As the game of basketball continues its spread across the globe, the NBA has been home to a number of immensely successful European players in the last decades. With Dirk Nowitzki’s arrival 18 years ago a new type of skilled, shooting Big Man came into the league. Most European players played a versatile and less physical style and enriched America’s basketball landscape. Now the careers of Dirk and the Gasol brothers are nearing their ends and a new generation of Europeans is ready to take the stage. Here are the top 5 up-and-coming players from Europe aged 24 and younger.
Honorable mention: Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkić, Dario Šarić
5. Dennis Schröder, PG, Germany, 23 years old
I chose Schröder over a couple of players, because of the advanced role he plays in Atlanta. With Jeff Teague traded to the Pacers, he was given the reins to the Hawk’s offense at the start of this season. Although Atlanta went through some struggles in the first half of the season, the change has worked out for them. His scoring and assists (17.4p and 6.1a) both top Teague’s values from last year. Schröder excels as a slasher and has improved as distributor and shooter, while turnovers are still an issue for the Point Guard. This year the Hawks are at the crossroads between a looming rebuild and trying to squeeze out some more wins out of their core. Regardless of what their future holds, Dennis Schröder will be their lead guard.
4. Nicola Jokić, PF, Serbia, 21 years old
Out of all players in this ranking, Jokić is the only one not selected in the first round. The Nuggets chose him with 41st pick of the 2014 draft and got themselves a steal. In his rookie year, he racked up 55 starts and flashed skills reminiscent of Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis, who played with Portland in the late 90s: He may not be a strong athlete, but he has a tremendous I.Q. and, for a Big Man, excellent passing skills. Unsurprisingly, he turned into one of the key pieces for a rebuilding Denver team. His biggest weakness is still his defense, where he is far from being a force to be reckoned with.
3. Kristaps Porzingis, C, Latvia, 21 years old
“He’s probably way ahead of the curve compared to when I was 20”, said Dirk Nowitzki after facing Porzingis for the first time. Impressive praise by an all-time great, who is the only near comparison to what the Latvian brings to the table: At the freakish length of 7-3 (!) he shoots the three at 40% this season. What distinguished him the most from Dirk, is his defense. While the Mavs’ superstar was at best a non-factor on this end of the floor, Porzingis uses his length way better to protect the rim, racking up 2 blocks per game. As we keep wondering what, if any, his ceiling might be, there is one big potential obstacle for his future: The New York Knicks. A franchise in utter chaos and highly controversial team building is the last place you would want one of the NBA’s brightest talents to play.
2. Rudy Gobert, C, France, 24 years old
Utah’s Frenchman sits at number two. The 24-year-old is the pure personification of what a defensive Center should look like. His sheer size, he stands at 7-1, and presence around the basket change game plans every minute he is on the floor. He averaged more than 2.0 blocks in three of his four seasons with the Jazz and cleans the glass at a startling rate, getting nearly 9 defensive rebounds a game. So it’s no surprise that he has become a household name in the DPOY conversation. Offensively, he finishes at 66.3% which makes him more than viable, considering how good of a rebounder he is on both ends. But not many saw Gobert’s greatness coming: After an underwhelming rookie campaign his rise came rather unforeseen.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Greece, 22 years old
Who else should the top spot in this ranking go to? Few players have generated more buzz this year than the Greek Freak in Milwaukee. Taken 15th overall by the Bucks in 2013, Giannis has seen a spectacular rise from a development player with a terribly long name to the brightest budding star in this league. At 6-11 he has the size of a Big Man, passes like a Point Guard, flies to the rim with ease. The list could go on forever and even his once shaky shot has improved a lot. His stat line of 24p 6a 9r alone would serve to make him one of the very best, but it is the outlook of a player, who can play all five positions and has just turned 22, that makes him so scary.