World's best basketball leagues outside of the NBA

From ESPN - December 7, 2017

Editor's note: Fran Fraschilla, a former head coach at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico, is a college basketball analyst and international draft expert for ESPN.

Yes, the basketball world continues to grow closer. Hundreds of Americans are playing all over the globe and last season the NBA had 113 players born outside the United States on opening night rosters.

And, while the NBA remains the best basketball league in the world by a good distance, the gap between Adam Silver's league and professional leagues around the world grows smaller.

Great American teachers of the game of basketball such as Dr. Jack Ramsay, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly and many others imparted their basketball knowledge to international coaches eager to learn. Today, the NBA and NCAA basketball have been influenced by team-oriented styles we have become accustomed to seeing in international basketball.

The globe has shrunk and basketball has come full circle. And, while we gear up for NBA games this week in Mexico City, I offer my latest list of the best basketball leagues around the world outside the NBA. I expect there to be disagreement among hoop heads who follow the game from Shanghai to Chicago to Belgrade.

1. EuroLeague

The EuroLeague has long established itself as the benchmark for basketball outside the NBA. Rebranded in 2000, it is the top professional club competition in Europe with growing attendance and college basketball-like atmospheres, with increased sponsorship and television revenues. Made up of 16 teams, the league is so financially stable that approximately 100 players are making as much or more money than the bottom 100 players in the NBA.

And the talent in the league is commensurate with the level of salaries. Fenerbahce lost two of its EuroLeague Championship players to the NBA, EuroLeague Final Four MVP Ekpe Udoh (Utah Jazz) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sacramento Kings). Some of last season's other EuroLeague stars, such as Milos Teodosic (LA Clippers), Shane Larkin (Boston Celtics) and Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers) also have joined NBA teams.

EuroLeague teams (along with EuroCup and FIBA Basketball Champions League teams) also compete in domestic competition each week during the season, so the schedule starts in October and often ends in June, with grueling travel across the continent.

Predicted Final Four Champion: CSKA Moscow

Fast Fact: Luka Doncic, the 18-year old Slovenian phenom playing for Real Madrid, should be the EuroLeague's next NBA star. In fact, he could be the first player to win the EuroLeague's MVP and its Rising Star award in the same year. He is projected to be a top-five pick in June's 2018 NBA draft.

2. EuroCup

The feeder league into the EuroLeague, EuroCup teams are the "next best" clubs in Europe. Many of these teams have multimillion-dollar budgets and often bounce between the EuroLeague and EuroCup depending upon their success the previous season. For example, the winner of last year's EuroCup, Malaga, and the runner-up, Khimki, have qualified for this season's EuroLeague.

Predicted Regular Season Champion: PBC Lokomotiv Kuban (Russia)

Fast Fact: Framingham, Massachusetts, native and former Princeton point guard David Blatt is in his second year of coaching Darussafaka Istanbul. In his season-and-a-half as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Blatt won 68 percent of his games.

3. Spain's Liga ACB

The Spanish first division has suffered in recent years from the country's financial crisis, so it is not as strong as it was 10 years ago. However, the league still maintains its place at the top of all domestic leagues in Europe.

The ACB currently has five clubs competing in the EuroLeague, three in the EuroCup and four in the FIBA Basketball Champions League. This is an indication of the depth of competitive clubs, often with much smaller budgets than elite clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona. Valencia and Baskonia, for example, have won the ACB title in recent years.

Many current and former NBA players from Spain have made the transition from the ACB to the NBA. Interestingly, it is a league in which individual players rarely stand out statistically because of the depth of each team's roster and the unselfish style of play that ACB coaches preach.

Predicted Regular Season Champion: Real Madrid

Fast Fact: Omar Cook, who played at St. John's, was once thought to be the next great guard out of New York City. Although he was an NBA flameout, Cook has developed a great career in Europe. At 35, he is currently playing for Movistar Estudiantes, his fourth ACB club.

4. Turkish Basketball Super League (BSL)

Home to the defending EuroLeague Champions, Fenerbahce, the league is on solid financial footing. In fact, salaries in the Turkish first division have exploded in recent years, which has led to a surge in success from Turkish teams in the EuroLeague, EuroCup and the FIBA Basketball Champions League.

Many lower level Turkish first division teams have bigger budgets than some of the top teams in Spain, not including Real Madrid and Barcelona. That is why Fenerbahce has the financial resources to reload quickly and compete for more titles. They currently boast former Pitt point guard Bradley Wanamaker, who, in the right situation, could play in the NBA.

Predicted Regular Season Champion: Fenerbahce (Istanbul)

Fast Fact: Errick McCollum, the older brother of 2015-16 NBA Most Improved Player CJ McCollum, is back for his second full season in Turkey. He once led the Chinese Basketball Association in scoring, averaging 39.6 points a game.

5. Russia's VTB United League

This 13-team league serves as both Russia's top domestic league and a united league with teams from Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The league has been dominated by one of Europe's power clubs, CSKA Moscow, which since its inception in 2009-2010 has won every championship but one.

While some clubs in the VTB United League are run more professionally than others and the weather in this part of Europe can be harsh during the basketball season, salaries relative to the rest of Europe are on the high end. The top clubs pay a "premium" to acquire top talent that could otherwise spend their winters in Spain, Greece, Italy and France. In fact, there were about 20 former NBA players in the league to start this season.

Predicted Regular Season Champion: CSKA Moscow

Fast Fact: Americans litter one of Europe's strongest rosters. Former UNC-Greensboro star Kyle Hines is in his 10th season in Europe and fifth at CSKA Moscow. While he's not a household name in the United States, the New Jersey native is one of the most respected players in Europe. Former Colorado and Iowa State stars Corey Higgins and Will Clyburn also are key players.

6. Italy's Lega Basket Serie A (LBA)

This is another league that has taken a hit financially in recent years because of its country's economic turmoil. The Italian league, which can have up to seven non-Italian players per team, has dipped in quality in the number of foreign players. Why? There is, as much as ever, a lack of trust between players and owners with regard to players being paid in a timely fashion. (Yes, this has always been a dreaded issue in some parts of Europe.) Only one Italian club, Olimpia Milano, is competing in the EuroLeague.

Still, because the country is a great destination for foreign players and has a proud basketball tradition and teams with rabid fan bases, it still produces relatively high-level basketball.

Predicted Regular Season Champion: EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Olimpia Milano)

7. France's LNB Pro A

8. The Greek Basket League

9. The Basketball Bundesliga (BBL)

10. FIBA's Basketball Champions League (BCL)

11. Adriatic League (ABA)

12. Australia's National Basketball League (NBL)

13. Israeli Basketball Premier League

14. Chinese Basketball Association (CBA)


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