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Which Europeans have been selected highest overall in the NBA Draft?



By Eurohoops team/

The 2023/24 NBA season is reaching its business end and as such, there is plenty to play for. The playoffs get underway later this month and there are lots of surprises at the top of the seeding charts. Over on the East Coast, it’s business as usual as the Boston Celtics and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks top the pile once again. However, in the Western Conference, things are looking very different from years gone by.

Nikola Jokic and his reigning champion Denver Nuggets are in and around the summit, but there are a whole host of teams that look set to battle it out with them to become conference champions and advance to the NBA Finals. Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder have risen to the fore this term despite languishing in the doldrums of the league for most of the last decade. The former has been spurred on by the emergence of Karl Anthony Towns and his partnership with defensive behemoth Rudy Gobert, while the latter has Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s progression into a bonafide superstar to thank for much of their success.

2024 NBA Draft

Despite both teams’ Cinderella stories, the Celtics are at the top of the pile in almost every way, and they’re firm fan favorites. They are also the team that NBA betting providers have made the short-priced +185 favorites for the Larry O’Brien this term. Whether they can live up to the billing or not once the Finals have concluded on June 23rd still is to be seen. However, one thing that’s certain is that whether the TD Garden side is the champions or not, the 2024 NBA draft will take place one day later. And for the second straight year – and the third time in history – it’s a European that is expected to be made the first overall pick.

In recent years, Europe has appeared as a powerhouse in producing basketball talent, with several players from that side of the pond making significant impacts in the planet’s grandest league. The trend is set to continue in 2024, as French sensation Zaccharie Risacher is the odds-on favorite to be selected as the first overall pick. At just 19 years old, the near seven-footer has already made waves in the EuroCup with JL Bourg-en-Bresse, and he isn’t the only overseas star set to steal the headlines. In fact, the current projection is that the top three picks will all come from outside the States, with Australia-based Alex Sarr, and Serbian Nikola Topić expected to be taken second and third, respectively.

This trend is not new but is becoming more prevalent, highlighting the increasing importance of international players in the league. Below, we explore some of the highest-selected Europeans in draft history.

Victor Wembanyama

French phenom Victor Wembanyama made headlines even before stepping onto an NBA court, thanks to his unprecedented combination of size, skill, and agility. Selected first overall last year, the seven-foot star was touted as one of the most promising prospects in history. His rookie season was eagerly expected, and he has not disappointed, delivering performances that lived up to the hype. While his San Antonio Spurs have had a dreadful campaign – winning just 20 games against 60 losses – their 2.24m skyscraper of a center has consistently made headlines at both ends of the court, and the Lone Star State side will be hoping that he can lead them through their current troubling times.

Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani’s choice as the first overall pick in 2006 by the Toronto Raptors marked a significant milestone, as he became the first European player to be taken with the top pick without having played U.S. college basketball. The Italian forward/center brought a versatile offensive game to the league, with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and score inside. Although his career had ups and downs, including criticism for his rebounding and defensive skills, Bargnani had several productive seasons in the NBA, including a career-high average of 21.4 points per game in the 2010-11 campaign.

Darko Miličić

The Detroit Pistons selected Serbian big man Darko Miličić with the second overall pick in 2003, ahead of future stars like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. His career, however, did not pan out as expected. Despite showing flashes of potential, he struggled to find consistency and fulfill the expectations that come with being such a high draft pick.

Luka Doncic

Slovenian star Luka Doncic was chosen third overall six years ago by the Atlanta Hawks and then at once traded to the Dallas Mavericks. How they must regret that decision now as the Slovenian sensation has quickly proved himself as one of the brightest stars in the league. The 25-year-old former Real Madrid man brought an impressive resume from Europe, having won the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP at just 19 years old with Los Blancos.

As such, his transition to the NBA was seamless, as he went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and has since been a perennial MVP candidate. This year, he tops the league in terms of points scored per game and dropped a mighty 73 points on the team that traded him earlier this season, the highest in Mavs history and the fourth-highest total ever posted.

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