The EuroLeague Final Four is a season-ending celebration of the top international basketball league in the world outside of the NBA. This year's event provided a stark contrast from last year's, which was a send-off for generational talent Luka Doncic a month before the draft. Far fewer NBA scouts were in attendance, partially due to the overlap with the NBA combine but also because of what this event has become.
"The EuroLeague is an aging competition," said one Eastern Conference executive who nevertheless decided to make the trip to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. "It's hard to get NBA people excited about the Final Four, as great as the basketball is. Most of the best players in this league are in their late 20s or early 30s, and for a lot of them, their NBA window has closed."
Research backs that assertion. The effective age of a player in this competition, weighted by minutes played, is the oldest it's been since the EuroLeague's inception in 2000 -- exceeding 29 years old for the first time. The EuroLeague went to a closed competition, with 30 games and only 16 teams, in 2016, eliminating opportunities for clubs from traditional basketball talent hotbeds such as Serbia, France, Croatia and Slovenia. The do-or-die nature of every game makes it difficult for coaches to justify giving chances to teenagers, which manifested itself most vividly in the league's "Rising Star award," handed out to the competition's best young player.
Projected first-round pick Goga Bitadze ran away with the voting despite having joined the league at the halfway mark and playing in only 13 games. Bitadze, 19, joined the last-place team thanks to his agent's close relationship with club officials at Buducnost, and he promptly returned to his home club Mega Bemax in Serbia in April, having boosted his stock significantly from the league's platform. Only one other draft-eligible player -- Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yovel Zoosman (15 minutes per game) -- managed to establish himself as a serious rotation player.
EuroLeague officials are quietly expressing a level of concern about the current situation. Young basketball fans in Europe are growing up watching the NBA, not the EuroLeague, and the limited pathway to minutes at the highest levels is causing many talented prospects to explore the NCAA route. Germany's best young prospect in years, Franz Wagner, is openly flirting with college despite the fact that his Alba Berlin team is likely to receive a wild card to next season's EuroLeague. Top prospects such as Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Alex Len and Lauri Markkanen have benefited from college basketball in recent years.
Meanwhile, China, the G League and the rise of the NBA two-way contract have taken a huge bite out of European basketball's player pool, which partially helps explain why EuroLeague teams have been forced to recycle the same aging group of players season after season. In the past, young Americans who went undrafted out of college would work their way up the European ladder. Fewer are opting to take that route.
While the lack of young talent in the competition was certainly alarming this season, this could very well be cyclical. The EuroLeague wisely elected to give a wild card to French team ASVEL next season, which means potential top-five draft pick Theo Maledon will be starting at point guard. Maccabi Tel Aviv will likely provide more opportunities to potential top-five pick Deni Avdija as well. Real Madrid is likely to promote arguably the top 2002-born prospect on the continent, Usman Garuba, to its senior roster next season, and the aforementioned Wagner could elect to stay home.
Still, it would be wise for the EuroLeague to think about the long-term health of its competition and the sport itself in deciding whether it's necessary to have five clubs from rich markets such as Spain and Turkey and zero from some of the growing basketball-development grounds, which might not be as lucrative financially but are part of the fabric of the European game.
International free agents
This event has provided one-stop shopping for NBA teams looking for rotation free agents. Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic are just a handful of EuroLeague players signed by NBA teams who ended up providing significant value.
Here are the players who drew interest this year.