August 17, 2018, 2:44 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature and the second part of our breakdown of the European basketball world. Today we will be examining the top national leagues on the other side of the Atlantic, some of which have been a consistent source of talent infusion in the NBA.
Recapping our first part, what you basically need to know is that every club in Europe competes in at least two different types of organizations. The national leagues (e.g. Barcelona plays in the Spanish league, called Liga ACB) with teams from the same country and the transnational leagues like EuroLeague, where teams from different countries travel back and forth and play each other every week in home or away games. This translates to a minimum of two games per week and even though this might not seem as intense as the level of the NBA (with a minimum of 82 games and up to four games per week) the top teams really end up playing more or less some 70 games on a tight schedule that runs from October until April that often ends in June, with grueling travel across the continent and daily practices.
Last week we established how EuroLeague is arguably the best league at the European level but there are a few other leagues notable for their very high level of competition throughout the years. I chose to rank them using a very sophisticated model from Jacob Goldstein that focuses on the offensive and defensive Box Plus/Minus in each league.
The Liga ACB (Asociación de Clubs de Baloncesto), formed in 1957, consists of 18 teams but has been dominated through the years by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have combined to win 51 out of the possible 60 titles. Like many professional leagues outside of the NBA, relegation in the ACB means that the last two teams in the standings are dropped to LEB Oro, the second-tier division, and replaced by LEB Oro’s top two teams. Liga ACB also has a great farm system as all professional teams have a youth club that competes in the lower divisions without being allowed to advance to the majors as its purpose is to develop and expose kids to a competitive environment.
Traditional powerhouses: Seven teams have been crowned champions in the history of the league, with Real Madrid winning the title a record 34 times and FC Barcelona 18 times, while Baskonia, Joventut Badalona, Baloncesto Málaga, Bàsquet Manresa and Valencia Basket have had their share of success.
Notable NBA players: In recent years, the league has produced NBA All-Stars such as Paul and Marc Gasol while Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro have all proved that they can play at the highest level. Spanish teams also tend to sign the top European talent (like Mario Hezonja) at an early stage although they usually fail to develop them as this is a very competitive league where veterans get the majority of minutes. Top tier clubs tend to loan these players to farm teams or affiliates in order for them to get the necessary minutes and develop. Most recently, the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez played at Sevilla while Luka Doncic concluded an extremely successful year with Real Madrid before getting drafted this summer. Liga ACB usually employs the most former NBAers of any international league.
Style of Play: Liga ACB has traditionally adopted a run and gun style of play that offers plenty of highlights on a consistent basis. Scouting and advance coaching has been implemented in recent years making the league more sophisticated than ever before but the top clubs have enormous resources and still attract the best domestic talent as well as top-tier Americans. It leads to a fun regular season but to a less competitive environment in the playoffs.
The VTB includes the top-tier Russian clubs plus the top winning teams from Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. It’s one of the best in attracting the top European coaches while it also holds a second-tier level youth competition, called the VTB United Youth League aimed at developing young talent.
Traditional powerhouses: CSKA Moscow has been dominating in VTB United League, winning all but one title to-date while BC Khimki, PBC Lokomotiv Kuban and BC UNICS are some other clubs that have been competitive year in and year out.
Notable NBA players: The league is home for many Americans who wish to sign lucrative offers like former University of Kansas star Keith Langford who was not quite good enough to stick on an NBA roster early in his professional career but he has established himself as one of the best players in Europe with a salary in the seven figures. Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, Sergei Monia and Victor Khryapa are the most recognized Russian basketball players that have gone the other way around.
Style of Play: This is obviously a two-tier league with the top clubs being able to dominate on the domestic and European level and another group of teams that usually are limited due to the lack of funds and resources.
The LBA is the oldest professional basketball league in Europe and currently consists of 16 teams, with the lowest-placed team relegated to the Serie A2 and replaced by the winner of the playoffs of that division. Having been formed in 1920 it has evolved to include some pretty interesting dynamics as the composition of each team’s roster is based on two formulas. A team can either have five players from outside of the European Union plus five Italian players, or it can have three players from outside of the European Union and four players from the European Union, in addition to five Italian players.
At the end of the season there is a prize of €500.000 for the top three ranked teams that choose the 5+5 formula and another bonus of €200.000 for those teams that obtain the best results with their youth teams.
Traditional powerhouses: A total of 99 teams have competed in the LBA since its inception. Seventeen teams have been crowned champions, with Olimpia Milano winning the title a record 28 times, and Virtus Bologna 15 times. Historically, the LBA was the top-ranked national domestic league in Europe from 1958 until 2007 with its clubs having won the most EuroLeague championships (13).
Notable NBA players: Serie A has always been able to attract top talent from all over the world including Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, Andrés Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Pablo Prigioni, Luis Scola, Tiago Splitter and Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni (who had his No. 8 retired by Olimpia Milano) among others while Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Galinari, Marco Belinelli and Luigi Datome have all played successfully at the NBA level.
