EuroBasket 2017: European rising stars now vs. best European NBA players in the past

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After a two-month NBA off-season break, FiveTimesFive blog is back with a new, fresh and this time slightly different story. It is influenced by a very interesting European Basketball Championship, also known as EuroBasket, and by some excellent performances of certain up-and-coming European rising stars. We will present their numbers and compare them to the stats of some established European NBA players in EuroBasket tournaments in the past, when they were rising stars. This way we might be able to give certain projections of NBA careers of this young generation of basketball players.

Every season the top-tier level European-wide basketball league known as Euroleague selects the best young player. Some of the most recognized recipients of the award were Andrea Bargnani, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic and Danilo Gallinari. Players eligible for the award have to be younger than age 22 just before the season starts, which means that they are at most 22 years of age at the end of the season when the award is presented. We will use the same definition for our EuroBasket rising stars, which means we will only analyze players 22 years of age or younger.

In this year’s EuroBasket 2017 competition there were quite a few youngsters, even teenagers who played big roles and displayed a lot of talent. Probably the most famous one of them was Kristaps Porzingis, the star of the New York Knicks, who averaged almost 24 points in less than 28 minutes per game. The other European Rising Star, Luka Doncic, an 18-year-old phenomenon from Slovenia, made the All-EuroBasket First Team, even before being eligible for the NBA Draft. There were also three other young basketball players, drafted in either 2015, 2016 or 2017, who will play in the NBA next season and performed very well at Eurobasket 2017, i.e. Lauri Markkanen, Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz.

In order to find out how good those players already are, how good they might become, and what their performances mean for their future NBA careers, we will compare their stats to the stats of currently the best European basketball players in the NBA, who in their early careers competed in past EuroBasket tournaments. To select the best European players, we will simply use ESPN.com 2017/2018 NBA rankings. In the Top 100, there are 16 European players – the best one is Giannis Antetokounmpo at nr. 9. In addition to those 16, we included Tony Parker and Jonas Valanciunas in the analysis, since they made the Top 60 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Out of those 16 best players, three of them never competed in a EuroBasket (Jokic, Nurkic, Capella) and three of them were 23 years of age or older when they participated in their first tournament (Mirotic, Galinari, Gobert). Consequently, we ended up analyzing data for 12 established European NBA players when they were 22 years of age or younger and participated in EuroBasket competition(s). But let’s start with presenting numbers from EuroBasket 2017.

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Lauri Markkanen, the 7th overall pick this year (Bulls), was one of the best scorers of the tournament with 19.5 PTS. His per 36 min scoring stats were even more jaw-dropping – 26.0 PTS while shooting 55.8% on 2-pointers and 47.8% on 3-pointers. Luka Doncic, a 6′ 8″ 230 lbs PG/SG, displayed all of his versatility and, in addition to scoring, collected 10.0 REB/36 and dished out 4.5 AST/36 while being the second offensive option of the European Champions, Slovenia. Cedi Osman, the oldest of the four, posted similar scoring and passing numbers as Doncic, while his teammate and the future Sixers SG Furkan Korkmaz spent less time on the floor, but his per 36 scoring numbers were quite promising for a 20-year-old – 17.6 PTS/36. Now we will have a closer look at numbers of current European NBA standouts in past EuroBasket tournaments.

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Most of the analyzed European basketball players who later became at least solid NBA players, including some of those reaching All-Star and/or All-NBA level, were not very productive EuroBasket players by the age of 22. The only three, in addition to Porzingis this year, were Pau Gasol, Dennis Schroder and Tony Parker (2003); potentially also Dirk Nowitzki, who was already a beast at the next EuroBasket tournament in 2001 (aged 23). However, some of the other players put up solid per 36 min stats, e.g. Jonas Valanciunas in 2011 (19.3 PTS and 9.4REB/36) or Giannis Antetokounmpo (14.5 PTS and 10.2 REB/36), they just did not play big minutes. But Goran Dragic, arguably a top 10 NBA PG, and Ricky Rubio, a former teen sensation who never played as well at the professional level, had below average per 36 stats.

Kristaps Porzingis consequently seems to be far more advanced scorer compared to current European NBA players at his age. Lauri Markkanen actually seems to be a better version of Dirk Nowitzki at 20 years of age, at least statistically. Doncic put up numbers comparable to Pau Gasol’s (scoring and rebounding per 36) and Ricky Rubio’s (passing per 36), however being 3 years younger than the two Spaniards. Cedi Osman played at a slightly higher level than then 21-year-old Nicolas Batum, while Furkan Korkmaz’s production at the age of 20 wasn’t that different than that of Tony Parker at the age of 19. This doesn’t mean that those analyzed young European rising stars will be as good or even better than those already staring in the NBA, but it indicates that they’ve been on the right track and the future should be bright even at the next level.

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