The NBA has become a global game because a host of elite Europeans have entered the NBA and are clearly dominating. We are seeing MVP winners who are European, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, for the past four years, and they are even winning NBA titles as seen in 2021 with Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks. Foreign players no longer have a disadvantage in the league, because they are bringing elite skills to the table every night, along with size.
Nikola Jokic is one of the few players to ever win back-to-back MVPs and is the first center to achieve this since Moses Malone. The Serbian is an elite passer, rebounder, and scorer and is impacting the game in multiple facets of the game. Of course, the player that finished runner-up is a non-American as well in Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, Luka Doncic has the best chance to become the face of the league in due time. With a little experience under his belt, Doncic led the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals this year.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a spectacular player, winning 2 MVP awards and an NBA championship already by age 27, and is an icon for European players as he is of Greek nationality. The Greek Freak is widely regarded as the best player in the world right now and considering what he does on both ends of the floor, it is hard to argue against that. Another elite European that deserves a mention is Rudy Gobert, a Frenchman with 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards. A shot-blocking extraordinaire, Gobert is a force on the defensive end at 7’1” tall. Finally, an effective shooter and defender on the perimeter is Bojan Bogdanovic, a player who posted 18.1 PPG last season with the Utah Jazz. The swingman originates from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In a 7-game series, would a collection of these 5 aforementioned European players have enough talent and skill to take down the best American players in a best-of-7 series? By collecting and forming a starting five of capable European stars, we can analyze a best-of-7 series against the best starting five of American players. The Americans will be led by 2022 NBA champion Stephen Curry at the point guard spot, 2-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, 2-time NBA champion Kevin Durant, 4-time NBA champion LeBron James, and 8-time All-Star Anthony Davis. By taking the five standard positions, here are the matchups and the eventual winner of an all-time great showdown.
Stephen Curry vs. Luka Doncic
Although he won't have ball control for the whole of the series, Steph will have strong playmaking abilities. Since Steph is aware that LeBron James is most effective coming off screens for his signature outside jumpers, the duty will fall to him. Luka will struggle to keep up with Steph early on in the series as a result and the result of the series will be largely dictated by the point guard’s elite shot-making from the perimeter.
Despite Luka having the advantage, both superstar guards are competent playmakers. Since Doncic is a huge 6'7" point guard with broad shoulders, he can look over Steph Curry and easily locate his teammates. As proven by his 25.6 PPG average this season, the Slovenian superstar is a world-class scorer. Expect Luka to take Steph as much as he can down in the post, although Team USA will respond by keeping Kawhi Leonard on him.
Kawhi Leonard vs. Bojan Bogdanovic
Kawhi Leonard is an invaluable addition to Team USA because he is the best defender on the team by far and will be tasked with slowing down Luka Doncic as much as possible. The Klaw will have his hands full with the Slovenian, and will often have to leave Bojan open throughout the series. But Leonard knows the game and will have a big impact. On offense, Leonard will have an efficient series shooting 48% and will post 24 PPG over the all-time great series.
Bojan Bogdanovic, who is 6'7" and weighs 226 lbs, is a competent shooter and defender. The muscular Bosnian-Croatian will continually provide pressure on Kawhi Leonard by using his physicality and outside shooting. Bogdanovic, who has a career three-point field goal percentage of 39.2%, will be the team's primary shooter on a European squad that prioritizes the paint. Last season, Bojan averaged 18.1 PPG and will have a solid series spacing the floor.
LeBron James vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
For LeBron, his task will be to control the tempo and handle playmaking duties. With his experience and leadership, the 4-time NBA champion will have to set his superstar teammates in a position to succeed. James will be aware of Giannis’ defensive skills, so he will need to match that as close as possible on the defensive end to make up for their true lack of size. The King can play in the paint when needed, but luckily, the paint will be packed with Jokic and Gobert down low alongside Giannis. That gives James the edge he needs to do what he does best: control the pace of the game and make adjustments.
