Some of these players go on to be stars, such as Manu Ginobili, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol. Others, such as Milos Vujanic and Frederic Weis, never even smell the league.
While basketball continues to grow around the globe, there has been an increasing amount of European talent making an impact on NBA teams. The talent pool is quickly spreading, and teams that are able to recognize the talents of the Alexey Shveds of the world are given a distinct advantage.
While the 2012 draft had a relatively weak European crop, 2013 should prove to be a much stronger group. While it lacks a sure-fire stud in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol, there are several intriguing prospects who are both NBA ready and possess a great deal of upside.
The Euroleague is unquestionably the highest level of basketball outside the NBA.
While NBA teams are always looking for the next European draft steal, there are many top-level Americans playing overseas who could potentially make an impact in the NBA in the near future — while there are others who have come to realize that their best chance for playing time, and their best option for making big money, will only come overseas.
Whether it’s from the vastly different style of play, or the exposure to a new culture, American players can grow to understand the game at a very high level with European experience.
Some players who can make the NBA can’t cut it at the highest levels of Europe, and some players who are excellent in the Euroleague, and who are more valuable than some NBA players to a European club, have no chance to make the NBA.
It is an odd dynamic, but that is the basketball world we live in.
Below is our list of the top 50 American players currently playing in Euroleague competition. (We will update it constantly throughout the next several months).
1. Bo McCalebb, 6’0″, PG, 1985, Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey) College: University of New Orleans. McCalebb is an amazing scorer who has repeatedly shown the ability to put a team on his back down the stretch of big games. He may not have ideal size for the NBA, but he could thrive in a role as a momentum changing scorer off the bench. Here is his background story, including the part about his Macedonian passport.
2. Sonny Weems, 6’6”, SF, 1986, Team: CSKA (Russia), College: Arkansas
Weems has stepped up to fill the void left by Andrei Kirilenko as an all-around contributor. An outstanding athlete, Weems has vastly improved his understanding of the game during his time in the Euroleague.
3. Jordan Farmar, 6’2”, PG, 1986, Team: Anadolu Efes (Turkey), College: UCLA
The two-time NBA champion, a former Laker, has fit in quite well in Europe with his consistent effort at both ends of the floor. His ability to get into the paint, combined with his activeness defensively, have allowed him to be one of the most effective players thus far in the Euroleague, averaging 19 pts (76.9% 3PT), 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
4. Jaycee Carroll, 6’2, SG, 1983, Team: Real Madrid (Spain), College: Utah State
Carroll’s lack of strength probably prohibits him from being an NBA player, but his shooting makes him a deadly weapon in Euroleague competition. Carroll is constantly in motion offensively, and his ability to shoot off screens has caused many headaches for opposing coaching staffs throughout Europe.
5. Keith Langford, 6’4”, SG, 1983, Team: Armani Jeans Milano (Italy), College: Kansas
If Langford were two inches taller, his knack for getting buckets would make it hard for NBA teams to keep him on the bench. While Langford could be an effective bench scorer on a handful of NBA teams, every team in Europe has a player with his talents very high up on its wish list.
6. Kyle Hines, 6’6”, PF/C, 1986, Team: Olympiacos (Greece), College: NC-Greensboro
Hines has worked his way through the ranks of Europe to become the best defender in the Euroleague. While he may be undersized as a PF/C, his non-stop motor, understanding of angles and active hands make him an important contributor on any team. Hines could be very effective in a 20-25 minute role for an NBA contender if given the opportunity.
7. Shelden Williams, 6’9”, PF/C, 1983, Team: Chalon (France), College: Duke
After struggling initially to find his spots in his first season of European competition, Williams has proven to be a very efficient player who can be a big time producer, averaging 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds. He may never live down being selected over Rudy Gay, but his basketball IQ on both ends of the floor make him a very effective player.
8. Mike Batiste, 6’8”, PF, 1977, Team: Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey), College: Arizona State
After spending the better part of the last decade with Dimitris Diamantitis in Panathinaikos, Batiste has become the best pick-and-roll big man in Europe. His numbers may not jump out on the stat sheet, but his contributions always seem to find a way into the win column.
While NBA training camps may be getting under way, players such as Jordan Farmar, Sonny
Weems, Shelden Williams, Craig Smith and Bo McCalebb are getting ready to start their seasons in Europe.
McCalebb has begun with a bang, as his team, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, managed to beat the Boston Celtics during their European tour, showing that European hoops is continuing to close the gap on the NBA.
Yes, the Celtics have only been together for a short while, and the loss says nothing about their prospects for the upcoming season. But this is another reminder that the style of play in Europe is far different than in the NBA, and that American players have the same difficulty adjusting overseas that European players do transitioning to the NBA.
