The unknown from Finland faces Spain this Tuesday (17.15, Four) in the quarterfinals of the Eurobasket. “It is the most difficult team to defend because of the way they play, with five outside players and a world-class star like Markkanen”, coach Sergio Scariolo explained on Monday after the last training session. “If you let them play, they drive you crazy”, warned the Italian coach about a rival who has starred in the most triple shots in the tournament: 202, with 79 hits, 13 per night (39.1% effectiveness) , while Spain has launched 171 (55 within, 32.2%).
At the head of the Finnish troop, Markkanen, the 2.13m stem who will play next season in Utah after enrolling in Chicago and Cleveland, and who in the eighth knocked out Croatia with 43 points and an exhibition of mobility. Markkanen appeared in every corner of the court, from his rim to catch the rebound, run and crush the opposite basket, to the rival zone and the perimeter (he added two triples).
Spain will have to find an antidote among its repertoire of pivots. Willy Hernangómez shines when hitting the bodywork, but he is less agile for transitions and exterior defense, and Garuba and Pradilla are inferior in centimeters. Juancho Hernangómez could be that medicine against the third player with the most average points per game, 27.8, after Antetokounmpo’s 29 and Doncic’s 28. A giant with the feet of a sprinter who was initially compared to Dirk Nowitzki, the German star who is witnessing this European Championship from the stands and whose number 14 shirt shines at the top of the Mercedes Benz Arena.
“It has been especially difficult to prepare for this match,” Scariolo commented on Monday. “Really very difficult at a tactical level, to interpret an opponent who plays in an original, atypical and very effective way, with five open shooters. It is the team that shoots the most and best threes, that runs the most in transition… It will be very demanding for the players on the court. I hope we have the maximum respect and maximum harshness. They are a team that can make you dizzy by hitting a 3-pointer late in the possession after running around like a headless chicken for 23 seconds. We are warned.” Markkanen has scored 15 triples from 37 attempts in the tournament (40%); Salin, his best partner, 20 of 42 (47%). In Spain, Rudy and Juancho are the greatest three-pointers with nine hits each, compared to eight by Lorenzo Brown.
About Markkanen, Scariolo said: “The question is not so much defending him but the whole team, which is full of shooters apart from Salin and Koponen, who are extraordinary at that. In general, many of his players make three pointers. You have to defend him, but do it very intelligently and very carefully so as not to open other leaks elsewhere. When you have so much field space to cover, the players’ task is always more complicated, especially not to get distracted or get lost in unnecessary help”.