At the forward position, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a tall task on his hands competing with The King. The Greek Freak is already a 2-time MVP and NBA champion, so he has developed his game enough to place his name as the best player in the series. An elite defensive star with the ability to handle the ball with Luka Doncic, Giannis will be responsible for pushing the pace on offense. Of course, Giannis does other things on the court, including rebounding the ball and playing elite-level defense inside the paint.
Kevin Durant vs. Nikola Jokic
Expect Kevin Durant to get his own on the offensive end, averaging 27 PPG in the series and consistently placing Jokic on the “island”. It will be impossible for Jokic to deal with Durant on the defensive end because the forward is extremely quick at getting to his spots and has a 7-foot stature which he can shoot over the center. Of course, KD has elite handles that will break down Jokic, and KD will create space for his jumpers. This will be a very interesting matchup, to say the very least.
At the power forward position, Nikola Jokic brings his size and versatility to form a twin-tower pairing with Rudy Gobert. The Serbian superstar and reigning MVP is an elite shooter, rebounder, and passer; so he will have his way with Kevin Durant on his half of the court. Quite frankly, Jokic will be a handful for Team USA because he will use his tremendous size to score down low and also nail outside shots. Jokic will also be a playmaker for his side and will form a very exciting duo with Luka Doncic. No doubt, Nikola will be a force for his side.
Anthony Davis vs. Rudy Gobert
Anthony Davis is no slouch on defense, and he will need to be aware of Gobert’s rim runs while also helping Durant deal with Jokic. The former New Orleans Pelicans big man has tremendous versatility, and that will be needed on both ends of the floor. While LeBron, Curry, and Durant will control the bulk of the offense; Davis needs to make sure he takes smart shots throughout the series. There is no doubt that Davis is a more skilled player than Gobert, and will need to use his versatility to bring the Frenchman out to the perimeter as much as possible.
The big Frenchman is arguably the most dominant paint presence in the NBA today at the center position. With his length and size, Gobert averaged 2.1 BPG this year. Against an elite offensive player in Anthony Davis, Gobert will need to be focused on defense because his team will need it. Gobert will also clog the paint up to prevent LeBron James from driving to the rack with freedom, and will form a twin-towers pairing that will be tough to handle for Team USA.
Team Europe Advantages
Team Europe will need to count on their defense to keep the games close as they grind out wins over the 7 game series. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert are considered Hall of Fame-worthy defensive players to clog the paint up and dominate the perimeter and post, respectively. Giannis will have a massive load to carry on the floor as the tallest and most athletic player and will be asked to defend almost every opponent in the series on the perimeter.
Gobert will also need to impose his will in the paint, acting as a key defensive stopper for his side as he neutralizes Davis as much as possible. Alongside Jokic, Team Europe also has an advantage in the paint, and they will try to keep the games slow as they punish the Americans down low as much as possible. With incredible size, Team Europe will play slow with Luka pulling the strings as much as possible.
Team USA Advantages
The advantage for Team USA is their elite shooting and all-around offensive ability. Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard are unstoppable enough in the backcourt, but adding Durant and LeBron James to the frontcourt with Davis makes this starting five completely unplayable. They will be able to place consistent pressure on Team Europe until they eventually buckle. There is multiple ways that the Americans can score the ball, whether they run plays for Steph, Kawhi, and Durant from the perimeter or through a pick-n-roll through LeBron and Davis.
Anthony Davis’ versatility also helps Team USA, because he has the size to counter Jokic and Gobert but also the skill to space the floor for LeBron’s drives. We already saw how Durant and Curry can run riot in the league when on the same team, and adding three more superstars will make them impossible to defend. Ultimately, Team USA can score at will and do not have to make adjustments to fit in their stars like the Europeans have to do.
Who Wins A Best-Of-7 Series?
