Why it’s Time to Drop the NBA’s Euro Stigma

If you've been following the NBA for more than a decade, you understand the significance of the 2003 NBA Draft. Four slam-dunk Hall of Famers, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, were taken in the first five picks.

That may never happen again. But that other pick, No. 2 to the Pistons via the Grizzlies as the result of a terrible trade will always be a huge "what if" in the annals of NBA history.

Detroit, following the first of what would be six straight trips to the East Finals, picked Darko Milicic with that second pick. Milicic then only lasted two and a half years with the Pistons, starting a grand total of three games. In 10 seasons, he never averaged double figures in scoring for a season, making him a historic draft bust.

In many NBA observers' minds, that Darko pick also served as a warning that European players drafted in high spots would only let you down compared to traditional prospects from the U.S. This, despite Dirk Nowitzki winning NBA MVP and Finals MVP in subsequent years.

It's been time to retire the "soft Euro" draft stigma for quite a while. But with Luka Doncic lapping the field for Rookie of the Year this season and nearly becoming the first rookie all-star starter since Yao Ming, we have to get rid of all past perceptions players from across the pond immediately.

With all due respect to Deandre Ayton, who is averaging a double-double on almost 60 percent shooting, and Marvin Bagley III, who has loads of untapped potential in the pro game for a surprisingly competitive Kings team, Doncic was clearly the most NBA-ready and best prospect.

The Euroleague is, without question, the second most prestigious team title to win in pro basketball behind the NBA. The Spanish league (Liga ACB) is likewise unquestionably the second best domestic basketball league in the world behind the NBA. Doncic was MVP of both during a season he turned 19-years-old, competing against fellow professionals and myriad former NBA players.

And yet, there were lots of eyebrows when Dallas traded up two spots and shipped this year's (top-five protected) first-rounder to Atlanta to get Doncic.

Perhaps they were the same people who raised eyebrows when the Knicks picked Kristaps Porzingis fourth in 2015 with big names from Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, and Wisconsin still on the board. Now, Porzingis might not be the best example anymore with his injury history, but when he was healthy, he was the second best player from that draft and an example of a high Euro pick that panned out.

Doncic, in a fitting way considering that this is likely Nowitzki's last season, has taken over as the must-see attraction on the Mavs. He's already an electrifying playmaker, consistent scorer, and might already be a top-five player in the league in crunch time considering some of his late-game highlights just past halfway in his first NBA season. Last Monday, in a game he wasn't particularly impressive against Milwaukee, he became just the second teenager to record a triple-double.

Of course, it's not just guys taken in the top five who end up in All-Star Games and All-NBA teams from Europe.

If it wasn't for James Harden's otherworldly scoring record over the past two months, Giannis Antetokounmpo would be leading the MVP race at the moment. Rudy Gobert is a top contender to win his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. Nikola Jokic merely runs the offense of a top-five team from the center position and is averaging the most assists per game by a big man since Wilt Chamberlain. Giannis, Gobert, and Jokic were taken 15th, 27th, and 41st in their respective drafts.

And this trend will undoubtedly continue, as it doesn't appear that the current NBA that loves spacing, perimeter shooting, and positional versatility on offense and defense — all things the European game is known for — is going anywhere anytime soon.

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