Making it to the NBA is always hard, especially if you come from overseas where people, culture, lifestyle and of course, basketball is extremely different that all the things you might find when you set foot on U.S soil.
Of course, many great players have succeeded in the NBA while being able to make adjustments to their game to fit the pace and rhythm of the Association, but that transition isn’t always quick and many guys prefer to return to the places they know.
Besides, it’s pretty hard to deal with being a star in Europe and becoming a below-average player in the NBA due to the great differences that exist between both styles, so many players tend to get frustrated with their lack of playing time and wind up packing their bags. Today, we’ll list the top 10 European players that failed miserably in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Mickael Gelabale, Mirsad Turkcan
10. Kostas Papanikolaou
The Greek forward was a huge standout for both Olympiacos and Barcelona and seemed like a lock to succeed in the NBA as a member of the Houston Rockets, although the team that originally drafted him was the Knicks in the 2nd round of the 2012 Draft.
Sadly, despite his impressive talent, injuries and lack of adjustments made Kostas leave the team to play for the Nuggets, just to leave NBA averages of 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds on 35% from the floor and 24% from three-point territory, so obviously he went back to his native Greece, where he once again thrived.
9. Luigi Datome
“Gigi” came into the league with high praise after very successful tenures as a member of Santa Croce Olbia, Montepaschi Siena, Scafati Basket and Virtus Roma, as well as being a part of the very intriguing Italian generation that won the bronze medal during the U20 European tournament in 2007.
Nonetheless, the Italian small forward was never able to be a consistent player for the Detroit Pistons, constantly being assigned to their D-League affiliate before also failing with the Boston Celtics, where he stayed until 2015 before leaving to play in Turkey.
8. Jan Vesely
The forward was quite a very productive player during his KK Partizan stint due to his ability to either post or shoot from the perimeter, making him catch the attention of the Washington Wizards, who were high enough on him to draft him 6th overall during the 2011 NBA Draft.
Sadly, he was never able to produce off the bench for a mediocre Wizards team before making just 21 appearances with the Denver Nuggets, with career averages of 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game, being forced to go back to Europe to play at Fenerbahce.
7. Igor Rakocevic
Rakocevic is yet another outstanding talent out of Belgrade's youth academy, a versatile guard that can either play the point or shift to the shooting guard position, and he’s won a couple of gold medals with his Yugoslavian team.
His talent caught the eye of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who drafted him 51st overall during the 2002 NBA Draft after a couple of successful seasons with Buducnost Podgorica, just to last for one season in Minneapolis playing just 5.8 minutes per game in 42 appearances and averaging 1.9 points and 0.8 assists per game, having to give up on his NBA dream to go back to Europe.
6. Nando de Colo
Nobody could believe how Nando de Colo didn’t make it with the Spurs, being a perfect player for that system and a long time Tony Parker and Boris Diaw teammate as one of the most talented guards France has ever seen, being drafted late in the 2nd round in the 2009 NBA Draft 3 years prior to his actual San Antonio Debut.
Sadly, he didn’t fare well in Texas, and was traded to Toronto, where he wasn’t able to find consistent playing time either, leaving NBA averages of 3.8 points and 1.7 assists on 42% from the floor, just to win the Euroleague MVP with CSKA Moscow a couple of seasons later.
5. Arvydas Macijauskas
Macijauskas was a straight-out baller from Lithuania that led them to the 2003 Eurobasket championship, shooting almost 50% from beyond the arc and owning the all-time Euroleague record for consecutive free throws made at 94 in a row.
Nevertheless, that didn’t translate to success in the NBA as a shooting guard, making just 19 appearances for the Hornets averaging just over 7 minutes per game to go along with 2.3 points on 34.1% shooting from the field during his brief NBA stint in 2006.
4. Sarunas Jasikevicius
Another Lithuanian player makes our list as Sarunas Jasikevicius was one of the greatest players in the history of the European nation, being chosen as the MVP of the 2003 Eurobasket as a point guard and being the ultimate Euroleague winner, taking the championship home in 4 different seasons.
Sadly, he had the same poor luck as his Lithuanian teammate, although he did manage to last for a couple of seasons in the Association, leaving career averages of 6.8 points and 2.9 assists per game before heading back to Europe to succeed as a player and coach.
3. Juan Carlos Navarro
Well, Navarro’s “failed” stint in the NBA wasn’t that failed after all, as “La Bomba” led all rookies in three-point scoring and even made it to the 2nd All-Rookie team as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies alongside Pau Gasol, averaging 10.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, even tying the current NBA record for most threes scored by a rookie in a single game with 8.
Nevertheless, due to some economic problems, the standout shooting guard had to go back to play for FC Barcelona, where he’s become one of the greatest players in Spanish basketball and one of the main reasons for Spain’s recent success.
2. Aleksandar Djordjevic
Djordjevic was yet another great talent out of Serbia that made a huge impact on Yugoslavia’s national team during the 90’s, winning 3 Eurobasket and 1 World Cup, as well as earning 2 Silver Olympic medals.
So, the talented point guard made it to the league as an undrafted player for the Trail Blazers during the 1996-97 season, although he was only able to make 8 appearances with a grand total of 61 minutes, averaging 3.1 points and 0.6 assists per game before heading back home.
1. Vassilis Spanoulis
And the greatest European player to flop in the NBA definitely has to be the living legend from Greece, Vasilis Spanoulis; one of the most dominant point guards in European basketball history, being drafted 50th overall by the Dallas Mavericks in 2004 and playing in the NBA during the 2006-07 campaign as a member of the Houston Rockets.
However, Spanoulis’ NBA tenure wasn’t pleasant at all, struggling to adapt to the fast pace and physical demands of the league and even being unable to contain opposing guards, leaving mediocre averages of 2.7 points and 0.9 assists on 31.9% from the floor and 17% from three in just 31 appearances of no more than 8 minutes each.