If there’s anything that FIBA EuroBasket taught us, it’s that good teams win games, but great teams win championships.
The group phase loss to Belgium certainly woke Spain up, as the Spaniards went on a six-game winning streak to clinch the championship. Taking down emerging powerhouse France was the perfect way to cap off that run, with a win over a multisport rival making things extra sweet.
With their fourth EuroBasket title, Spain moved past Lithuania for the most EuroBasket championships by any active nation (The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have 14 and eight EuroBasket titles, respectively.). Over the last seven editions of EuroBasket, though, Spain has managed to finish with a medal, another mark of their consistent success in the region.
Only Rudy Fernandez and FIBA EuroBasket 2022 MVP Willy Hernangomez remain from Spain’s last FIBA EuroBasket championship team back in 2015, but Spain’s success in this edition and in the three other gold medal campaigns has come with Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo at the helm.
The Spaniards finished FIBA EuroBasket 2022 second in 2-point field goal percentage (58.8 percent), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4), and turnovers (8.9 per game), while they were in the top five in the competition in scoring (90.2 points per game) and field goal shooting percentage (48.6 percent). Defensively, Spain were ball disruptors with their 8.1 steals per game (good for fourth in the competition) despite placing near the bottom among the field of 24 teams in terms of blocks and being relatively in the middle of the pack in terms of rebounds and committing fouls.
Beyond the numbers, however, Spain has always been great with their execution. Whether they needed a basket or had to dig deep to rally from a double-digit deficit, Spain found a way to respond. The likes of Juancho and Willy Hernangomez and even young big man Usman Garuba have had bit to niche roles in the NBA, but they have been vital to Spain’s cause. While it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to completely replicate these feats on a consistent basis, their NBA teams should nevertheless be excited to get better and motivated players with the season right around the corner.
Ball movement had been integral to Spain’s triumph in EuroBasket, even when they weren’t the best passing team. In fact, La Roja’s solid assist-to-turnover ratio only points to how it was a matter of quality rather than quantity. With other teams pushing the pace or relying on their stars, Spain stuck with finding the best shot possible, knowing well that other teams will take in more possessions.
During those possessions, understanding their opponent’s tendencies and executing with the right timing were crucial. It didn’t matter that Spain had to go through the likes of Finland’s Lauri Markkanen, Germany’s Dennis Schroder, and France’s Rudy Gobert; having the right players in all the right places mattered more. Doing so allowed Spain to peak at the right time, and sometimes that’s what matters more than having the best player in the region or even the world.
Spain’s FIBA EuroBasket 2022 will definitely give them some momentum heading into next year’s FIBA World Cup. Currently ranked second in the world behind the USA, Spain has time to assemble a potent squad with holdovers from the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 squad and some returning players who could add more nuance to what Spain has put together in recent years. It also won’t help to let the younger players like Garuba and the Hernangomez brothers take on even larger roles moving forward, with naturalized player Lorenzo Brown finding ways to keep the rest of his teammates happy.
The greatness of Spain during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 was not in the sum of their individual players, rather, it was how they blended things together. They’ve made the game look easy and while basketball in itself is a simple game, playing to win is easier said than done.