Will European basketball ever catch up with the NBA in terms of playing standard?

Dirk Nowitzki Dallas Mavericks
Photo: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Europe is a source of constant fascination for folks in the US with its ancient history, culture, and modern-day trends. The same can also be said in reverse with many people around Europe finding the USA an exciting, vibrant place.

Over time, this has led to ideas, sports and conventions hopping between the two. Online betting apps are a perfect illustration of this as they were popular in Europe before taking off after changes to legislation in America.

But what about the other way round? One US export that has grown to be very popular in many European countries is basketball. While the standard of pro-European ball was once way behind the NBA, it has come on a lot in recent years. The gap in quality between the NBA and pro-European basketball leagues is now closer than ever.

While you would still say the NBA has a better overall standard, European leagues are fast catching up. That is apparent when you look at the number of impressive European players who have made the grade in the NBA over time. But, who are some of the best European players to have tasted success in the NBA?

Dirk Nowitzki

Undoubtedly one of the top NBA greats to have hailed from Europe is Nowitzki. From Germany, he was a big guy and used this height to superb effect as a power forward. Nowitzki played for DJK Wurzburg in Germany before being drafted in 1998 by the Milwaukee Bucks. It was his move to the Dallas Mavericks that actually showcased his talents. It was the Mavs he stayed with until 2019 after that, playing over 1500 games for them!

His career stats are pretty mind-blowing, and they show the present tremendous standard of basketball in Europe. Not only is he just one of six players in NBA history to score 31,560 points or above, he also finished with 3,651 assists (2.4 per game). Nowitzki was also part of the 2011 Championship winning team in Dallas, and he made a 2006 NBA finals appearance.

Tony Parker

The Frenchman, Tony Parker, is another fabulous example of the high standard in European leagues and teams. After playing for the pro-European team Paris Basket Racing in France for a few years, the point guard was picked up in the 2001 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs. Parker used his playmaking skills and athleticism to drive the Spurs to four NBA Championships.

In 2007, he even got chosen as the NBA Finals MVP, which shows just how good players from Europe can be. Although he might not have the most extraordinary career stats to look back on, his consistency and desire to succeed made him a valuable player.

Photo: Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Pau Gasol

Extremely effective on the court and with a great will to win, center Gasol has enjoyed a spectacular career after moving to the NBA from the Spanish pro league. He was first drafted in 2001 and soon showed how far European players have come by picking up Rookie of the Year in his first season.

A 2008 move to the LA Lakers is where he really took off! He was part of an NBA Championship winning team twice in 2009 and 2010. Although the news that the Portland Trail Blazers released Pau Gasol in November 2019 may signal his retirement, he has still done enough to be regarded as one of the best Euro players in NBA history.

Drazen Petrovic

When you think about people who started to show what European players could do and pave the way for others, Croatian Petrovic is hard to miss. After building up a great career playing pro ball in Europe during the 1980s as a shooting guard, he eventually made the leap to the NBA in 1989.

Although his first team was the Trail Blazers, it didn’t begin to happen for him until after joining the Nets. In his last couple of seasons with them, he recorded a 50% field goal rate and a PPG figure of 20, which was quite something. Tragically, the Croatian star’s death in a 1993 car accident cut his NBA career short, but his impact on how European basketball was viewed can never be forgotten.

European basketball can now compete with the NBA

While the NBA may still have the upper hand in general terms, there is no doubt that European basketball is fast closing the gap. The above players show the high standards that can be found across Europe and the impact the best Europeans can have in the NBA. With new Euro stars, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, carrying on this fine tradition, we could well see the gap in quality between US and European ball get even closer.