The German Beko BBL recently stated that they want to become the second best basketball competition in Europe, right after the Spanish ACB. Nobody would question that the ACB is number one when it comes to the level of competition, success in European competitions and economic strength. But which league is the second best league in Europe at the moment?
Currently, there there is a discussion on the interbasket boards whether the NLB Adriatic League is number two in Europe. As our German league claims this honours for the future, I commented on this topic and decided to post a longer edited version here.
Is the Adriatic League number two in Europe at the moment?
It’s a tricky question as the Adriatic League, although it is a member of the ULEB, the European Organization of Basketball leagues, is not a typical league but some sort of regional international competition. Covering all six countries of former Yugoslavia and even reaching out to the Czech Republic since this summer it features a lot of traditionally strong teams and shows good development and fierce competition.
The Adriatic League was founded in 2001 to unite the basketball powers of former Yugoslavia. It’s a league of 14 teams out of seven different national federations. It is played in a round robin system with a final four tournament at the end instead of play-offs. Many of the Adriatic League’s teams are at partly exempt from their national league’s regular season and only enter national competitions shortly before play-offs. The Adriatic league features all national champions but has no clear relegation system.
Is this League so strong? If you just take a look at the competition within the league, the average level of the teams and the aggregated number of victories of the league’s teams in European competitions you can for sure say that it’s no. 2 in Europe. But the comparison doesn’t work.
The reason for this is very simple: Compared to other national leagues it’s pretty obvious that NLB’s 14 teams (it’s one of the smaller leagues in Europe) is just the cream of the national leagues. It doesn’t have a normal relegation, it doesn’t have real play-offs and national titles still are relevant for taking part in European competitions. Out of NLB’s 14 teams, there are three EL-Teams (+1 qualification spot), four teams playing Eurocup and three more in EuroChallenge. 10 out of 14 teams play internationally. That’s a number no national league reaches and especially if it comes to signing foreign talent this is an competitive edge.
But it is one of the weaknesses of the Adriatic League that most of the clubs don’t have the money to keep their talents. A lot of players move on to richer Spanish or Greek teams in Eurocup or Euroleague once they are in their early twenties. ALBA Berlin’s Tadija Dragicevic is a former MVP of the Adriatic League, Oldenburg’s Oliver Stevic, Bamberg’s Predrag Suput were important players there as well.
Unlike Greece, Turkey, Germany and even Spain the Adriatic League just doesn’t have a bunch of midfield teams who will most likely never get relegated and most likely won’t go past PO quarter-finals or take part in international competitions.
The best regional league
My point is that even if you consider the Adriatic League as the second best league in Europe, you have to keep in mind that it is not a national league, that national leagues show different features like relegation, play-offs and a bunch of not-so-good teams which water the league’s stock.
It’s not the only regional league in Europe. There’s the eastern European VTB league covering Poland, Russia, some Baltic states, Finland and Ukraine. There’s the Baltic Basketball League consisting of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden
Finland. Is the Adriatic League number one of the three major regional leagues VTB, Adriatic and Baltic? Off the top of my head I would say yes. But VTB seems to get better each year. In western Europe we don’t have such a regional league.
I would agree that – Euroleague and Eurocup left aside – the Adriatic league offers the 2nd best competition in Europe during the regular season right behind the Spanish ACB but it’s not the 2nd best league as it is “incomplete” compared to the traditional league format.
But which national league is strong and what are the important factors?
So which league is the 2nd best national league in Europe? Greece lacks depth in the competition as most people say they only have a hand full of teams (partly European superpowers) of European quality but it might be still more teams than any other league (except ACB) features. Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, Aris, Panellinios, Panionios… If our German teams meet with them in European competitions, we mostly know that even the latter ones are deemed just a notch better.
The Italian league somehow got lost on the way. Of course there’s Rome and Benetton but have you lately read about a bunch of important Beko BBL players moving on to Italy as in the past? Sekulic and Perkovic moved to Cremola. If you look at the transfer list the lower ranked German teams exchange players with Poland, Hungary and Israel, the play-off contenders rather stick to US players from France or Italy and the top teams buy EuroCup and Euroleague players. But still a lot of players come right out of college or from the pool of borderline NBA summer league League players if you’d rather take a look at the league’s better performers.
A league like Russia definitely is worth mentioning although it lacks internal competition and is scandal ridden. What’s there in the Turkish league beside Galatasaray, Turk Telekom and Besiktas? As well as the German and the French league the Turkish top teams lack success in Euroleague. If you consider European success as reference you probably have to say Greece with two Final4 contenders and perhaps a strong third team is the clear no. 2.
But do one or two reference teams define the league’s quality? I’d say no. I recommend to take a closer look at the league’s ability to send different teams into high regions of European competitions. That’s what makes the NLB so strong. There are so many games within the league you can easily put into the Euroleague/EuroCup level games category.
Germany’s performance in the European competitions as a benchmark
If we want to be the number two competition in Europe we have to be judged by these standards. Is the German league capable of performing equally well as the Adriatic League? Being highly competitive within the league and featuring as many teams as possible which are able to compete – at least decently – internationally and therefore proving that they are of high quality?
The German league’s goal is to become the no. 2 after ACB. The Beko BBL shows a strong competition within the league, “Atemlose Spannung”, breathless suspense is a recently used claim. But suspense alone cant prove quality. Of course there are some aspects which support this claim. We have had multiple teams which showed that they are competitive on an European level over the last years. ALBA reached the EL’s Top16 and the EuroCup finals, Göttingen won the EuroChallenge, despite not reaching the league’s playoffs the Artland Dragons always got into the second stage of European competitions. Bamberg beat Oly and just fell short of reaching the Eurocup quarter-finals last year. Oldenburg could compete in Euroleague but was to weak to win more than one game.
But there’s also reason for doubt. Although many teams took part in European competitions only few could win a decent amount of games which ranks us 14th in in-the-game’s league ranking. Our national team sucked at the world championship. No German team could make it in this year’s qualifications for the European competitions. Frankfurt Skyliners were eliminated from Eurocup by Besiktas. Artland Dragons got eliminated by a team from Cyprus of all countries and ALBA Berlin again fell short of winning the Euroleague qualifiers when they had to face Spirou Charleroi from Belgium. So are those leagues better than the German league or do our teams just lack international quality? Last year’s performance in the qualifiers of for the lower European competitions was better but we still have a long season where six German teams can show the league’s quality on the European stage.
Is it enough?
For sure the German league doesn’t show a fierce competition as the ACB or even NLB at the moment, its top teams are not as successful as the Greek league but what makes a national league strong if it’s not the average level of competition? I think it is getting better over the last few years. The league and the clubs did decent work on other parameters like attendance (no. 2 in Europe), modern arenas, support for local talent and financial stability in the past years. Now it’s time to show that this is solid ground on which they can build European success and a high level competition.
No, Germany isn’t there yet but it has a lot of what it takes to become a contender for the title as Europe’s number two national league. But who is it at the moment? It’s hard to say, I’d guess it’s struggling Greece…