The NBA has always been, and will always be, a game played at the highest level in America. Forget the fact that it was invented by a Canadian, and that the first official game with franchises as we know them today taking place in Canada, basketball’s growth occurred in America, to the point where it is as popular today as it has ever been.
With that popularity, comes an increase in others wanting to get involved, and they have. America is where players go if they want to make it, but for all of those who advance through the college ranks (or go undrafted) and don’t make the pros, viable career options now exist not only in Europe, but as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
In fact, some players are using these leagues to boost their profile before going to the NBA, with LaMelo Ball’s brief run in Australia a recent example. Returning to Europe though, and the EuroLeague has emerged as the second-best place to ply your trade. Many forget now, but during the lockout of 2011, All-Star level players such as Deron Williams went to Europe to play there while the owners and players hashed out a new deal.
European players coming to America used to be viewed a certain way, with a large distrust from fans stateside about what they were getting. Given the number of busts that came of this, it is easy to see why. Yet there were diamonds in the rough, with German Dirk Nowitzki the most famous example.
In the last 15 years in particular, it is clear that the quality of these European players has gone up another level. Right now, three of the top 10 players in the league in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) are European (a fourth, Joel Embiid, is from Cameroon and leads this category, with a European in second and third).
Have we finally hit the point where a Team Europe could beat a Team USA?
Laughable for essentially the entire existence of the NBA, but when you think of the top players in the league after LeBron James, you’ll quickly begin to realize that a lot of the names you’re mentioning aren’t American. So let’s put the theory to the test then. If we pick the five best European players in the league, could they conceivably beat their American counterparts?
Two points worth noting before we continue, and that is that African players such as Embiid weren’t included in this head-to-head. With the way the game is growing there, in another 15 years we could be having a Team Africa versus Team USA argument instead. Also we’re trying to keep some sort of coherent team structure in place, with Team Europe having a ton of bigs.