The group stage of EuroBasket 2022 has concluded, and the two current members of the Sacramento Kings and their national teams have advanced to the Round of 16.
Both Domantas Sabonis of Lithuania and Alex Len of Ukraine will partake in the next phase of the competition.
Saboinis and Lithuania were unlucky enough to be placed in the toughest of the four groups. Of Group B’s six teams, four are in the top-twelve in FIBA’s world rankings. France is ranked 4th, Slovenia 5th, Lithuania 8th, and Germany 11th. As a result, the Lithuanians have played some tight contests, coming out on the losing end in their first three group stage games.
Against Slovenia, Sabonis, Jonas Valanciunas, and company fell short by 7 points to a team led by NBA vet Goran Dragic and star Luka Doncic, who posted a double-double. They then lost by a margin of 4 to the French behind Evan Fournier’s 27 points.
In their third game against Germany, the competition was tense as the game ventured into double overtime. No team ever gained a double digit lead over the other from start to finish. Franz Wagner and Dennis Schroder combined for 57 points, leading their team to a 109-107 victory.
Lithuania protested the result because a technical free throw was not awarded to the Lithuanians when it should have. FIBA rejected the dispute because it was not submitted within 60-minutes of the final whistle as is the rule. Even so, the association would have rejected it either way since “the reason presented is not one of the reasons under which a protest can be filed.”
They came back and beat up on Hungary, who finished 0-5 in the group. Sabonis grabbed 8 boards, dished out 4 assists, and scored 19, combining with Valanciunas for 40 points.
Prospects of advancing were beginning to look bleak for the Sabonis and Valanciunas-led team, though. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) were 2-1 and set to face off against France, who they’d recently beat in an overtime World Cup qualifier just weeks before. If France overcame Jusuf Nurkic and BIH, however, then Lithuania could have the chance to clinch a spot in the next round against BIH.
And that they did. With chants of “Merci!” from the Lithuanian fans, France kept their chances alive.
In the final group stage game, Lithuania beat the Bosnians by 17 points and advanced to the Round of 16 where they will play Spain on September 10.
Throughout the five contests, Sabonis averaged 12 points on 52.4% from the field, 7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in about 28 minutes per game.
It’s interesting to note that before the final group stage game, Sabonis had hit 2 of 4 looks from behind the arc. But after an 0 of 3 performance from deep against BIH, hopes for a super Sabonis–that is, a three point shooter–might have to take a backseat this year.
Lower points and assist numbers shouldn’t be troubling. As is obvious, European basketball is bigger, more physical, more welcoming to the bruisers. The game has less movement and spacing for Sabonis to capitalize on and showcase his dynamic skillset.
With Sabonis advancing, so too will his teammate Alex Len.
Ukraine secured their place in the Round of 16 by getting off to a 3-0 start in Group C. Though their group, along with Group A, is far less daunting, they’ve surprised many.
As expected, they defeated Great Britain by nearly 30 points as Len posted 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, and a made three-pointer. They followed it up with razor thin one-point victory over the lesser ranked Estonians before taking out the Gallinari-less Italians, 84-73.
Despite barely beating Estonia, Len and his national team had done the necessary work, punching their ticket for the next stage. With that, Greece came by and beat up on Ukraine by 20 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 41-point performance.
In the final group stage game, Ukraine lost to Croatia 90-85, as Len dropped 2 of 3 deep balls, snagged 3 rebounds, and doled out 4 assists. They’ll play again on September 11 against an opponent to be decided later today in the first round of the elimination tournament.
Overall in the five group stage games, Alex Len averaged, 7.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 steals in about 22 minutes per game.
Len’s big, physical presence on defense and the boards have both helped his national team and shown why he’s a nice piece to have as the third center on Sacramento’s roster. As a whole, he hit half (5 of 10) of his three-point attempts, adding to the allure that he could possibly revive the three-point shooting ability he showcased during his time in Atlanta. Though, fans will really have to wait and see in regards to this season.
In addition to Sabonis and Len, there’s another name to highlight in EuroBasket 2022.
The Kings also have the draft rights to Sasha Vezenkov, who has also been competing in the group stage for Bulgaria. Although he won’t be a Sacramento King this season, that may very well be different a year from now.
In his five group stage games, he averaged 26.8 points on 49.5% from the field and 40% from three, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 37 minutes a game.
As stellar as he was, Vezenkov could not carry the team on his own. Bulgaria finished 1-4 in Group A, defeating only Georgia, who also finished with the same record.
(EuroBasket 2022’s elimination tournament will roll through to September 18, the day the final is played.)
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