Slovenia will have a shot to play for a medal.
In fact, it will have a chance to play for gold, if it can get past France on Thursday. Slovenia’s basketball team has been the talk of the Olympic men’s basketball tournament as it has carved through its schedule to go undefeated in group play, routed Germany in the quarterfinals and reach the semifinals for the first time in the nation’s history. The Slovenians are winning by an average of 21.25 points per game.
That success has been, in no small part, due to the stellar play of Mavericks star Luka Doncic. The 22-year-old, who is now 17-0 in international play, is averaging nearly a triple-double for the team and has led Slovenia in either points, rebounds or assists in each of the team’s four wins.
How did Slovenia get this close to winning an Olympic medal in its first trip to the Olympics? Let’s break it down.
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Luka Doncic has been unstoppable
There are plenty of big names in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. Kevin Durant. Jayson Tatum. Rudy Gobert. Marc Gasol. None of them have found the success Doncic has had.
Doncic is averaging 26.3 points per game, the most of any player in the Olympics and one of only five with a scoring average over 20 ppg, that he’s matching with efficient shooting at 52.2 percent from the field. He dropped a ridiculous 48 points in Slovenia’s 118-100 win against Argentina in the Group Phase, scored 25 more against Japan in the 116-81 win, had an off game against Spain where he scored just 12 in Slovenia’s 95-87 win and put up 20 against Germany in the 94-70 quarterfinals win.
But Doncic is doing more than just scoring. He’s filling up the box score night in and night out. His 40 rebounds are second only to teammate Mike Tobey at 50. His 32 assists pace the field. His 12 3-pointers are tied for the fourth-most. His five blocks are tied for the most tallied so far.
Perhaps most impressively is the fact he’s doing this while also playing a ton of minutes, having racked up the most minutes overall at 124 and averaging the sixth-most minutes per game at 31.
There’s no doubt that Doncic’s dynamic playmaking ability has helped Slovenia reach the semifinals. But their ability to dominate the post has also been a major factor.
Slovenia is one of just two teams with more than 50 offensive rebounds with an Olympics-high 59 and it leads the defensive rebounds by a wide margin with 145. The next closest is France at 126. The team’s 204 total rebounds are 36 more than France, which has the second most at 160. On the flip side, Slovenia has only allowed 134 total rebounds to its opponents.
Doncic has made his mark with 40 rebounds, but 7-foot center Tobey is also having himself a strong Olympic performance. He’s averaging 12.5 rebounds per game — and a double-double with 11.5 points per game as well. Jaka Blazic and Zoran Dragic — both 6-5 — each have 16 rebounds, while 6-11 Ziga Dimec and 6-8 Edo Muric each have 14.
Having that size and rebounding advantage will play a crucial role in keeping them moving through the tournament, especially in the semifinal against France where they’ll face defensive stalwart Gobert and Nicolas Batum.
This Slovenia team has also proven that it is no easy feat to score against them.
Opponents are shooting a combined 122-for-300 — 40.7 percent — from the field. That consists of a 49.4 percent success rate from 2-point range on 77-of-156 shooting, and 31.3 percent from 3-point range on 45-of-144. Compare that to Slovenia’s No. 1 ranked shooting from 2-point range at 63 percent on 92-of-146 and the No. 5 shooting from 3 at 37.4 percent on 58-of-155, and it’s easy to see why Slovenia has gone unblemished.
The numbers are particularly staggering in the most recent two games against Spain and Germany. Spain shot 39.4 percent from 2-point range and actually made more field goals from 3-point range (16) than from 2-point range (13), while Germany was even in both with 12 field goals made from each range, but still shot just 48 percent from 2 and 31.6 percent from 3.
The defense has also been efficient at shutting down top players. Only three times has an opposing player scored more than 20 points, and no Spanish or German player reached 20.