The NBA regular season just ended, and it’s time for some recapitulation. It seems as if European players have influenced the season more than ever. Two players from the old continent are leading the best team in the league, a European won the last two MVP awards, and one might be the next MVP. Those accomplishments can likely get you on the list of the top 5 European NBA players of the season.
Before we start, you should know what determines who goes on the list and what makes them top 5 European NBA players. First of all, the individual stats. The quality of the player’s season can be visible in his stats. It’s the first thing everybody looks at but should never be the only data that matters. That’s why we are looking at the team’s ranking as well. It’s not as easy to drop 30 for a contender as it is to do it when you’re tanking and your team doesn’t care about the result. Team stats matter.
This year they didn’t make it on the list. Still, it’s hard not to mention these guys in the conversation for the top 5 European NBA players. They all had exceptional seasons, and we can’t overlook that just because some players were even better.
It’s not often that someone has a bad start to the season, gets badly injured, and then returns playing better than ever. Well, Bogdan Bogdanovic did exactly that. Atlanta Hawks had big plans with Bogdan, but the fit didn’t seem perfect at the beginning of the season. The Serbian averaged just 10 points with shooting percentages that didn’t impress the Hawks’ staff.
However, after being in some trade talks but surviving the deadline without getting traded, Bogi came back. And he did it quite well.
From March 18th to the end of the season, Bogdanovic averaged 20-4-4. To make his comeback even better, Bogi almost averaged 50-50-90, something we don’t see very often. Recency bias may impact our decision to mention Bogdan, but his stats in the second half of the season were too impressive to leave him out of the conversation.
If his team made the playoffs, Nikola Vucevic would probably have a number next to his name in this article. Unfortunately, the Bulls couldn’t make it. And his former team was even worse. Still, we can’t hold any of that against Vucevic. He did his part for the Magic. The team just needed a rebuild. And after Nikola got traded to the Bulls, the Magic started over.
Unfortunately, Vucevic didn’t. He continued to do more of the same, which is to dominate the opposition’s big men. And his team did what his former team used to do, which is not win games. Bulls fans expected to make it back to the playoffs this season, but this wasn’t the year. Vucevic’s 23 points and 11 rebounds per game weren’t enough. Nevertheless, the future looks a bit brighter with Lavine and Vucevic teaming up for years to come.
#5 Domantas Sabonis
Domantas Sabonis has improved significantly in the last two seasons, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The All-Star appearances prove that. Being an All-Star for two in a row years gets you on the list, but that’s it for now. That only explains how good European players have gotten lately.
Nevertheless, let’s give some praise to Domantas. In the last two seasons, he grew into a true leader of the Indiana Pacers. His performances impressed so much that he was often found in the MVP conversation throughout the season. Unfortunately, that award isn’t going his way this year, but who knows what the future holds for the young Lithuanian.
Sabonis averaged 20-12-7 with decent percentages, and he is only 25 years old. The only thing the Pacers’ power forward is missing is experience. If Domantas could get some valuable playoff minutes, we are bound to see some real development.
The Pacers will play in the play-in tournament, with a chance to make it to the playoffs. They just blew out the Hornets and only need one more game to make it. For a young team with players that have room for improvement, Indiana is looking pretty good at the moment. They made the right moves in the past few seasons, and we can expect a lot more from Sabonis and The Pacers in years to come.
#4 Rudy Gobert
Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA, and yes, Rudy Gobert is one of the people most deserving of that. Depending on how much you appreciate defense, Gobert might be misplaced on this list for you. Having in mind who his competition for the first three positions is, Rudy is ranked pretty high. Extra offensive versatility is necessary to be on top of the top 5 European players list.
The Frenchman averaged 14 and 13 this season, which are decent stats. Unfortunately for Rudy, most of what he does isn’t representable by simple statistics. He does average 2.7 blocks per game, which hints at how well he’s been playing on the defensive end.
Utah ended the season as the 3rd team in defensive rating, even though they were number one for most of the year. Gobert is one of the favorites to win defensive player of the year and arguably the biggest favorite to win the award. Apart from Ben Simmons, no one has a competitive case to take the prize their way, except for Utah’s center.
All eyes are on Utah this post-season. Depending on how their season ends, Rudy might get a better spot on the list.
#3 Luka Doncic
His team isn’t doing well. They aren’t winning games. Those were the excuses for people not to put Luka Doncic on the MVP list. Some experts hesitated to even rank him high amongst the 5 top European NBA players. Well, Dallas Mavericks won 42 games this year. In a shortened season.
The Mavs are heading into the playoffs from the fifth seed. They had a solid year. Why? Because Luka stepped up. When Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t around, Doncic was the one that took on the extra responsibility. Don’t forget that Porzingis missed 29 games this year. So that’s a lot of stepping up for Luka. The 22-year-old Slovenian didn’t have a problem with carrying that burden.
Instead, Luka Doncic averaged 28-8-9. Nobody can argue those numbers. He shot 48% from the field and 35% from the 3 point line. Those are both career-best percentages. Luka is maturing into a superstar. There is no question about it anymore. This kid is here to stay and dominate.
Going into the playoffs, the Mavs are facing a familiar opponent – the Los Angeles Clippers. Last year, Kristaps got injured during game 4, and the series was even at 2-2. The Mavs dropped the remaining two games and got eliminated in 6 to the Clippers. They didn’t have enough hardware to finish the job. Can they do it this year?
#2 Giannis Antetokounmpo
The reigning MVP of the league isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. At least that’s what we can estimate from the season he’s had this year. After winning the MVP award in the last two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 28-11-6 this year. Not bad for a #15 pick out of Greece.
This was a classic Greek Freak season. His team was doing well and winning games. He was doing his thing in the paint, and his teammates were hitting threes.
Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to the 3rd spot in the Eastern Conference with only 3 games away from the 76ers. The Bucks are facing Miami Heat in the first round, which isn’t a good match-up for them. This is the team that eliminated them last year.
Like last year, Giannis had a great regular season and is facing the Heat in the playoffs. However, that’s when the MVP received the most amount of criticism. Antetokounmpo’s stats decreased in that series. He scored 21 points per game, and most of his percentages weren’t on the expected level. We’ll see if the Greek Freak can make the necessary adjustments to overcome the Heat this year.
#1 Nikola Jokic
If you are the MVP of the NBA, then you should probably be #1 on most other NBA-related lists? It makes sense, right? That’s why Nikola Jokic is on top of our top 5 European NBA players list.
There’s no need to talk about stats too much. 26-11-8 as a center says enough. However we look at the entire season, there is one constant – Nikola Jokic. The Joker was simply the best individual this year. He carried his team from the beginning to the end of the regular season.
The Nuggets are #3 in the Western Conference and will face Portland Trailblazers in the first round. Unlike some other teams in the West, there was no “load management” in the Nuggets’ lineup. They weren’t afraid of anybody and didn’t lose any games on purpose. That’s the confidence you get when you have the MVP on your team.
It seems as if Denver doesn’t care who is on the other side. Bring on the Lakers is the Joker mentality. That’s unlike most players in LeBron’s conference. We’ll see if that attitude can pay off.