While every American player grows up with the dream of playing in the NBA, the option of playing overseas has become quite alluring for players who haven’t distinguished themselves as starters or rotation members.
Aside from the obvious opportunity to be a focal point of a team abroad rather than a role or bit player in the NBA, it is important to note that contracts overseas are structured differently than NBA deals. While an NBA player needs to pay taxes, agent fees and lawyer fees, European teams pay the taxes and all fees involved in the deal, meaning that a player making $300,000 overseas actually sees all of that money. By comparison, a player making the $473,000 NBA minimum only actually receives roughly half of that salary. For players whose other option is the D-League, where the maximum salary is $30,000, playing overseas is almost a no-brainer.
Similar to soccer, European basketball teams not only play in their domestic leagues, but some of the top teams also compete in FIBA’s European cups, known as the Euroleague, Eurocup and Eurochallenge. Teams that finish at the top of their domestic league standings are chosen to play in these European competitions based on recent domestic league results, team budget and arena attendance.
With European cup games only taking place once a week, games are treated with an NFL-type intensity and scrutiny. Teams have a full week to study their opponent’s tendencies, and each possession is far more crucial to the big picture of a team’s season.
With many NBA-caliber players and former college standouts taking their talents to the mother continent, here is a look at the top 20 American players currently playing in European competition.
1. Bo McCalebb, G, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey), College: New Orleans
Entering his fifth season in Europe, McCalebb has taken the reins as the best American (and Macedonian) player currently in Europe. Although he is just 5-10, McCalebb is one of the few players who can single-handedly take over a game at the highest levels of European hoops. While he can get to the basket at will with his quick first step, strong upper body and fantastic body control and is a lights-out shooter, it is his competitive spirit that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. Down 10 with less than five minutes to play, there are few as capable as McCalebb at shifting the momentum back in his team’s favor.
In Europe, McCalebb is an MVP-caliber player, and has the ball in his hands a great deal. If he made the leap over the pond, he wouldn’t likely be the main player on an NBA team but projects very well as a sixth man who can change momentum with his ability to get buckets and play aggressive defense. Whether he wants to give up being the alpha dog at a very high level to be a key cog off the bench is another story altogether.
2. Sonny Weems, F, CSKA Moscow (Russia), College: Arkansas
After proving himself as a solid rotation player with the Toronto Raptors in the back end of his three-year NBA career, Weems committed to playing a full season in Europe amidst last year’s lockout. While Weems significantly improved his jump shot and decision-making throughout last year, he opted to stay in Europe to replace Andrei Kirilenko with CSKA, one of Europe’s powerhouses.
The athletic wing man will prove very valuable with his versatility and ability to fit in with the elite talent he is surrounded by at CSKA. After Weems signed a three-year deal to play in Russia, it will be interesting to see whether he makes another go-round in the NBA or is content making big bucks competing for championships in Europe, like Trajan Langdon.
3. Jaycee Carroll, G, Real Madrid (Spain), College: Utah State
Arguably the best shooter in Europe, Carroll’s shooting ability makes him one of the continent’s deadliest weapons. His ability to shoot coming off screens rivals the greats such as Reggie Miller, Richard Hamilton and Allan Houston, and demands an inordinate amount of defensive attention, opening things up for the rest of the offense.
Carroll definitely could cut it in the NBA as a shooter, but his lack of size for a shooting guard and his slight frame would likely make him too much of a defensive liability to make a big impact. In the right system, he probably could be a big weapon like Steve Kerr. But at this point, it seems more likely that Carroll will continue giving opposing European coaches nightmares.
4. Jordan Farmar, G, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey), College: UCLA
The two-time NBA champion got his first taste of Euroleague last season with Maccabi Tel-Aviv during the lockout. While he counts as a local player in Israel thanks to his Jewish roots, Farmar opted to team up with Sasha Vujacic in Turkey to see if the former Lakers backup backcourt can achieve the same success in Istanbul that they had in LA.
Last year, it took Farmar a couple of weeks to adjust to Euroleague play. He should be far more prepared heading into this season and could easily shoot up these rankings after the first couple of months of the season. A true point guard who can get in the paint with ease, Farmar stays true to his UCLA roots by playing top-notch defense. When combined with defensive ace Jamon Gordon, Efes likely will have the best defensive backcourt in Europe.
5. Keith Langford, G, EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy), College: Kansas
After winning an Israeli league and Adriatic league championship with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Langford has moved back to Italy, where he will try to build on the success he has had since crossing the pond. While his generously listed height of 6-3 makes him undersized for a wing in the NBA, his incredibly strong upper body gives him a big advantage at both wing spots in Europe.
