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Thoughts and picks after EuroBasket 2022 draw
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Dirk Nowitzki struck the right chord this past week when he took part in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 draw.
Right person, right moment.
Nowitzki, the FIBA EuroBasket 2005 MVP, was always passionate about playing for Germany and especially on the old continent.
Nowitzki recalled EuroBasket 2005, when he received a standing ovation late in the Final against Greece
"EuroBaskets have been some of my greatest memories in the national team over my career," he said. "I'll always remember of course 2005 in Serbia, and so many others..."
The beauty of Nowitzki's national team career is that while he was always the best player for Germany, and one of the best players at the other EuroBaskets he competed in, he always shone within the framework of the team.
The national sides that have a spirit of camaraderie, that have players that want to rely on each other, that see putting on the jersey of the country as the greatest of honors, are the teams that have a chance to be special. In national team basketball, stars must check their egos at the door. It's all about the team.
A coach that I spoke with after the draw that will be at the FIBA EuroBasket said he expects the tournament to be a lot of fun. He had this interesting insight about the balance of power on the old continent.
"I feel it's more competitive because countries traditionally viewed as weaker are improving and the gap between the top and lower countries is closing," he said. "I think there will still be a few countries poised to win it, but the overall competitive level is increasing."
The FIBA World Ranking, Presented by Nike, bears that out.
Look at how the Czech Republic under coach Neno Ginzburg and Poland, under coach Mike Taylor, have climbed the ladder the past several years. There was a time not long ago when these countries didn't even know if they'd qualify for the EuroBasket. The Czechs are now No. 12 and the Poles are No. 13. IN THE WORLD!
Taking a look at the draw, in Group D in Prague, world No.5 Serbia will be the favorites with the dazzling Bogdan Bogdanovic and their all-world center Nikola Jokic, but they'll have to bring focus and intensity to every single game. Serbia are not the only ones in Group D to have reached the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Quarter-Finals. Czech Republic and Poland did, too.
Sokolowski has turned into a true warrior for Poland
The Czechs had the best three-point shooting team in China at 42.8 percent (74 of 173). Tomas Satoransky, their talismanic NBA stud point guard, is going to be ready to play in front of his countrymen at the EuroBasket. Satoransky attacks and creates opportunities for his teammates. Poland are tough in many ways, including on the defensive end. They ranked second in steals in the EuroBasket Qualifiers with 9.2 per game, led by Michal Sokolowski's 11 in five games.
Group D also has Israel, the Netherlands and Finland. Israel's passing game, their overall synergy, made them one of the most attractive teams in the EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. The Dutch, while the second-lowest scoring team on average in the Qualifiers, were physical and opportunistic.
The Netherlands, like the Poles, have experienced cores that rely on strong guard play. The Dutch duo of Charlon Kloof and Yannick Franke averaged a combined 29.8 points per game in the Qualifiers.
Yannick Franke and the Dutch are back in the EuroBasket and will play in Group D
Finland, meanwhile, continue to play fast, modern basketball and boast numerous players that jack it up from long range. None is is more lethal than Sasu Salin, who shot 42.4 percent in the Qualifiers.
I'll pick Serbia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Finland to advance. Fingers crossed that we get to see Jeremy Sochan play for the Poles. He has every chance to become a superstar. He'll be coming off his freshman season at recently crowned NCAA champions Baylor.
Group A in Tbilisi is fascinating. It has FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 winners Spain, along with Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Belgium and Bulgaria.
Spain will have a mix of World Cup winners and Olympians and young talent in their 2022 squad that will be good enough to progress. Spain, like Serbia, will be a pre-tournament pick to go all the way. It's hard to imagine that Georgia, as Group A hosts, would not progress. I expect a dogfight between Russia, Turkey, Belgium and Bulgaria for the last two places.
Belgium have strong guard play and one of their playmakers, Retin Obasohan, is a true game-changer. They also the advantage that coach Dario Gjerga has been working in the country for 13 years. It may be a disadvantage, however, that this will be his first EuroBasket as a head coach, although Gjerga did work as an assistant to Velimir Perasovic in 2015. I see them advancing.
As for the last spot, can Turkey live up to their potential? Remember how they had the USA on the ropes in the Group Phase at the World Cup in Shanghai but missed several late free-throws and lost by a point in overtime? Has Turkey recovered from that setback? I'm not sure they have. Kudos to Bulgaria for their never-say-die grit in the EuroBasket Qualifiers, but the fourth team to advance will be Russia. Sergei Bazarevich has been at this for a long time, first as a player and, for the past several years, as the Russia coach. No matter who shows up to play for him, his team will be well-prepared, focused, competitive, relentless and physical.
Any team that takes on Lithuania will have to get past Jonas Valanciunas
In Group B, what Bosnia and Herzegovina lack in talent, they will make up for in spirit. Vedran Bosnic is a great motivator as national team coach and both Edin Atic (24) and Kenan Kamenjas (21) are warriors. They appear on highlight reels more for hustling down the court to block shots than for slam dunks. The EuroBasket Qualifiers revealed this to be a team in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think that will be good enough for at least one win and maybe two.
Also in Group B, Luka Doncic will certainly elevate the play of the team if he plays and they will progress, but will they have enough to advance if he doesn't? I do see the twin towers of Jonas Valanciunas and Domas Sabonis carrying Lithuania to a top-four place in Group B, while hosts Germany and also an Evan Fournier- and Rudy Gobert-led France will make it. I think when push comes to shove, Bosnia and Herzegovina and also Hungary will come up short.
In my opinion, Group C in Milan is the weakest of the pools. Italy will have an entire nation behind them and will progress with Marco Belinelli giving fans a thrill. But the rest is going to be a battle. I'll say Greece's experience, continuity and talent will help them progress.
That leaves two places up for grabs between Croatia, Ukraine, Great Britain and Estonia. All bets are off when it comes to Croatia. We do not know which version of this national team is going to show up from one year to the next.
The Brits are an intriguing team and especially if Marc Steutel, who led the teams in the Qualifiers, retains the reins as head coach, and both Tarik Phillip and Ben Mockford continue to add something to the backcourt. It's a must that Gabe Olaseni, Ovie Soko, buzzer-beater Luke Nelson and Myles Hesson play, along with veteran Dan Clark.
The Brits, Estonians, Ukrainians and Croatians will be viewing their clashes with each other as must-win games. I expect goal differential to come into play. Croatia will get it done and Great Britain will be the surprise fourth team.
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