After a five-year hiatus, one of the best basketball tournaments in the world is finally back. EuroBasket 2022, which features 24 European national teams and three of the NBA’s leading MVP candidates for the upcoming season, begins Thursday with pool play in four cities and culminates with a highly anticipated title game on Sept. 18 in Berlin.
Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are more than just headliners here; they are all motivated to win this tournament and bring home one of the most coveted championships in international hoops.
A lot has changed since Doncic and the Slovenian team shocked the continent and won the last iteration of EuroBasket in Istanbul in 2017, so let’s check out this tournament’s top contenders, the players to watch and what’s at stake for each one.
Tier 1: Top contenders
Jokic enters EuroBasket in an unusual position: as a championship favorite. He is the two-time reigning NBA MVP and has already shown he is one of the finest players in the world, but his NBA teams have relatively modest expectations as compared to his national team.
Jokic and Serbia enter pool play as slight favorites to win the tournament, in part because of the presence of the MVP and in part because they have a relatively favorable draw. Serbia should enjoy an easy path out of the group stage in spite of the fact it is competing without Milos Teodosic, the legendary playmaker who has logged some of the most breathtaking assists in pro hoops over the past decade. Coach Svetislav Pesic opted to leave Teodosic off the roster for this tournament, saying he couldn’t guarantee him the lead playmaking role to which he is accustomed.
Regardless, just last week, the Serbian team looked great as it bested Antetokounmpo’s Greek squad in an overtime thriller in a FIBA World Cup qualifier in Belgrade.
Player To Watch: Jokic! Even though he only played 30 minutes in the win over Greece, Jokic showed the world why he has won the past two NBA MVP awards, scoring 30 points while adding eight rebounds and six assists. He was the best player on the floor down the stretch.
What’s at stake? Redemption. The Serbians lost in the EuroBasket final in Istanbul in 2017, which was only the second time they’d reached the gold-medal game in this event, after having lost to Spain in 2009. A win in Berlin this year would give them sweet redemption, not to mention continental bragging rights for a few years.
Best finish: Silver medal (2017, 2009)
Doncic was only 18 when he helped Slovenia to its historic EuroBasket crown in 2017. He’s all grown up now, and as a result, this Slovenian team enters pool play with a legitimate chance to defend the title.
It won’t be easy, though. Slovenia finds itself in the toughest group in pool play. Group B, which will play its pool games in Cologne, also includes France, Lithuania and host Germany. Those are three of the top nine betting favorites in the entire 24-team field. So there’s little room for error for Slovenia to even advance out of the group stage.
Slovenia’s two best players — Doncic and Goran Dragic — each have the ability to make plays for themselves or their teammates, which makes Slovenia one of the best offensive teams in this field.
Player to watch: All eyes will be on Doncic, but Dragic is going to be vital too. Dragic won the tournament MVP in 2017, but it’s fair to ask if he can still perform at a high level now that he is age 36. Doncic will pick up a lot of slack and is obviously a better player now, but Dragic’s performance looms as a huge determining factor for this team — and this whole tournament.
What’s at stake? An incredible back-to-back EuroBasket triumph for a nation of just 2.1 million people.
Best finish: Gold medal (2017)
Since the last EuroBasket, Antetokounmpo has become arguably the greatest player on planet Earth. He has won two NBA MVP awards and an NBA title — which he clinched by scoring 50 points in Game 6 of the 2021 Finals — and enters this tournament as the most complete player in the field.
Although Greece has not won this event since 2005, it has a genuine chance to do so again this year. But the big questions here surround the supporting cast. Can Antetokounmpo’ brothers, Thanasis and Kostas (both also NBA champions), provide the makings of a strong supporting cast? Thanasis has averaged just 3.1 points per game in four NBA seasons, while Kostas has scored a total of 21 points in 22 NBA games and is back to playing professionally in Greece.
There’s no Khris Middleton– or Jrue Holiday-type player on this Greece squad, and even if Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates games, the Greek team will need other players to step up. Case in point: Antetokounmpo scored 40 points last week against Serbia, but his team still lost to a deeper squad led by another NBA MVP in Jokic.
Players to watch: Assuming Antetokounmpo excels, the biggest factors might be Tyler Dorsey and Nick Calathes in the back court. Dorsey, who averaged 15.1 points per 36 minutes in a brief NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, has the capability to score. Calathes, the team’s veteran facilitator in the backcourt, can generate clean looks for others; he averaged better than six assists per 36 minutes in his two seasons with Memphis before returning to play in Greece. If these two have a solid tournament and take at least some of the playmaking burden off of Antetokounmpo’s massive shoulders, Greece could win this thing.
