Eastern Europe has one of the richest basketball traditions among the international game. Since the early 1990’s, a number of Eastern European ballers have taken their talents overseas and brought their unique skill sets to the NBA game.
Let’s take a look at who would be on the NBA’s First Team All-Eastern Europe:
PG Goran Dragic, Slovenia (2008-present)
For as many great Eastern European players that have played in the NBA, it’s rather surprising that so few of them are guards. Goran Dragic is undoubtedly the best Eastern European point guard to ever play in the NBA (sorry, Jiri Welsch).
Dragic first made a name for himself in the NBA with an incredible fourth quarter performance against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs while with the Phoenix Suns in which he scored 23 fourth quarter points and went 5/5 from beyond the three-point line.
Dragic’s career didn’t truly take off though until his second stint with the Suns in 2014 when he was named the NBA’s most improved player, averaging a career-best 20.3 points per game and 5.9 assists per game while shooting over 50% from the field. He became the sixth player ever — alongside Jeff Hornacek, Drazen Petrovic, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant — to average 20+ points per game, shoot 50%+ from the field, and shoot 40%+ from beyond the arc. Dragic is now the starting point guard with the Miami Heat and signed a five-year, $90 million contract with them in 2015.
Honorable mention: Beno Udrih
SG Drazen Petrovic Croatia, 1989-1993
We don’t need to get too much into Drazen’s pre-NBA career or the circumstances surrounding his tragic death in a car accident in 1993 when he was on the verge of NBA super stardom. If you haven’t seen the “Once Brothers” ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about him and Vlade Divac, then watch it. It’s one of the best ones out there.
Widely regarded as the greatest European basketball player of all-time, Petrovic likely would have gone down as one of the NBA’s all-time great guards if not for his death in 1993 at the age of 29. In his final season with the New Jersey Nets, Petrovic was scoring at a 22.3 points per game clip to go along with a field goal percentage of 51.8% and a ridiculous three-point percentage of 44.9%. To put that in perspective, Steph Curry — who doesn’t miss like ever — is shooting 44.3% from the three-point line in 2015-2016.
Here’s Drazen going head-to-head with Michael Jordan:
His number three was retired by the New Jersey Nets following his tragic death and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Honorable Mentions: Sarunas Marciulionis, Marko Jaric (only because of Adriana Lima)
SF Peja Stojakovic, Serbia (born in Croatia) (1998-2011)
One of the deadliest outside shooters the league has ever seen, Peja has game both on and off the court. I’ve always said that if I could be re-born, it would be as an Eastern European baller. So much game off the court.
The 14th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, Peja ranks 10th all-time in three pointers made with 1,760 and was one of the key members of those great early 2000’s Sacramento Kings teams. Also, he gets some bonus points for being an incredible video game player. He wasn’t only known for his shooting though.
Peja was a 3x All-Star, 2x three-point shooting champion, and NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Stojakovic wasn’t only a high volume three-point shooter, but an efficient one as well with a career three-point percentage above 40%. His 2003-2004 season with the Kings was one for the ages as he finished second in the league in scoring (24.2 ppg) with a field goal percentage of 48% and he played over 40 minutes per game.
Peja now works as the director of player personnel for the Kings.
Honorable Mention: Andrei Kirilenko
PF Toni Kukoc Croatia (1993-2006)
The Croatian Sensation was drafted in 1990 by the Bulls, but didn’t report to the team until 1993 after the Bulls’ first three-peat. That was OK though because Kukoc would only have to wait two seasons before claiming his first NBA championship when Michael Jordan came out of baseball retirement and he already had a clutch playoff moment on his resume.
The 3x NBA champion and 13-year NBA veteran was the immensely valuable sixth man for the Bulls during their second three-peat and won the Sixth Man of the Year award during the Bulls 72-10 season in 1995-1996. Kukoc was known as more of a finesse player despite being about 6-foot-11 with excellent court vision, passing abilities, and a solid outside jumper.
Honorable mention: Kristaps Porzingis (may very well end up in this spot)
C Vlade Divac, Serbia (1989-2005)
The man, the myth, the legend. The inspiration of my original blog Leaveit2divac.com and the only reason why you are reading this at this very moment. One of my all-time favorite players ever and my chosen alias, Vlade Divac is the most iconic Eastern European player of our generation. A 1989 draft pick of the Lakers, Vlade began the exodus of international stars to the NBA and was the most wanted European big man behind the “Lithuanian Legend” Arvydas Sabonis.
Vlade had a legendary career that included some major flopping, a trade for Kobe Bryant, half-time smoke breaks, widespread humanitarian efforts, and some incredible seasons in the early 2000’s with the Sacramento Kings. Divac is one of seven players in NBA history to have 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,500 blocked shots as you would be hard-pressed to find as versatile of a seven-footer in NBA history. Divac may be the only seven-footer known more for his passing skills than any other part of his game.
Now, Vlade is back with the Kings as general manager and may be on the verge of leading the Kings to their first playoff berth since he was running the floor back in 2005-2006. Oh yeah, and he also hit this half-court shot last season at a Lakers game.
And he was the voice of the app, Waze.
Vlade’s the best.
Honorable mentions: Arvydas Sabonis, Zydrunas Ilgauskas