Game 1 is very close, but it goes to Team Europe. Giannis explodes for 33 points and 15 rebounds, using his elite athletic gifts to attack the basket and create for others as well. LeBron James counters with 27 points and 10 assists, but he does not shoot as efficiently as The Greek Freak does (54%). Jokic and Gobert also combine for 22 rebounds, and the paint is completely clogged up for Team USA. Adding in the fact that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry shoot poorly (a combined 43%), the game ends 101-92 in favor of the Europeans. As we will find out, Game 2 is an entirely different story.
The King leads Team USA to victory, dropping 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. Giannis has a much more pedestrian game, finishing with 21 points on 8-20 shooting. Team Europe cannot keep up with The King controlling the pace of the game in a blowout 112-90 victory for the Americans. Kevin Durant also goes ballistic in the fourth quarter, going 4-4 from three and scoring 15 points to put the game completely out of reach. In a fantastic response, Team USA looks to be back in their rhythm.
Game 3 is more of the same, as the Americans shoot 15-34 from the three-point line, mainly thanks to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. The duo combine for 59 points and Kawhi Leonard is the one to lead the charge in the fourth quarter. He leads all scorers with 12 points in the quarter, including back-to-back three-pointers to halt a late Team Europe run. Jokic has a big triple-double (32 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists) and completely owns Anthony Davis (15 points, 12 rebounds). But the Americans have too much offense going for them at the moment, and they lead the series 2-1.
But Team Europe responds well in Game 4 and escapes with a 2-point victory thanks to a Luka Doncic game-winner. In the 4th quarter, Team USA holds a 10-point lead with Stephen Curry leading the way with 29 points. But Team Europe comes alive on defense, finishing with 4 blocks in the quarter and Doncic scoring 8 straight, including the game-winning three over LeBron James at the buzzer. The game is close at 100-100 to start the fourth, as there is clearly plenty of offense on both sides. Every player puts up very solid stats, but Luka steals the show with 38 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter. He jabs, steps back, and nails a three-pointer over the outstretched LeBron James to give Team Europe a chance to steal Game 5. The game ends 134-132.
But Team USA completely shut down Luka in Game 5, as the star goes 5-20 from the field. They realize Luka is the primary creator and the Americans throw Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James on him to give him different matchups. Unfortunately for Team Europe, only Giannis responds to the bell as he scores 30 points. But he shoots below 50%, and Gobert registers only 8 points in the game thanks to the brilliance of Anthony Davis on defense. They cannot come out with a victory over the US mainly because Kevin Durant scores 35 points and LeBron chips in another triple-double. Davis also has his best game by scoring 26 points and registering 14 rebounds with 4 blocks. The game ends 113-100.
Team Europe needs an immediate response after failing to stop Durant, and they focus their defensive attention on him in Game 6. Durant finishes with 24 points, but the Europeans get production from across the court. Doncic has a triple-double, Giannis registers a game-high 31 points, and Nikola Jokic grabs a series-high 19 rebounds to go along with a game-high 12 assists. Bogdanovic also goes 4-5 from the three-point line, completely stunning the Americans with a 14-point victory. Other than an efficient LeBron James, the Americans fail to avoid a Game 7 and will be forced to take the action against the opponent.
In the pivotal Game 7, the Americans come to life on offense. Steph goes 6-15 from three, Kawhi scores 29 points, Durant has 30, LeBron has yet another triple-double, and Davis counters Jokic’s triple-double with 3 blocks and 3 three-pointers made. The Americans click on all areas of the floor, especially from the perimeter, and have a massive 16-point lead at the end of two quarters. By the end of the third quarter, the lead is cut to 10 points but balloons back up to 20 in the fourth. By the end of the fourth quarter, the score ends 120-101, with the Americans taking advantage of mismatches. Durant is quicker than Jokic, Steph is the best shooter on the court, James is the best playmaker, Leonard is the best defender, and Davis has the versatility to outplay Gobert in Game 7. These factors result in a big win for the Americans.
Final Result: Team USA vs. Team Europe 4-3
Finals MVP: LeBron James