Langford is incredibly crafty as a scorer and one of the few players who has the green light to play 1-on-1 at a high frequency at the higher levels in Europe. With his incredible talent, Langford would be an impact player in the NBA if he were a few inches taller. While he doesn’t have the mindset of an NBA point guard, he could be a good fit paired next to a point guard who can defend bigger guards.
6. Joey Dorsey, C, Olympiacos Pireus (Greece), College: Memphis
Last season, Dorsey was able to redeem the success that Mario Chalmers robbed him of in the 2008 NCAA title game by winning both the Greek and Euroleague titles. He is the perfect fit for the Greek league, a circuit with a very physical style of play and an incredible amount of pressure for each game. He may not be the most technically sound player, but his effort level is off the charts.
Dorsey’s knack for making big defensive plays at key moments and grabbing important rebounds down the stretch make him a big man that every team in Europe would love to have. He may never be a player who can impact your fantasy basketball roster, since his stats do not reflect his effect on games. But this is a player that any NBA team should feel comfortable using down the stretch of close games.
7. Craig Smith, F-C, Hapoel Jerusalem (Israel), College: Boston College
Known as “The Animal,” Smith will hands down be the most physically imposing player in the Israeli league this season. While a 6-6 center may be grossly undersized in the NBA, he is not considered small in Israel and Eurocup, where his enormous frame will give him a huge advantage over just about anyone he will face.
A known NBA commodity who has proven he can provide energy off the bench, Smith has a chance to establish himself as a star in Europe. Jerusalem is coming off a down season, and if he is able to help lead the team back to its accustomed success, it will go a long way toward enhancing his reputation in the international basketball community.
8. Henry Domercant, G, Galatasaray Medical Park Istanbul (Turkey), College: Eastern Illinois
A 32-year-old veteran of the Euroleague, Domercant came from a small time college to become one of the stars of European hoops. He should be one of the poster boys of the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, as he made the unlikely jump from Eastern Illinois to the first division in Turkey as a rookie and never looked back. This incredible shooter should be a motivation to every unheralded player that even if you may not have the hype that the All-Americans are getting, you can still cut it if you are dedicated and stay ready for whenever your opportunity may arise.
9. Mike Batiste, F, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey), College: Arizona State
After having a cup of coffee with the Grizzlies in the 2002-03 season, Batiste went back to Europe where he starred at Panathinaikos for nine seasons full of titles and endless accolades. One of the best roll men in the pick-and-roll, Batiste has established himself as one of the top forwards overseas for the last decade. While he will have to show this year that he can do his damage without the help of super point guard Dimitris Diamantidis, he likely will make a seamless transition playing with McCalebb. At 34, he may be trending down but still has a couple more years as a top player.
10. Shelden Williams, C, Chalon (France), College: Duke
The former fifth overall selection is one of several former lottery picks and NBA vets to make the leap across the pond. Williams has been a big disappointment so far in the NBA considering his draft position but has shown he belongs in the league as a fourth or fifth big man for defensive purposes. While his athleticism and height may prevent him from being the type of presence he was at Duke, he should be a better fit for the European style of play.
In Europe, where each possession is magnified, being in the right spot defensively and making the right play on offense are far more valued than in the NBA game, Williams’ knack for being in the right spot should make him very valuable this season. With his ability to absorb new concepts from coaches, he could learn a couple new tricks overseas that could help him be a more effective backup big during the back end of his NBA career.
For players 11-20, click here.
11. Patrick Beverley, G, Spartak St. Peteresburg (Russia), College: Arkansas
This former second-round pick was one of the most effective guards at the Eurocup level this past season. With a very versatile game, Beverley rebounds very well for a ballhandling guard, can defend both backcourt positions and is able to get a high rate of steals without cheating defensively.
A Chicago native, Beverley played for the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League and drew some interest as a possible training camp invite. He has the ability of many NBA backup guards but realistically wouldn’t garner more than a non-guaranteed deal. With the type of money available to stars in Russia, it would take an NBA team falling in love with him for there to be any chance of his return stateside.
12. Paul Davis, F, Khimky Moscow (Russia), College: Michigan State
After failing to break through in his first few years in the NBA, Davis made a name for himself as a very efficient big man in the highly competitive Spanish ACB league. Now moving to Khimky Moscow – which will be making a big return to the Euroleague – Davis should be in prime position to move up the ladder in the European rankings. His mid-range game is top notch, and he competes very hard on the boards.
Talent-wise, Davis is at an NBA level, but his inability to put the ball to the floor and lack of toughness to bang with centers hurts his chances to make an NBA comeback. However, he is a guy who could emerge as a top-three big man in Europe within the next three years.