What’s at stake? If Greece wins it all, it will become just the third country to claim three or more EuroBasket championships and will prove that the current program is more than just an Antetokounmpo factory.
Best finish: Gold medal (2005, 1987)
The French program has become both talented and deep over the past 10 years. Unlike the other top contenders here, the French roster lacks a true superstar for this tournament, but the offensive-defensive combo of Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert can help win possessions on both ends of the floor.
The French team has a chance to win this whole thing, assuming it escapes the group of death that also includes Germany, Slovenia and Lithuania. But France is missing both Nicolas Batum and Victor Wembanyama, the likely first pick in the 2023 NBA draft.
In their absence, both Gobert and Fournier will have to be awesome for France to win the tournament.
Regardless of what happens here, France will be a major threat to win gold at home in the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024, when Joel Embiid — who just became eligible to play for France — might join the team. Embiid could be the exact kind of two-way superstar play who might put this team over the top, but we will have to wait another two years to see that.
Player to watch: Gobert, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the world. He was also one of only three French players (Fournier and Nando de Colo were the others) to average double digits in scoring in last summer’s Olympics. In potential matchups with Jokic and Antetokounmpo, Gobert could give France a chance of containing these MVP talents.
What’s at stake? The chance to establish itself as the best program on the continent and build momentum heading into the 2024 Paris Games.
Best finish: Gold medal (2013)
Tier 2: The looming teams
With Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas in its frontcourt, Lithuania can beat any team in this field on any given night. Unfortunately, the Lithuanians also find themselves playing in Cologne in the toughest group in the field.
Player To Watch: Sabonis has looked great this summer in FIBA qualifiers and has a chance to elevate his status if he can drive this squad out of the group stage and make noise in the knockout phase.
What’s at stake? Renewed respect. Lithuania has a proud basketball history, but despite finishing second twice at EuroBasket in the 2010s, it hasn’t won it all since 2003. If Lithuania wins this year, it will pass Spain by owning four EuroBasket titles.
Best finish: Gold medal (2003, 1939, 1937)
The Spanish squad would normally be considered a top favorite at EuroBasket. It has won three of the past five gold medals, and it last failed to reach the semifinals in 1997. However, Spain now finds itself as an underdog. Why? The stars who made up the core of the team for the past 15 years — Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio (who is out with an injury) — aren’t part of this roster. Simply put, Spain doesn’t have the level of talent that it had during the 2010s. The good news is the draw: Spain has been blessed as the favorites within arguably one of the easiest groups in the tournament. (Turkey is the only other team in its group in the top 10 in betting odds to win the event.)
Player to watch: Juancho Hernangomez. He’s a solid player who has averaged 5.4 points per game in limited minutes with five different NBA teams, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in a leadership role. This isn’t Netflix.
What’s at stake? Sustainability. Spain has been the model program in European basketball for more than a decade now, but can it extend that claim into the 2020s as the old guard moves on and new, untested faces attempt to replace it?
Best finish: Gold medal (2015, 2011, 2009)
Turkey also is a relative long shot, but the national team is filled with solid NBA players, including Furkan Korkmaz, Cedi Osman and Alperen Sengun, and it has a relatively easy path out of the group stage. Turkey could make noise.
Player to watch: Sengun, who averaged 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in his rookie season with the Houston Rockets after being selected No. 16 overall in the 2021 NBA draft. Earlier this week, he looked great against Serbia, scoring 17 points and adding 13 rebounds in a matchup against Jokic.
What’s at stake? Attention. Sengun has the potential to really put this Turkish team on the map this decade; and with a favorable draw in this tournament, it’s fair to expect this group to make it to the knockout stage.
Best finish: Silver medal (2001)
The host nation is another relative long shot, but if Germany can advance from its group, anything can happen. It opens pool play with a huge matchup against France in Cologne, a game that will feature what is sure to be an emotional pregame jersey-retirement ceremony for Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest German player ever.
Player to watch: Dennis Schroder, who remains unsigned by an NBA team this summer but lit it up for Germany at the 2019 FIBA World Cup (19.6 PPG, 9.4 APG, 38.8% shooting from 3). If Schroder & Co. can channel the emotions from that event and take it to the French in Game 1, it could propel the hosts to make noise in the knockout phase.
What’s at stake: Pride. The last time the Germans hosted the EuroBasket title game was in 1993, and they won it in Munich. If they could repeat the feat in 2022, they would shock the hoops world.
Best finish: Gold medal (1993)