The European NBA Player: Dirk or Darko?

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There were thirteen players from Europe with no American experience selected in the 2016 NBA Draft, including seven in the first round. Every year, questions arise about how these European players’ games will translate to the NBA. Every fan has their own opinion about them, but the truth is European players’ success in the National Basketball Association is just about as hard to predict as any other player. In the 2015 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia with the fourth overall pick. The sound that followed was not the applause and cheering of the many New York fans in the building; it was their boos that rang through Barclay’s Center. One young fan was crying, on national television, because of what he thought was a terrible move by New York’s front office. However, it did not take long for Porzingis to win over the Knicks’ fans. He turned in a solid rookie season, averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game and was named to the All-Rookie first team. Dirk Nowitzki, considered by many the greatest NBA player to ever come out of Europe, compared the young Porzingis to himself, a comparison that got Knicks fans excited.

European players are taught a different style than American players are. Players from Europe are often taught more basic fundamentals, and most, including big men, are taught how to shoot. This has been shown with Nowitzki, a seven footer who is also one of the best shooters of all time. American players are usually taught to be more flashy, and some lack basic fundamentals. Many question whether or not a European player can survive and thrive in the NBA because of this different style. Many of the best European NBA players have played in the last fifteen to twenty years. One player who paved the way for the recent European NBA players was Šarūnas Marčiulionis, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 1987 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He went on to have a productive career and was one of the first really successful European players. He played seven seasons in the league, including four with the Warriors. He averaged 12.8 points per game in his career, including a career best 18.9 in the 1991-92 season, his third and 17.4 points the year after that. He was runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year in both of those years. However, Marčiulionis missed over half of that 1992-93 season and missed the entire 1993-94 season with a leg injury, and was subsequently traded to the Seattle Supersonics. He was never the same and his career ended three seasons later. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Questions about whether or not a European player will pan out are certainly understandable. In the famed 2003 draft, Serbian Darko Miličić was selected second overall, directly in front of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Throughout his career, Miličić never lived up to the expectations, averaging six points per game with six teams in his ten-year career. He was nicknamed “The Human Victory Cigar,” due to the fact he often entered the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Meanwhile, Anthony, Bosh, and Wade have been perennial all-stars. Darko Miličić, among others, have made NBA teams hesitant to go after a highly touted European prospect early in the draft. This year, Dragan Bender from Croatia was selected with the fourth overall pick and is headed to Phoenix. He was the highest selected European player in this year’s draft. So, as the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how the players from Europe will perform on the platform of the National Basketball Association.


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