Rising Stars – the European version

There are quite a few good young european players around the league nowadays, and for that, we will show you some of the best who are under 25 years of age.

Lauri Markkanen, power forward, from Finland, who was drafted last year, is playing quite well at this early point of his career, averaging 16,5 PPG, 7,2 Rebounds and 1,1 Assists, while shooting 37,9% from 3-point range, having a total of 43,2 FG%. That’s a pretty good statline for a player that is 21 years old. Markkanen was drafted with the 7th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, then automatically sent to Chicago in a trade that included Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. Until now, coach Jim Boylen is giving him quite some time on the floor, averaging 31 minutes-per-game. Given the fact that the Chicago Bulls are in a full rebuilding mode, Lauri can be an important piece of this process.

Another young and promising player from Lithuania is Domantas Sabonis, who is playing in his 3rd year now for Indiana Pacers. The interesting fact is that Sabonis can be used as a 2-way player, both as a power forward or a center. That’s not quite a surprise if we look at his father’s career, Arvydas Sabonis, who played center in the NBA for Portland Trail Blazers and is a Hall of Famer. He almost averages a double-double, having 15,2 PPG, 9,7 Rebounds and 3 Assists and he is doing that with efficiency, shooting 62,2% from the field and 77,4% from the free throw line. All that in only 25,5 minutes-per-game, the fewest compared to other players from this list.

Jusuf Nurkic, a 16th overall pick in his class, was traded to Portland Trail Blazers from Denver 2 seasons ago, when the team decided that they will go with Jokic at the center position instead. Since then, he has improved a lot since then, earning a spot as a starter while playing 27 minutes-per-game at the moment. The bosnian beast, as they nicknamed him, is currently averaging a double-double, with 15,2 PPG, 10,4 RPG and 2,9 APG on 51,5 field-goal percentage. He is pretty good at the other end too, he likes to help his teammates in the paint and he’s having 1,4 blocks-per-game and 1,1 steals.

Dario Saric, from Croatia, had a pretty good season last year for the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 14,6 PPG, 6,7 RPG and 2,6 Assists in his sophomore year. This year, though, he got traded in a deal that involved him, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 secound-round draft pick in exchange for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton in November 13. Since then, he is averaging 10.1 PPG and 5,4 RPG but with slightly less minutes played, 23,2 per-game, instead of 30,5, which he played at the start of this season for Philly. Saric will start to improve with time, when he understands his role for the Timberwolves.

Nikola Jokic, the big surprise of the season so far, has only 24 years and is already playing at a MVP caliber level, averaging almost a triple-double with 19,2 PPG, 10,2 RPG and 7,6 APG. What is more special adding to all this, is that he is a center, and we all know that since the NBA has changed, when they started to shoot a bunch of three’s every game, the league has begun to be dominated a lot by point guards, a thing that wasn’t like that in the “old-school” basketball, when there were centers like Shaquille O’Neal who dominated game after game below the basket, and in today’s NBA, it is much more harder to be appreciated as an MVP when you playing as a center.  Nikola is currently leading his group of guys, a team which is on the first place in the West, and this is another surprise and a special thing to do, too. Recently, he recorded nearly a triple-double against the Portland Trail Blazers, a very good team, with 40 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists on 75% FG, shooting 57% from 3 (4-7). Earlier this season, he almost had a perfect triple-double, missing only one free throw (10-11). He had 35 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 11-11 made field goals and 3-3 from three. We can easily say that we could take that for data for his MVP campaign this season. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, another up-and-coming young player in the league, is starting to “heat up” his career while he is leading his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, to the first place in the East, adding him in the MVP mix aswell.  Currently he is playing the most compared to the players from this list, with 33,6 minutes-per-game, but he is outscoring his teammates in 4 of the 5 main categories, points, rebounds, assists and steals. No other player currently in the NBA has this feature, and this is what qualifies him for the top spot of the ladder.

Last, but not least, is the wonder boy from Slovenia, Luka Doncic, a kid that has started playing pro at the age of 16 for Real Madrid, a team that he has lead to a EuroLeague title at only 19 years old, winning the league MVP. But, when it came to the draft picks, Phoenix, Sacramento and the Atlanta Hawks all passed on him, thinking that he will not play at the same level in the American league. And now, Luka is only making them all pissed off for not making the right decision.

Only Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks had faith in him, all that comes from having a history with legendary European players because we all know who Dirk Nowitzki was, right? He also took a shot at the American AAU system, stating in an interview that “If we took our best kids and seven years before they are McDonald’s all-American, we sent them over to Slovenia to get an education, the league would be a thousand times better. They just learn how to play basketball while our guys learn how to taunt and put together mixtapes”.

As we can see, the Dallas Mavericks organization is giving him all the credits and they are willing to make him their franchise player. He is now averaging 20 PPG, 6,7 RPG and 5 APG in 32 minutes on 43,5 FG% as a rookie, a thing that only Lebron James was capable of in this era. Lately, he managed to get his first triple-double of his career, against the number 1 seed in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks, having 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, joining Markelle Fultz as the only teenagers in NBA history to record a triple-double.

As if all this was not enough for his case, the All-Star Game is approaching and he is currently the second voted player from the frontcourt, right behind Lebron with 2,220,077 votes. It needs to be mentioned that he has more than Steph Curry and the other guys below him in the frontcourt are Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. That’s Luka “the wonder boy” Doncic for you.

Andrei Dilean, info@brainbasketball.net

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *