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EuroBasket 2017 | Group A Primer

Greece's Michail Bramos, right, tries to stop Slovenia's Goran Dragic as he drives the ball during their EuroBasket European Basketball Championship Group F match at the Stozice Arena, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

We’ve bided our time with summer league, the Big3, the Drew League and an insane NBA offseason. While we wait for the next season to get underway, we’ve been looking for stuff left and right to pass the seconds, minutes and hours. We had “Game of Thrones” for a few weeks, but that just ended. Now we’re left with the despair of getting through the first couple of weeks of September.

Luckily for the basketball nerd inside all of us, we have EuroBasket. This year’s EuroBasket is the 40th time this has all come together. Twenty-four countries, split into four groups, will compete in group play and then single-elimination playoffs to determine a European champion. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces and names. You’ll also see some of those highly mysterious draft-and-stash options, as well as future draft picks. This tournament is more than enough to get us to media day for the NBA and a truncated preseason schedule.

With roughly six weeks until the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, this will take up nearly half that time and get us primed for another campaign. Let’s take a look at the teams from Group A to get you prepped for EuroBasket 2017.

Poland

Whom should you recognize?

Przemek Karnowski. Remember the big guy from Gonzaga? While Zach Collins was dazzling scouts with what he could be, Karnowski was bulldozing the paint with his 7-foot, 300-pound frame. People were making Hodor comparisons while he looked like a spry Todd MacCulloch. Karnowski should serve as a big factor for Poland, despite being one of the younger players on the roster. He sets screens like a brick wall, he operates well out of the high post, and he can pass the ball. He also scores inside and should own the boards against a lot of teams.

Whom should you learn?

Mateusz Ponitka and Tomasz Gielo. They are two of the younger guys on the team, who also happen to play in the second-best league in the world. Gielo is a big man who went undrafted in 2016. He played college basketball at Liberty from 2011 to 2015, then spent the 2015-16 college season at Ole Miss. Since his college days in the U.S., he has played for Joventut in the Spanish League. Gielo is a good spot-up shooter when left open and should be able to stretch the floor for the FIBA line.

Ponitka is a 24-year-old shooting guard who went undrafted in 2015. He will play next season for Iberostar Tenerife in the Spanish League after spending the previous season in Turkey. Ponitka is a shooting guard who isn’t really all that good at shooting. He struggles on all spot-up attempts, even when left open. But where he excels is attacking the basket and scoring in the pick-and-roll. Ponitka should give Poland a nice attacker, but he’ll have to knock down some jumpers to keep the defense honest.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

In theory, Slovenia and France should be locks for advancing to the elimination round. Greece should be the third-best team in this group. Then it’s a bit of a toss-up between Poland and Finland for the fourth team — assuming Iceland doesn’t shock the world. The tricky part for Poland is not having Marcin Gortat or Maciej Lampe on this roster. They still have some solid veteran figures and a couple of young guys sprinkled into the mix. If they get into the elimination round, it’s a huge success for them. They’ll be chum in the water for that do-or-die round, but it’ll be great experience to advance if they can pull it off.

Greece

Whom should you recognize?

Remember Giannis Antetokounmpo? The Greek Freak has taken the NBA by storm and even put himself high on the MVP probability list heading into next season. Unfortunately, a knee injury (don’t worry; it isn’t serious) will keep him from participating in EuroBasket. He was planning to play but the Milwaukee Bucks and NBA shut him down, as is allowed in the NBA-FIBA agreement. The crazy thing from all this is the Greek federation has accused the Bucks and NBA of executing a well-staged plan to keep Giannis from playing. They claim the MRI came out clean and something else is happening with this situation.

New York Knicks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo (43) dunks the ball in front of Golden State Warriors forward Brandon Rush (4) in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The Warriors defeated the Knicks 116-95. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Well, his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo will still participate. He played three years in the D-League and had a cup of smoothie with the New York Knicks a couple of years ago. Last season, he played for MoraBanc Andorra in the Spanish League. You’ll also recognize guys like former NBA point guard Nick Calathes, former NBA wing Kostas Papanikolaou and current Sacramento Kings big man Georgios Papagiannis. They all play important roles for this Greek team, especially without Giannis on board.

Whom should you learn?

Kosta Sloukas and Vassilis Charalampopoulos. Sloukas has been around for a while, playing most of his career for Olympiakos in the Greek League. In the last couple of years, he has played in Turkey for Fenerbahce. He can really shoot the ball, he can score in isolation and he excels in the pick-and-roll. Charalampopoulos is an up-and-coming wing for Panathinaikos. At just 20 years old, he’s already had success on the European stage. He received MVP honors for the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship and the 2017 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship. Charalampopoulous shoots well from the outside and can distribute from the wing. He just extended his contract with Panathinaikos through 2023-24.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Not getting to the single elimination round, even without Giannis, would be a massive disaster for this Greek team. Greece ranks 13th in the world, but not even a Giannis-less team should keep them from succeeding in this group. In terms of anything beyond that, it will mostly be matchup dependent. A strong showing in group play will get them a favorable matchup in the first round of the tournament. They can survive based on that, but to go deep in the tournament, they’ll need someone to step up in a major way.

