By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a year in which very few things have changed compared to last season. And that’s a natural evolution. The interest is focused much more in the continental competitions, which remain four and include more than 100 teams from all over Europe. In most cases, the domestic leagues take a back seat, until the playoffs, even if the prize is a EuroLeague spot.
With that being said, there’s a domestic league that lost a lot of ground this year and it’s the Greek Basket League. Other that than, nothing really changed all around Europe with the top three leagues being ahead from the rest of the competition.
Spain – Liga Endesa (-)
Turkey – BSL (-)
VTB League (-)
Germany – BBL (-)
Italy – Legabasket (+1)
France – ProA (+1)
Greece – HEBA (-2)
Israel – Winner’s League (-)
Adriatic League – ABA (-)
Lithuania – LKL (-)
Spain – Domination
With five EuroLeague teams and also the winners of EuroCup and the Champions League in the same league, you can’t argue that there’s better average quality anywhere else in Europe. Also, the decision to reduce the league to 16 teams after the next season seems wise. Add to this the fact that it will be easier – at least in the future – for LEB Gold teams after the changes made this summer to meet the financial standards in order to compete in the Liga Endesa and this is a no-brainer.
Turkey – Verification
The home of the EuroLeague champ, Fenerbahce Dogus, has also two teams returning to Eurocup, an emerging force in the face of Besiktas and basketball-wise can be compared to the quality level of Spain. Still, the fact remains that Turkey is trying to build a basketball culture and infrastructure that’s not yet on the same level with Spain. For a brief moment, back in the 2015-16 season, the financial troubles of Spain in comparison with the rise of the Turks in the EuroLeague, suggested that the Spaniards were in real danger of losing the top for good, but that didn’t happen.
VTB League – Prosperity
They have the clubs, the players, and the coaches, but they are still lacking in fans’ interest. VTB League is trying to solve the issue, they had a successful All-Star Game and they will repeat it this season in Saint Petersburg. Add also the chance of the playoff format to a Final Four and we may end up with the most interesting version of the VTB League in ages.
Germany – Stagnation
The German plan of making the BBL the best league in Europe by the end of the decade probably has already failed. While there’s Brose Bamberg in the EuroLeague, Bayern Munich in the EuroCup and the always reliable brand of Alba Berlin, there’s no other team which is able to gain more than local interest. Add the serious lack of star power with very few exceptions and you end up with a solid, yet unspectacular, league. Financial stability remains the biggest asset of the BBL. But if they don’t do something more, they may end up taking steps back.
Italy – Rebirth
This is still Olimpia Milano‘s league, even if they are not the champs. However, the return of Virtus Bologna and the backing of Massimo Zanetti, owner of the “Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group”, finally provides Olimpia with a solid opponent on a financial level. Meanwhile, Trento and Venezia proved that they can do damage – while playing more than interesting basketball last year, specially Trento – so it’s obvious that the Italian league remains one of the best in Europe.
France – On the verge
The ProA is always more than respectable and the only league together with VTB that announces in detail all the clubs’ budgets. That’s not a small feat in European basketball. The championship in France is more than hard to predict, anything can happen and in this case that includes a possible return to the EuroLeague next season. That remains the main defect of the league, compared to Italy and Germany, as those three leagues are currently pretty similar.
Greece – Downfall
After a season of hope, Greece returned to the previous state of being basically a two-team league. There are Olympiacos and Panathinaikos and only AEK can hope to upset them and probably not in any meaningful games. Aris despite hiring coach Panagiotis Giannakis is facing financial troubles and low resources are the main problem also for the rest of the league. As a result, this situation has also created the odd fact that Greece remains the only big league in Europe without a team in Eurocup. The saving grace of Greece remains the fact that on the court most teams probably still have a better know-how compared to Italy, France, and Germany and present a decent spectacle.
Israel – Emerging
Maccabi Tel Aviv is making a fresh start, Hapoel Jerusalem is the champ and wants to play in the EuroLeague, the league is the most American-friendly in Europe and even if the general level is low, the total sum is positive, maybe more than in recent years. At this point, having two really solid clubs is good enough even in order to compete for the top five of the leagues’ ranking. Still, the low level of local talent is always an issue in Israel.
Adriatic League – Development
Even Crvena Zvezda has financial troubles and that’s pretty much the story of the league. While the Adriatic League this year will even have a second division, it seems that the clubs of the former Yugoslavia are happy to work essentially as farm teams for the rest of Europe and the NBA. This is the league which is more watched by scouts than any other in the old continent, there’s a lot of local talent, but not the overall quality that the richest leagues have.
LKL – Pride
This is Zalgiris Kaunas’ country. With Lietuvos Rytas trying the way to be competitive again, Zalgiris has been established as the team to beat and dominates with ease. The fact that this year a minimum budget of just 400.000 euros was established for every team in the league tells you what you need to know. Still, basketball is a religion in Lithuania and fans’ interest can’t be compared with anything else around Europe.