Three NBA lessons from EuroBasket
Excellent: Franz Wagner, Lauri Markkanen, Spain’s offense
BY DAVID THORPE
Take the Golden State Warriors’ Cuisinart, mix in some of the Utah Jazz Blender offense from the last two seasons, toss in even more screens and ball movement, and you’ll have some idea of what international teams have to defend when they play Team Spain.
It works even without stars: 37-year-old former Blazer Rudy Fernández plays a key role, with the Hernangómez brothers. But Spain won without starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who is still recovering from a torn ACL, and both Gasol brothers, trouncing France 88-76 to win EuroBasket 2022. They are kings of Europe once again.
Spain’s best performance came in the clutch; despite ranking 18th of 24 total teams in 3-point shooting going into the final game, they somehow made 15-of-31 3s against France in the championship. Spain also seemingly had six defenders swarming the passing lanes at all times, forcing France into 19 turnovers (to Spain’s nine).
How did they get that done without NBA stars or a squad of elite athletes? There’s a reason Spain is second in the world in FIBA rankings (just behind Team USA): what I’m calling their “Flamenco” offense. This mesmerizing system has a vigor and complexity that makes up for the team’s lack of NBA talent and overall outside shooting. Team Spain hits defenses with a huge variety of actions, both side-to-side ball movement and/or player movement to vertical attacks right down the middle when defenses are worried about one side or the other.
The NBA is so full of ball-handling wizards that most teams won’t bother doing what Steve Kerr or Quin Snyder did, but that’s a terrible shame. Young NBA teams like the Magic, the Pistons, and the Rockets have talented scoring guards and forwards; if they started working on running these kinds of systems this season over the common, more vanilla “pace and space” or the center-high pick and roll, their offenses could push into top-five status over the next few years and would be tougher to scout when they do get into the postseason. The simpler choice? Run more basic sets that allow their star lottery picks to shine. But unless they have someone who can dominate like Kawhi or LeBron or Giannis, they will likely fall short of their ultimate goals.
Smart franchises are looking for coaches with European experience because they lean into tactics as part of their overall program development. The NBA helped bring basketball to the world, but Euro-ball is impacting how NBA teams build their strategies going forward.
A system like that also lets you win playing deep into the roster. Not a single Spanish player ranked in the top 60 for minutes played per game. Tourney MVP Willy Hernangomez averaged just 21.7 minutes. In contrast, Luka Dončić played over 33 minutes a game. Rested players perform better than tired ones—even when the tired guy is a star.
Overall, in EuroBasket, the most recognizable names played to expectations. Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert anchored Team France. NBA big men like Jonas Valančiūnas, Domantas Sabonis, Ivica Zubac, and Jusuf Nurkić did their thing. Dario Šarić, in his first action since recovering from ACL surgery, averaged 27 minutes over six games. Role players like Daniel Theis, Cedi Osman, and Furkan Korkmaz did contribute, but failed to impress.
However, here are three major takeaways from EuroBasket as we near the start of NBA training camps.