It's been two years since the last major basketball tournament (if you discount the Olympic Games in Rio), so there's a genuine air of anticipation among basketball fans and punters as to how EuroBasket 2017 will pan out. Spain might be the favorite, and Jokic's absence from Serbia makes that road easier but nothing is ever guaranteed in major competition where national pride is on the line!
Spain and Serbia are the bookmakers’ picks for glory at 6/4 with 888sport and 11/4 with NetBet – and it's easy to see why. The Spaniards are the reigning EuroBasket champions after their 2015 triumph in Lille, where they defeated Lithuania in the final 80-63. They went on to win bronze at the 2016 Olympics after narrowly being beaten in their semi-final match against the United States, who went on to win gold.
The Serbians, meanwhile, have a habit of being the bridesmaid but never the bride in major tournament basketball. They claimed the silver medal at the Rio Games, lost in the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup and were just four points away from the championship match at EuroBasket 2015. Perhaps this year’s edition, hosted by Finland, Israel, Romania and Turkey, could finally bring the glory they so crave.
The reigning EuroBasket champions are the favourites with the sportsbooks to retain their title and, given the quality of the players at their disposal, they're a savvy choice. Shooting guard Alex Abrines looks a fantastic prospect and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him break through this NBA season at Oklahoma City Thunder.
In his rookie year on the roster, he nailed 38% of his three-pointers of which he averaged nearly four per game. If he can translate that form onto the big international stage then he could well be Spain’s match winner.
As ever, the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, will be the lynchpins of the Spanish side, while Ricky Rubio will be looking to confirm his status as one of the continent’s finest point guards. The only question mark against Spain is the absence of Nikola Mirotic, who has remained in the US to try and settle a new contract ahead of the NBA.
They are the perennial high-quality performers who don’t quite get the job done. Serbia’s hopes of shaking off the ‘nearly men’ tag at EuroBasket 2017 won't be made any easier by Nikola Jokic’s decision to remain behind with the Denver Nuggets to prepare for the upcoming season. That means that others will need to step up to the plate.
This hands opportunities to the likes of Milos Teodosic and the man so good they (almost) named him twice, Bogdan Bogdanovic. Teodosic, the exciting point guard with a flair for the spectacular, will be looking to break through into the NBA this season after a number of outstanding years in the EuroLeague.
He’s just signed a two-year deal with the LA Clippers and a strong showing at EuroBasket will remind his new employer exactly what he's capable of. Bogdanovic comes with a rather lofty reputation: he’s just signed the largest rookie contract in the history of the NBA at an eye-watering $36 million with the Sacramento Kings.
It was his form for Fenerbahce, the Turkish side, in the EuroLeague that caught the eye, with the Serb averaging some 14.6 points per game from downtown with a healthy success rate of 43%, both of which fantastic compared to others at his particular position.
Smart punters will have already plotted their way through the tournament armed with pencil and ruler, with the brackets suggesting that the winners of Group A and B are the clever bets as these two teams will almost certainly avoid Spain and Serbia until the semi-final stage.
Greece would be the obvious play in Group A, but with ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo ruled out by injury, their preparations have been dealt a huge blow. France, another side who'll fancy their chances in the first group, will be without Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker and Rudy Gobert.
In Group B, it's Lithuania who stand out: available at odds of 5/4 in the ‘Top Three Finish’ market with Unibet, the Lithuanians have claimed the silver medal at each of the last two editions of EuroBasket. They reached the last eight at the Olympics and played in the third/fourth place play-off at the 2014 World Cup, so this is a nation with plenty of big tournament game.
They will be led by Mantas Kalnietis, the experienced point guard who has enjoyed great success playing for his country, while NBA experience comes from centre forward Jonas Valanciunas and small forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas. If you think you know how to put your money where your mouth is for this year's EuroBasket, visit 888sport today!