France

Whom should you recognize?

A lot of people on this team. France is loaded with talent. You won’t see Rudy Gobert or Tony Parker participating in EuroBasket, but France still employs half a dozen NBA-caliber players. Boris Diaw, Kevin Seraphin, Evan Fournier, and Joffrey Lauvergne will be the most noteworthy NBA players to be recognized by basketball nerds. Former NBA point guard Nando de Colo is also in the mix, and likely will lead the team’s backcourt attack. For French basketball geeks out there, Antoine Diot and Thomas Heurtel will dazzle you on the court as well. All of these guys have been mainstays of the French team for years.

Whom should you learn?

Vincent Poirier. The 23-year-old big man just signed with Baskonia in the Spanish League after spending a couple of years playing in the French League. Most recently he played for Paris-Levallois and filled up the stat sheet. In 24.6 minutes per game, Poirier averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. He won’t be the rim presence that Gobert was, especially on the defensive end of the floor. But he plays intelligently without the ball and knows when to cut for the dunk.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

They should. The absences of Gobert and Parker shouldn’t keep France from competing to win the whole thing. They have one of the best teams in Europe, and they have enough talent, firepower and versatility to match up against just about anybody. If they don’t dominate group play, it’ll be a huge disappointment.

Finland

Whom should you recognize?

Chicago Bulls fans, get excited! Finland has quite a few memorable players. Petteri Koponen — once drafted in the first-round of the 2007 NBA draft — has served as the leader of this team for a long time. The smooth point guard does a great job of attacking. You may also remember guys like Erik Murphy from his 24 games with the Bulls in 2013-14.

Chicago Bulls' draft pick Lauri Markkanen answer questions during a news conference at the NBA basketball teams training facility, Tuesday, June 27, 2017, in Chicago. Markkanen, who was selected seventh overall is a Finland native and was named Third-Team All-American. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

AP Photo/G-Jun Yam

But that’s not why Bulls fans should be excited. The future of Chicago basketball plays for Finland. Lauri Markkanen — the seventh pick in the most recent NBA draft and part of the trade for Jimmy Butler — is a key member of Finland’s team. The sleek-shooting big man will get to play the pick-and-pop with Koponen and start establishing himself as a weapon.

Whom should you learn?

Sasu Salin. Over the last three years, Salin has shot just over 38 percent from 3-point range in the Spanish League. The 26-year-old shooting guard stands just 6-foot-3, but teams can’t let him get free for a jumper. He’ll help spread the floor and give guys like Shawn Huff plenty of room to make plays off the ball. He can really play.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Finland should be a lock to advance to the tournament portion of EuroBasket. They can make a lot of noise in the single elimination rounds as well. But for that to happen, Markkanen has to be a huge weapon for Finland and Koponen has to play his best basketball.

Iceland

Whom should you recognize?

Nobody. Iceland has some solid young talent, but if you recognize any of these names, you’re a bigger basketball nerd than most. If you can pronounce them, I’m just going to assume you’re actually on the team while you read this. Good luck in EuroBasket!

Whom should you learn?

Everybody? Specifically, Martin Hermannsson might be their most intriguing player. He was named the Icelandic Men’s Player of the Year in December, and he just moved up to the French A League after being named runner-up in MVP voting in the B League last season. Tryggvi Hlinason is a big man who just signed with Valencia in the Spanish League.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Americans have a better chance at pointing out Iceland on a map than this team does of advancing in EuroBasket, but they should be a scrappy competitor looking to make names for themselves.

Slovenia

Whom should you recognize?

You’ll absolutely recognize Goran Dragic on Slovenia. He’s been one of the best international point guards in FIBA competitions for a long time, and that won’t change in EuroBasket this time around.

But Dragic isn’t the story here. The story for Slovenia is Anthony Randolph. Yes, that Anthony Randolph. The one who petered out of the NBA a few years ago and has resurrected his career overseas. Randolph has found his way onto Slovenia’s team, and adding a player of his caliber to EuroBasket could be the difference between Slovenia playing for the championship and just being a tough team to eliminate.

Whom should you learn?

I’d love to wax poetic about Vlatko Cancar here. He has a great-looking jump shot and is currently a draft-and-stash player for the Denver Nuggets. But the story for up-and-comers is Luka Doncic. You’ll hear so much about him over the next 10 months. He’s expected to be one of the top picks in the 2018 NBA draft, and there are plenty of scouts, executives and draft experts calling him the top prospect available. Doncic is a fantastic shooting guard who has played for Real Madrid in the Spanish League for the past couple of years. He’s the real deal.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Slovenia can absolutely win the whole thing here. Their depth comes into question against the better teams, but their test against France will be a great look into just how seriously they take their own championship chances.

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