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How The Real Madrid Basketball Team Could Actually Stack Up In The NBA

Real Madrid

When you think of Real Madrid you probably just think of their soccer team. Think again.

On Saturday, February 25th I had the opportunity to attend the Real Madrid basketball game against former NBA head coach David Blatt’s, Darussafaka Dogus. Not only was the atmosphere absolutely electric, but this team sure knew how to play. Propelled by point guard wonder Sergio Llull, alongside former NBA player Anthony Randolph and 2018 NBA Draft sensation Luka Doncic, Real Madrid stormed past Dogus 101-83 to extend their Euroleague-best record of 18-5. 

Throughout the past seven years, Real Madrid has had 19 players either drafted or go on to play in the NBA, most notably Serge Ibaka. There are currently seven former Real Madrid players in the league, which to put in perspective, would place them tied for 12th on a list of Division I colleges that filter players to the NBA with Michigan and UConn. This preseason, Real Madrid actually defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 142-137 in overtime. Based on these statistics, along with the idea that the NBA could one day be an international league, I decided to take a look into how a Real Madrid basketball team might be able to stack up in the league. 

Team History and Current Stars

The Real Madrid basketball team competes in the Liga ACB, and internationally in the Euroleague. Since the team’s inception in 1931, their teams have won a record 33 Spanish championships, including seven-in-a-row and ten-in-a-row sequences. They have also won a record 27 Spanish Cup championships, a record nine EuroLeague Championships, and a record four Saporta Cups. Some notable players who have gone on to play in the NBA, or for the team after leaving the NBA, include Arvydas Sabonis, Dražen Petrović, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Mirotic. In essence, they are the New York Yankees of international basketball. 

The team’s current roster features a mix of former and future NBA players. Lately, they have received a lot of attention because of their 17-year-old combo guard Luka Doncic. Doncic is currently the heavy favorite to be the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, because due to his age he is not eligible to enter the upcoming draft in June. Per 36 minutes of all league and international competition this season, Doncic is averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. In a recent article written by Jonathan Givony of The Vertical, he praised the 6‘8 (and still growing) player for everything from his ball-handling and creativity to unexpected timing and quickness on his feet at the defensive end. While he has drawn comparisons to Ricky Rubio at 17 years old, Doncic has a superior size and frame, perimeter shooting ability, and overall feel for the game to that of Rubio.

Even with Doncic, the team is led by long-time star Sergio Llull. In the game against Dogus, Llull went off for 26 points on 9/12 shooting with six three-pointers, along with eight assists. At one point Llull hit three-pointers on five consecutive possessions for Madrid, and his tremendous passing included one through the legs of a defender for an easy layup. On the season, Llull is averaging 17.1 points and 6.1 assists per game. However, it is worth noting that the games are only 40 minutes, rather than the NBA which are 48 minutes. 

To round up the “key players” on Real Madrid, former NBA players Rudy Fernandez, Gustavo Ayon, and Anthony Randolph contribute roughly 28 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists per game. Unlike the NBA where most teams have 8-10 man rotations, Real Madrid has 12 of their 13 players play over a quarter of the team’s minutes each game. Essentially, this allows for the team to always play fast and up-tempo at all times throughout the game. 

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Style of Play and Comparison to Teams in the NBA and Euroleague 

As previously mentioned, Real Madrid likes to play at a fast pace with lots of ball movement leading to an open shot. This makes them successful in ways similar to how the Golden State Warriors move the ball and seemingly always find the open man on offense. On Real Madrid, eight of their 13 players have a usage percentage above 20%, which is double that of the Warriors, who only have four of their 15 players with usage percentages above 20%. The higher the usage percentage, the more touches a player has, which is essentially the result of more ball movement. Also as a result of their movement, Real Madrid has an offensive rating of 116.32, which is just percentage points behind that of the Golden State Warriors, who have a rating of 116.5. 

Defensively when compared to NBA teams, Real Madrid is more like the middle of the pack, similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers. Teams shoot 45.7% against Real Madrid, scoring an average of 78.4 points per game (remember: it’s 40 minutes). This equates to 94.08 points allowed per 48 minutes, which would actually be the best in the NBA. Still, it is a bit difficult to make that assumption as they are considered to be in the middle-to-upper echelon in the Euroleague. 

Below is a table of some key statistics and comparisons between Real Madrid and teams in the NBA

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You can argue that Real Madrid statistics are inflated because they do not play in the NBA. You definitely have a right to believe that, and there is certainly no way to fully justify how Real Madrid might be if they did in fact play in the NBA. However, here are just a few statistics showing how far above the rest of their European counterparts Real Madrid is: 

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*All stats are adjusted for a 48-minute game to make it more comparable to the NBA*

As you can see, while Real Madrid ranks second in both points per game and points allowed per game, their average margin of victory is an astounding 10.6 points, that is relatively equivalent to the Warriors margin of victory in the NBA. They rank in the top three in the Euroleague in all categories aside from effective field goal percentage. However, they obviously have enough chances to score at such a high rate. A key statistic not listed on these charts is that Real Madrid as a team ranks first in the Euroleague in rebounds per game, which evidently creates more opportunities for the team to score that they clearly take advantage of. The statistics really tell it all, and help further show how Real Madrid just dominates the Euroleague. 

Can we really expect Real Madrid to one day join the NBA

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently came out publicly and said that while the league is looking to explore options for global games and potential expansion, it is highly unlikely that a team or division overseas could be profitable and thus makes it unlikely for the league to pursue permanent options. However, with more and more players being drafted or signed each season from European teams, it is nice to know that the style of play and competition can definitely be seen as more than just a stepping stone. Don’t sleep on those future preseason games, especially against a team like Real Madrid.

*All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and Basketball.Eurobasket

Which NBA team currently holds the rights to Real Madrid point guard Sergio Llull?
Created 2/26/17
  1. Denver Nuggets
  2. Washington Wizards
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Indiana Pacers

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