018 NBA draft. While being an 18 year old who is featured prominently in a senior men’s international tournament is incredibly impressive, it’s just the next in a line of accomplishments for Doncic. The 6’7” guard signed his first pro contract at age 13 for one of the best clubs in all of Europe, Real Madrid. This made him the youngest player ever to debut for Real Madrid at just 16 years of age. Considering Real Madrid plays in Liga ACB, the feat is even more impressive. By comparison, Nuggets draft and stash prospect Nikola Radicevic did not breakthrough into the rotation of a Liga ACB team (Real Betis) until he was 21. While there is still plenty of time for things to change, should Doncic be the first player selected in the NBA draft next June, he will be the first European player taken with the top spot since Andrea Bargnani was taken by the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
Who’s going to win this thing?
As usually is the case with international European tournaments, Spain is the heavy favorite to walk away as the victors of Eurobasket 2017. The Spaniards feature six NBA players and the remainder of their team is stacked with top Liga ACB talent. While the team did lose one of their best guards in the form of an ACL injury to Sergio Lull, they still have the most talented roster in the tournament by far. Most of this has to do with the fact that Spain is a marquee country for developing basketball talent, but some of it also has to do with the fact that they convinced more of their players to participate in the tournament.
Reigning Olympic silver medalists Serbia would be as good a team as any to challenge the Spaniards for the title but with arguably their two best players, Milos Teodosic and Nuggets own Nikola Jokic, skipping the tournament (Jokic to prepare for the NBA season, Teodosic because of an odd statement that he wasn’t fit to play) the Serbians are at a disadvantage. Historical European stalwarts such as France, Greece and Italy are also suffering from missing key players. Rudy Gobert is still recovering from a knee injury which left him off the French roster (who are also missing Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum) and former Nugget Danilo Gallinari was sidelined for Italy when he broke his hand in a fist fight with a player from the Netherlands in an international “friendly.” Greece was dealt a fatal blow when Giannis Antetokounmpo decided against playing.
Slovenian should give Spain a run for their money but the best dark horse candidate in the tournament might just be Latvia. While the team features just two NBA players, one of those might be the best player in the tournament in Kristaps Porzingis (the other NBAer is Davis Bertans of the San Antonio Spurs). Unfortunately though the rest of Latvia’s roster comes up short when comparing it to the likes of Spain. Another team to watch out for will be Croatia. They are bolstered by Dario Saric, who had an outstanding rookie year for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, as well as Bojan Bogdonavic and Dragan Bender. However, they too are missing a key piece as Mario Hezonja declined to participate in the tournament. Finally, Germany brings a talented roster to the table. They are led by Atlanta Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder and also feature the newest Houston Rocket Isaiah Hartenstein as well as a couple players who found a home in Liga ACB. Again though, it will be tough sledding to be able to match up with the Spaniards.
All in all, outside of the NBA and maybe the Olympics, there’s not better place to view the top basketball talent in the world than Eurobasket. To tune in, ESPN will be carrying several games, and every game can be viewed at LiveBasketball.TV (yes that’s a legitimate site, though it’ll cost you $10 to watch the tournament in it’s entirety). Replays of the games can also be seen on FIBA.com (where you can also find schedules, rosters, breakdowns and more). Even though Spain appears to be the heavy favorite to win, there are plenty of interesting story lines to follow throughout the tournament. Nuggets fans should pay special attention to the performance of Juancho Hernangomez who for the first time is going to get regular rotation minutes at close to the highest level of talent the game has. If he shines over the next couple of weeks, it could mean big things to come in the upcoming NBA season for Denver’s 21 year old sharp shooter.