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David Blatt on why Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic struggled in EuroBasket

Having coached in the Europe and the NBA, David Blatt shares why the biggest NBA stars are struggling in the EuroBasket tournament.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic

Upsets in the EuroBasket tournament prove why it’s one of the toughest to win. Even Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic failed to make the semifinals. David Blatt, who coached in the NBA and Europe, explained why superstars in the NBA don’t enjoy automatic success in international basketball.

What makes EuroBasket different

The Final Four is composed of teams that weren't expected to be there: France, Spain, and Germany were watered-down versions of their more stellar past, while Poland probably pulled off the mother of all upsets when they downed defending champions Slovenia. Not even Nikola Jokic led Serbia, a Greece team that featured Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic led Slovenia made the semifinals. So what does that tell us about the NBA?

David Blatt, who captured 17 titles coaching teams in Israel, Russia, and the Euroleague, knows a thing or two about winning in international basketball. In the NBA, he had amassed an 83-40 win-loss record in two years handling LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Having seen how international basketball operates and the NBA, David shares why Giannis, Nikola, and Luka couldn’t guarantee team success outside the U.S.

In the European game, the best teams win. In the NBA game, generally, the teams with the best players win. This is a major difference. It’s not a criticism. It’s just the way the game is played.

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This explains why NBA superstars often struggle to lead their teams to win. In the NBA, the teams are structured to complement the stars. In EuroBasket or FIBA games, it’s the system that rules. Each player has a role to play and rarely do teams rely on one player to make things happen. Moreover, Blatt added that in EuroBasket, the game only has 40 minutes compared to NBA’s 48, so there are no wasted plays and movement.

Jokic, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo got exposed?

It’s safe to say that Jokic, Doncic, and Giannis got exposed. If there is something to learn here, it’s that European teams are more tactical and led by brilliant but underappreciated coaches. The Slovenian wunderkind was quick to own the shortcomings and promised to look back on the game against Poland to improve moving forward.

Meanwhile, Greece imitated Milwaukee's system - give the ball to Giannis and get out of the way. When the Greek Freak got ejected from the game against Germany, the Greek national team essentially kissed their chance to advance goodbye. With all his Herculean efforts, it just wasn’t enough for Giannis. 

The Joker is unstoppable in the NBA because of his mobility, outside shooting, and court vision. There was no shortage of that type of big man in the EuroBasket. He was also forced to play defense on non-traditional big men, which was like giving him a dose of his own medicine. 

In the case of Luka, the Dallas Mavericks star’s problems in the NBA reared their ugly head at the most crucial game at EuroBasket. Slovenia’s overreliance on him, his non-stop arguing with the referees, and his lazy defense spelled doom for his team.

Unless Serbia, Greece, and Slovenia improve their style and not rely too much on the NBA superstars to bail them out every time, we could see more of the same results in international tournaments. And this unpredictability, contrasting styles, and defensive schemes make the EuroBasket tournament better and more fun to watch than the NBA.

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