13. Chuck Eidson, F, Unics Kazan (Russia), College: South Carolina
The consummate glue guy of European basketball, a team featuring Eidson is very likely to get the most out of its roster. His shooting ability and defensive prowess are overshadowed by his reputation as an excellent teammate. He is a prime example of how the most talented or athletic players aren’t necessarily the most successful overseas, and how character, effort and basketball IQ are very crucial to success.
14. Malik Hairston, G, EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy), College: Oregon
A super athlete who had a brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs last season, Hairston has proven to be a great scorer and all-around player the last couple years in Italy. Although a go-to guy in Europe, Hairston has shown that he can be an excellent NBA role player if given another chance next season. What sets him apart is his ability to “make two plays” at a relatively high rate, since he is very multi-faceted on both ends of the floor. Hairston’s ability as a momentum-changer should get him some looks next summer, but it will take a handsome guaranteed offer to get him to leave his European offers on the table.
15. Nik Caner-Medley, F, Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel), College: Maryland
Coming off an excellent season in the Eurocup and ACB league with Valencia, Caner-Medley has joined Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv. An excellent halfcourt offensive player, he is a knock-down shooter who does a great job taking big guys off the dribble.
Caner-Medley doesn’t really have an NBA position, since he isn’t athletic enough to be a small forward but isn’t strong or tough enough to be a power forward. However, he is a perfect fit as a 4 in the European game. Playing in the Euroleague this season will give him a chance to show he can hang at the continent’s top level after being one of the top performers in the Eurocup the last several years.
16. Hilton Armstrong, C, Panathinaikos (Greece), College: Connecticut
After failing to distinguish himself in the NBA, Armstrong made the smart decision of heading to a good-but-not-great team in Europe during his rookie campaign overseas. This season with Panathinaikos, Armstrong should be a big defensive presence in the middle and will be a very important player in both the Greek and Euroleague competitions.
Armstrong may not be able to create much offensively for himself but is an elite rebounder and should be treated to a lot of easy buckets while playing with some of the best guards in Europe. He has a chance to not only skyrocket up the rankings in Europe but earn a nice NBA role if he has an outstanding season.
17. Nick Calathes, G, Lokomotiv Kuban (Russia), College: Florida
While the Dallas Mavericks own the rights to Calathes, he just signed a two-year deal with Lokomotiv Kuban that includes a prohibitive NBA buyout. With Israeli point guard Yogev Ohayon’s deal with Kuban being blocked by FIBA, Calathes will be given the opportunity to be extremely successful these next two years.
Stepping away from Panathinaikos, where he played for coach Zeljko Obradovic and next to Diamantidis, it will be interesting to see if he has a breakout season after learning from the best. With Dallas set to make a major splash next summer, Calathes appear poised to be an integral piece of the Mavs going forward.
18. Derwin Kitchen, G, Panathinaikos (Greece), College: Florida State
After being ruled academically ineligible to play for the University of Florida team that went on to win back-to-back NCAA championships, Kitchen went through a long and winding road before getting an opportunity at Florida State. While Kitchen was an outstanding player at FSU, he hardly got a look from anyone when he graduated as he was a 25-year-old rookie. Last season with Maccabi Rishon Lezion, Kitchen made the All-Israeli First Team as a rookie, averaging over seven rebounds a game as a point guard, playing extremely efficient offensively, proving himself as one of the league’s best defenders and repeatedly coming through in the clutch.
While primarily a point guard, Kitchen is unselfish enough to play off the ball and versatile enough to defend shooting guards and even some small forwards in Europe. Getting an opportunity to play for a giant such as Panathinaikos will be a great stage for Kitchen to show his talents. A successful season may make NBA executives second-guess taking a pass on him.
19. Bobby Brown, G, Montepaschi Siena (Italy), College: Cal State Fullerton
Making up for his lack of height with elite athleticism, Brown is able to score in bunches. While always an explosive scorer, over the past several years he has emerged as a better leader capable of rallying his teammates down the stretch. This increased leadership may not show up on the stat sheet but makes Brown much more favorable in the eyes of European talent evaluators . After not really getting enough of an opportunity to show his talents in the NBA, it is unlikely he will get another shot to prove himself. However, Brown has proven that he has a knack for getting buckets.
20. Jared Jordan, G, Telekom Baskets Bonn (Germany), College: Marist
Among the league leaders in assists virtually everywhere he has played, Jordan is one of this era’s few pure pass-first point guards. He may have a slight frame, but his ability to see the floor, run an offense and knock down shots will help him have a long career in Europe.
Jordan didn’t get to distinguish himself in the Euroleague as a rookie with Lietuvos Rytas but seems ready to make the jump to being an elite quarterback in Europe. Another strong season with Telekom Baskets should propel him to the highest levels next summer.
A.J. Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working as an assistant coach for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a pro basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.