Style of Play: The league has regressed in recent years as economic trouble has forced most teams to cut down on their budget but it’s still very competitive and the Italian Federation is making a great effort to promote youth in an attempt to resurrect the credibility of the league.
The BSL was founded in 1966, although basketball was first played in the country in 1904. Tremendous financial resources are being poured into the league the last few years which has led to the rapid growth of the game in Turkey but this is probably more of a bubble and I’m very skeptical about the future of the league as some teams have already dropped out of contention due to the devaluation of the Turkish Lira. The BSL is consisted of 16 teams, with the two lowest-placed teams relegated to the TBL and replaced by the two top teams from that division.
Traditional powerhouses: 11 clubs have been crowned champions since the inception of the BSL in 1966, with Anadolu Efes winning the title a record 13 times and Fenerbahçe 9 times. In most recent years, Fenerbahce has dominated the league by winning 8 titles out of 12 from the 2006–07 season onward with coach Zelimir Obradovic guiding the club to an unprecedented run.
Notable NBA players: Brad Wanamaker, James Nunnally, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jan Vesely and Anthony Randolph have all had tremendous stints in the BSL while the infusion of Turkish talent to the NBA has been very consistent with Hidayet Türkoglu, Enes Kanter, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova, Cedi Osman, Semih Erden, Mehmet Okur, Furkan Aldemir and Mirsad Türkcan all having made the successful transition.
Style of Play: Teams usually sign top-tier Americans or European veterans to lead them which very often translates to starting five units being consisted almost exclusively of foreign players. The league resembles the EuroLeague especially when the top-tier clubs meet each other and is currently going through its golden age.
The top basketball league in France was formed in 1921 and is one of the most historic ones that is always in the discussion as an elite and stable tournament.
Traditional powerhouses: ASVEL, owned by Tony Parker, has won the most French basketball championships with 18, while Limoges Cercle Saint-Pierre and Élan Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez are the other dominant clubs.
Notable NBA players: Parker started his professional career as a 17-year-old for Paris Racing Club in 1999, while Alexis Ajinça, Nicolas Batum, Rodrigue Beaubois, Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw, Yakhouba Diawara, Evan Fournier, Mickael Gelabale, Rudy Gobert, Joffrey Lauvergne, Ian Mahinmi, Jerome Moiso, Frank Ntilikina, Johan Petro, Mickael Pietrus, Kevin Seraphin, Axel Toupane and Frederic Weis have had careers in the NBA. The French league has also been home to established NBA veterans like Bruce Bowen, Lawrence Funderburke, Udonis Haslem and J.R. Reid who made a name for themselves before returning to the best league of the world.
Style of Play: The French league is extremely athletic and physical with a focus on defense versus offense. Most clubs usually sign established Americans to help them carry the offensive burden and Elie Okobo was an exception to that rule as he was the only French player in Pro A who led his team in scoring last year. It’s a league on the rise and you should expect to see plenty of French kids join the NBA in the upcoming years.
Ligat HaAl was founded in 1954 and comprises of the top twelve basketball clubs in Israel, with the team that finishes last in a season being relegated to the Second Division, while the Second Division’s top 8 teams compete in a playoff system right after the end of the regular season. The league itself is most known in Europe, due to the success of the Israeli teams in European-wide competitions, such as the EuroLeague, EuroCup and FIBA EuroCup.
Traditional powerhouses: With 6 EuroLeague championships, one Adriatic League championship, 52 Israeli League championships, 44 Israeli State Cup titles, and 7 Israeli League Cup titles, Maccabi Tel Aviv has been the most successful team in Israel, and is also one of the most successful clubs in the history of Europe.
Notable NBA players: Many non-drafted and free agent players from Europe and the NBA, play in the Israeli league, as an alternative to NBA competition with the list including Will Bynum, Anthony Parker, Roger Mason Jr., Eugene “Pooh” Jeter, Carlos Arroyo, and Nate Robinson. Over the years, the league has also exported many of its foreign players to the NBA, including Omri Casspi, T.J. Leaf, Doron Sheffer (who played U.S. college basketball at Connecticut), Yotam Halperin and Oded Kattash.
Style of Play: Israeli teams are traditionally very hard to play against as they operate at an extremely professional pace at all levels from coaching to traveling (Maccabi is one of the few teams in Europe with a charter plane). The competition is not elite but it’s a very enjoyable league that occasionally attracts big-time talent like Amare Stoudemire.
The well known ABA is the 1st-tier regional men’s league with teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYROM, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia and was formed in 2001, about a decade after the breakup of Yugoslavia in hopes of resurrecting the traditional strong school of basketball.
