Eliminated From EuroBasket, Sabonis and Len Look to Roll Into Training Camp

At this point, all there is to wait for is training camp, which starts in a little over two weeks on September 27.

Both of the two Sacramento Kings that competed in EuroBasket 2022 are done with international competition this summer, packing their bags this past weekend after a pair of losses in the Round of 16.

Domantas Sabonis and Lithuania were defeated by Spain, the highest ranked national team on the continent and second in the whole world, 94-102. Likewise, Alex Len and the Ukrainians suffered a loss at the hands of Poland, 86-94.

Against Spain, in 35 minutes played, Sabonis scored 15 points on 6 of 8 from the field, grabbed 9 rebounds, and posted an assist and a steal each. (In the 6 total EuroBasket games, he averaged 12.5 points on 56% from the field and 2 of 8 from three, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 29 minutes per game.)

After squeaking into the elimination tournament from the toughest of the four groups, Lithuania came up short in an overtime battle, but Sacramento’s star was clearly a steady force in the contest when on the floor, leading his team in efficiency rating.

After trailing by 5 at both halftime and the end of the third quarter, Spain went up ahead and almost sealed the deal in regulation following a tip-in from Usman Garuba of the Rockets. However, after Lithuania’s Rokas Jokubaitis missed what would’ve been a game-winning three, Ignas Brazdeikas (arguably the team’s third best player) tipped the offensive rebound in to send the game to overtime. Despite that, the shifting trends of the second half continued to favor Spain as they advanced to the next round of the elimination tournament.

On the other hand, in his nation’s loss to Poland, Len scored 9 points on 3 of 8 from the field and 1 of 3 from deep, snagged 8 boards, and had one block, steal, and assist each in 21 minutes. (In his 6 EuroBasket contests, he averaged 8 points on 45.9% from the field and 46.2% from beyond the arc, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks in 21 minutes per game.)

Len and the Ukrainian National Team were a large surprise in the group stage action, starting 3-0 and securing a spot in the Round of 16 early on. But in closing the final two group stage games 0-2, it was clear they were going to burn out at one point. While, to their credit, they did not get blown out or anything, the lights did indeed go out on Ukraine. Behind a combined 46 points from A.J. Slaughter and Mateusz Ponitka, the 13th world ranked Poland took care of business against their 32nd ranked opponent.

The matchup happened to be relatively close as Poland lead by just 1 at the start of the 4th quarter, but the Ukrainians did not possess what it took to take them over the top when the lead was in reach. After Ponitka put his team up 87-78 with a three that followed a pair of missed free throws from Len, they did manage to cut the lead to 2 with about a minute left, but Poland closed out the final sixty or so seconds scoring six unanswered, securing their victory.

Disappointed as the two probably are by their respective eliminations, both players provide a considerable sample size of international play throughout this summer. After all, Sabonis and Len had competed in more than just EuroBasket competition, but also international friendlies (in preparation for the action in Europe) and FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. 

Sabonis played 13 total games for Lithuania this summer, averaging 11.9 points on 61.7% shooting, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.8 rebounds in over 26 minutes. 

As noted, the MO of European basketball is far more akin to physicality rather than spacing and movement. The result of that limits the extent to which Sabonis can fill up the stat sheet. Nevertheless, he continued to show how adept of a basketball player he is and why he is so important for the Kings.

One thing to note about Sabonis that could be viewed as a bit of a let down is the fact that he did not show he’d made any considerable improvements on his three-point shot. Earlier in the summer—also known as hype video season—a clip of the big man hitting balls from the perimeter at a session with the revered Chris Matthews (also known as Lethal Shooter) got some fans excited. However, after making just 2 out of 9 (.222) of his three balls in these 13 games, there’s no sign of Sabonis expanding beyond the occasional wide open look here and there from deep.

But interestingly, three-point shooting was a noticeable aspect of Len’s summer. In 10 total games for Ukraine, the 7-footer averaged 7.9 points on 46.1% from the field and 36.8% from deep, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 blocks in a little over 20 minutes per appearance.

Len made 7 of 19 attempts overall throughout this summer. One of the promising things about his three-point shooting is that it has gotten better as time has progressed this offseason. In the two international friendlies in mid-August, Len went 1 of 4 from three. Then, later in the month, he shot 0 of 2 from that range in two World Cup qualifiers. But in 6 EuroBasket games, he nailed 6 of the 13 he took. Len has a history spotted with some success from deeper range, so maybe a groove is developing for this year?

Additionally, Len showcased why he has been an NBA center for so long: large, physical, moves pretty well, and trustworthy. Those are great characteristics for the third center on a roster, which is a role that does not see consistent minutes. But if he can reliably hit from range once again, then he might force his way onto the floor.

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