American vs European Basketball – The Key Differences

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Differences Between the NBA and EuroLeague


Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Canada thanks to the presence of the NBA, but that isn’t the only competition in town. Europe’s EuroLeague represents an alternative, with far greater cultural diversity, and a simplified playoff system. Here are the ins and outs of the two competitions.

Canadian Players in the NBA and EuroLeague

Canada has one team, out of 30, in the NBA, and (obviously) none in the EuroLeague. But despite that, several great Canadians are playing on both sides of the Atlantic. Jamal Murray is one of the most highly-rated players in the world, as proven by the epic $170m contract extension he signed in 2020 with the Denver Nuggets. Another top Canadian competing in the NBA is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, acting as the team’s spearhead and occasional trollHe recorded his first triple of 20 points, 10 assists, and 20 rebounds in January 2020 and became only the second player in the last 30 years (after Russell Westbrook) to achieve it. Toronto’s Andrew Wiggins is another fantastic NBA player from Canada, and the second Canadian to be selected number 1 overall in the draft.

The NBA does attract a lot of attention from players as well as fans, but the EuroLeague is growing in strength. And, for some, the diverse cultures and history of Europe can be a draw in and of itself, with a greater emphasis on the team than individuals suiting certain personalities better. When it comes to EuroLeague players from Canada, one of the very best is Kevin Pangos, the Zenit St Petersburg guard. His father was a college basketball coach, and this evidently helped as Pangos earned himself an All-EuroLeague Second Team selection in 2018. Another top player from Canada in the EuroLeague is Dyshawn Pierre, who joined Fenerbahçe in 2020 and impressed the team enough to sign a three-year deal the following season.

Betting on NBA vs EuroLeague

When it comes to sports betting, basketball is one of the favorite ways to go for Canadian sports bettors thanks to the huge popularity of the NBA. This in turn drives up the number of markets available, making everything from basic win markets through to individual scores, bookings, winning margins, and many other possibilities open to sports betting.

Bettors can, of course, bet on the EuroLeague too, although it’s only fair to point out that there are two ways in which this is slightly more limited. First off, there are fewer teams (three-fifths the number of the NBA), which naturally means a smaller number of games. In addition, the NBA is not only very popular in North America but around the world and it can often dominate the affections of basketball fans. However, one of the advantages of betting on a less popular league is that it also means sportsbook expertise is lower, and this can create more value due to mispriced odds.

The Key Differences

There’s an intriguing chasm between the way that sports in the USA and Canada work in the major leagues compared to the way things are usually set up in Europe. A Briton or German soccer fan idly checking the setup of the NFL will be absolutely baffled by how (seemingly needlessly) complex it is. And the lack of relegation only makes matters weirder. An American checking out the English Premier League will readily understand the table but wonder if that’s it. So just how different are the NBA and EuroLeague?

The playoff complexities of the NBA is one of the most obvious. The NBA has 30 teams spread into six divisions of five teams each. Furthermore, three divisions collectively form the Eastern Conference, with the other half of the teams comprising the Western Conference. Eight teams from each conference proceed to the playoffs, with the Western and Eastern playoff winners competing to become the champion in any given year. Divisions, conferences, playoffs, and then, finally, the champion is decided.

Compare this to the EuroLeague. The number of teams is the first and most obvious difference, just 18, almost half the number in the NBA, correspondingly reduces the number of games played. Every team plays against another twice (one home game, one away game). The top eight do advance to playoffs, with match-ups determined by the regular season results. In short, it’s akin to a simplified version of the NBA’s playoffs, due to the absence of conferences, divisions, and smaller-scale playoffs.

There are certain other obvious but nevertheless significant differences too. The NBA takes place in two countries (29 teams from the USA and just the one from Canada), whereas the EuroLeague is across the continent of Europe. Among its longstanding teams are sides from Turkey, Spain, Greece, France, Italy, and Russia, covering a plethora of nations, cultures, and languages.

Another substantial divergence is in sheer popularity. The NBA is one of the richest global sporting leagues, behind only two other major league sports (the NFL and MLB). While the EuroLeague is the second biggest basketball competition in the world, in European circles the dominant sport is soccer by a country mile, behind which come a multitude of secondary sports, including rugby, cycling, and Formula 1. Basketball is some way off the dizzy heights of popularity enjoyed by the NBA. To put it in context, even in a pandemic year the NBA managed to generate revenue of an incredible $8.3bn.

Could the EuroLeague Surpass the NBA?

The NBA is undoubtedly the top dog in basketball. But could it one day be rivaled or even surpassed by the EuroLeague?

There are certain structural advantages that the NBA benefits from compared to the EuroLeague. The major leagues’ predominance in the USA and Canada helps maintain a high level of interest, whereas the EuroLeague has to contend domestically with the overwhelming popularity of soccer (as well as facing the competition from the NBA itself). However, one long-term advantage for the EuroLeague is that there’s plenty of room for basketball to grow in Europe whereas the NBA has largely hit the ceiling already. And as the two come closer to an equal footing, this will see salaries come closer to equilibrium and more players cross the Atlantic.

One difference is that the EuroLeague takes a more team-based approach whereas the NBA is more focused on individual superstars, and this may be the telling difference. When great players can make more in the NBA due to the preference given to the top individuals rather than optimizing a team, that will help retain the top-tier talent in the NBA. After all, if you were destined to become a billionaire like LeBron Jameswouldn’t you stick with the NBA? The EuroLeague can rise a lot, but it is perhaps unlikely to ever rival the NBA as an equal.

There are far more similarities than differences between the NBA and EuroLeague, but the substantial areas of divergence remain. From the number of teams to the continental variety, the EuroLeague has plenty of room to grow but it remains to be seen just how close to the NBA it can get.

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