Who participates in the Adriatic League: Participants are determined by only the results in the competitions under the umbrella of the Adriatic League (First Division and Second Division) and according to that, promotion to the First Division is possible only from the Second Division. The maximum number of clubs from one country in the First Division is five and these are the clubs that will be participating in the ABA next year:
Crvena Zvezda, Mega Bemax, FMP and Partizan from Serbia
Cedevita, Cibona and Zadar from Croatia
Budućnost and Mornar from Montenegro
Krka and Petrol Olimpija from Slovenia
Igokea from Bosnia and Herzegovina
League format: A total of 12 teams will play in the league, including 11 from the 2017–18 season and one promoted from the 2017–18 Second Division. The semi-finals are played in a best-of-three format, while the Finals are a best-of-five format.
Style of Play:The league lacks athleticism and has become more of developmental organization, recently producing young NBA big men Dario Saric, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. Many agents choose to place their young clients in the ABA as they can dominate against older and less explosive athletes and I couldn’t think of a better example than Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot who was able to distinguish himself as an above-the-rim athlete before getting drafted by the Sixers. The formation of the Adriatic League has inspired similar regional competitions all over Europe such as the Baltic Basketball League (started in 2004), the Central European Basketball League (2008–2010) and the Balkan International Basketball League (2008).
A very healthy league with 18 participants, that some believe could be among the best in Europe in the near future, even if it’s currently a mid-tier European league. It is well-funded, well-marketed, and the games are well-attended. A BBL season is split into a league stage and a playoff stage. At the end of the league stage, the top eight teams qualify for the playoff stage, and the teams positioned in the 17th and 18th place are relegated to a lower tier league.
Traditional powerhouses: Alba Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen have long held the reigns of the BBL while Brose Bamberg and Bayern Munich have invested heavily in their senior teams recently and are slowly becoming elite clubs.
Notable NBA players: P.J. Tucker, Darius Miller, Brad Wanamaker and Malcolm Delaney are some of the top Americans who dominated with their play before returning to the NBA. While Dirk Nowitzki and Detlef Schrempf were bright examples that worked themselves into the NBA, Dennis Schroder, Maxi Kleber, Daniel Theis and Isaac Bonga belong to the new generation of German talent that looks poised to succeed at the highest level.
Style of Play: The BBL is also a very physical tournament where scoring is hard to come by but the recent expansion of the league and the infusion of money has led to a drastic improvement in talent even though it still doesn’t attract the top European players.
The Greek League has been one of the most competitive basketball leagues in Europe through the years, and it was widely regarded as the second best national domestic league in the world, after only the NBA, in the 1990’s. The GBL consists of 14 teams while clubs were first allowed to have foreign (non-Greek) players on their rosters in the 1988–89 season. Under the league’s current foreign player rules, Greek Basket League teams must have at least 6 Greek players and another 6 foreign (non-Greek) ones on their active 12 man game rosters. There are no restrictions on the number of foreign players allowed by country of origin as they could sign up to 6 American players, or up to 6 Canadian players, or up to 6 players from European countries, etc.
Traditional powerhouses: Called the Mother of all Battles, the Olympiakos-Panathinaikos rivalry goes back to the 1940s, but in the past 20 years, the teams have met in the Greek League, the Greek Cup and the EuroLeague and played each other over 75 times, including 16 in the Finals of the GBL. The league has several European historical basketball powers as well, in the likes of PAOK, Aris, AEK and Panionios.
Notable NBA players: Back in the 90’s, the GBL was able to attract legends like Dominique Wilkins, Byron Scott, Eddie Johnson and Cliff Levingston. Peja Stojakovic dominated the Greek league before getting drafted by the Kings while Rasho Nesterovic, Jake Tsakalidis, Marco Jaric, Nikola Pekovic, Antonis Fotsis, Vassilis Spanoulis, Nick Calathes and Kostas Papanikolaou all had their careers established in Greece before making the jump.
Style of Play: A very detail oriented and strategic approach dominates in GBL as Greek coaches are spme of the best in Europe and rely heavily on complex offensive and defensive schemes. Scores between the top-tier teams usually end in the low 60’s and defense is the predominant way of winning.
Basketball is the second religion in the small country of Lithuania, a population of just 3 million, but their league hasn’t been able to develop accordingly after earning their independence from the Soviet Union. An attempt to join the powerful Russian VTB United League didn’t quite work out and LKL still lacks competitiveness.
Traditional powerhouses: The league is composed of 10 teams but had been badly dominated by Zalgiris Kaunas with Lietuvos Rytas being the only other consistent top club.
Notable NBA players: A long list of Lithuanian legends like Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Linas Kleiza and Darius Songaila have had very successful careers in the NBA while the strong basketball tradition is being continued by the likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, Domantas Sabonis and Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
Style of Play: While it lacks the talent, the LKL is a very entertaining league with an emphasis on pace and early offense, plenty of triples and fast break opportunities but the lack of depth in rosters and teams puts it at the bottom of the European competition.
Thank you for reading this article and please feel free to contact me on Twitter @philysstar if you are looking to learn more about European leagues. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.