Freedrafto, Pt. 340670: Made in America

Back in this blog's infancy, it once seemed as if it was de rigeur to announce one's presence via an artistic proclamation of love for a particular European hero. Being that he is one of my favorite players, I had planned to eurogize Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol. Mind you, this was before the beard, before the All Star nod. This was before before (word to Saul Williams*). I had a grand vision of putting Gasol in the context of twentieth century Iberian history, with allusions to the Spanish civil war, the post-fascist cultural flowering, and Almodovar movies. It was to be my ultimate Freedarko statement, my defining document. I even had a catchy title: "Pau Doo Right" (because he made a believer out of me). But, perhaps I was being a little too ambitious.

Still, I think my point remains a relevant one. Before Gasol came along, I was set in my belief that Dirk was an anomaly as a Euro who could be the man on a good team. Sure, there were other capable European players before him, but they were mostly shooters and role players, with names like Marciulionis and Stojakovic. They may have put up good numbers and even made an All-Star Game or two, but they were never going to carry a team or be legit MVP candidates. Before Dirk, that was unthinkable. When the Grizzlies took Gasol third overall in 2001, I thought that Jerry West had finally lost his damn mind. How the hell was this 20 year old Spanish dude going to be better than can't miss American prospects like Eddy Curry and Eddie Griffin? And we know how that turned out.

After that Rookie of the Year campaign, Gasol had made a believer out of me, and I was ready to help spread the gospel. When I first read Chad Ford's reports about Skita, this 7-footer who could wet 3's and put the ball on the floor, I just knew he was the next great European player. Within a couple years, he and Nene were going to make the Nuggets into title contenders. When that didn't happen, I figured Skita was the anomaly, he was just soft and had no heart, but this guy Darko, man, he was going to revolutionize the game! Maybe they should even take him over Lebron, I thought. I had gone from Euro skeptic to Euro apostle. Although I've gone on record stating that, despite the name, we don't really care about Darko, I personally needed his success to justify my newly created worldview. It was his failure (I know he's shown signs lately, but still) that sent me firmly back to skeptic status, and that is where I currently sleep and take my meals.

As we head into the 2006 NBA Draft season, there is a loud buzz around Final Four hero Joakim Noah and several other of his collegiate brethren, but very little talk about Euros like Andrea Bargnani and the long-hyped Tiago Splitter (who must be thirty by now). Bargnani fits the "next Dirk" (or, for me, the next Gasol) mold perfectly. He's a 7-footer, can handle the ball, and can step out and hit jumpers. But, what's become apparent recently is that there are proven American players who can do the same thing! I don't even want to start talking about Kevin Durant and Spencer Hawes yet, but guys like Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and Lamarcus Aldridge all have similar size and skills to Bargnani, and they've also demonstrated the heart and toughness that Euros often lack. Ford's take on Bargnani mentions that he lacks strength and aggressiveness, and do I even need to mention that he has a girl's name? Sure, this highlight reel (soundtrack unexplainably provided by Da Brat) is pretty impressive, but it's a highlight reel--he's not doing that night in, night out for forty minutes against Division 1 talent.

In summary, I'm positing that the Euro is dead. We don't need Euros anymore. We make them here in America. If you want 6-10 guys who can play outside, we've got them in spades. In the pros already, there are young guys like Matt Bonner, and collegians like Nick Fazekas are ready to step in and stretch defenses. And who is Adam Morrison if not the next Manu Ginobili?

*Actually, just word to that one song. The rest of his catalog is pretty eh.........


At 4/05/2006 9:58 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

here's one for you: what competition mean less, euro-leagues or d1?

At 4/05/2006 10:04 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i should have elaborated on this, but obviously, the pro leagues in italy, spain, etc. have more talent than the ncaa, but their systems are so fucked up that it's almost like there aren't stars, or at least, you can't earn star status until you've been playing for ten years. so, even though bargnani is actually producing (as opposed to darko or skita when they were still in europe), he's still not playing big minutes, nor is he expected to shoulder much of the load.

drafting a young euro would be like drafting noah LAST year, when he rode the pine backing up david lee. would he ever have blossomed as he has without being forced to be the man? i don't know, but i'm guessing no.

At 4/05/2006 10:04 AM, Blogger c-los said...

Thank God for Matt Bonner....if he would have changed his name SR year at Florida to Matt Boonervich he would have been a top 10 pick.

At 4/05/2006 10:08 AM, Blogger there is no you or me without Suomi said...

where's the Mooney and Karoli pic from?

At 4/05/2006 10:13 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i just did a google image search, i think it was some russian can fan site or something.

At 4/05/2006 10:51 AM, Blogger T. said...

I don't buy it. If the Euro-Leagues are that much better, then why are guys like Anthony Parker and Louis Bullock absolutely tearing up Euro-league while they were middling to average stars in the NCAAs?

Anthony Parker is top 10 in scoring and rebounding and top 15 in assists.

At 4/05/2006 11:03 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this is where someone who knows better goes off about the difference between u.s. ball and the internation game. . .but i will say one thing: a lot of nba cast-offs find great success overseas. is it that they just aren't nba-style players, or is that whole tier of college competitiors getting superimposed, with powerful results, onto the international game?

i'd probably go with the rule that international competition tells you nothing about nba potential. but euros aren't brought in to play the nba game, in some sense.

i am still trying to wrap my mind around chris wilcox's line from last night. and think about why anyone would think that skita or nene's potential would translate better to the nba than his.

if you're drafting on potential, that means athleticism and physique. there's just really no telling what kind of game unformed players are going to end up with in a setting they've had no experence with.


At 4/05/2006 12:01 PM, Anonymous TZ said...

The paradigm swings like a pendulum back and forth. The smart GMs, like Billy Beane in baseball, know how to judge it.

Post-Dirk/Peja, Euros got more love than deserved. Everyone wanted the next European star, so Skita and Darko and Nene all went higher than they should've. There was still Euro talent in there, like TP and Manu and of course Gasol. But the whole system was overvalued to a degree. Meanwhile, high school/college freshman bigs were overvalued as well - Curry and Chandler and Kwame went way too high because everyone wanted the next KG/Shaq. Again, there was talent in there - Amare, Dwight, Bosh.

So kids like Dwyane Wade and Josh Howard and Jameer Nelson and even Chris Paul go way too low. (Even if they go fifth - it's obvious now that Wade and Paul went lower than they should have.)

Who knows what'll happen with this new one-year rule. I mean, you have what would be the top three picks (probably) being forced to go to college. So kids like Noah and TThomas - guys who would've been undervalued and went in the 8-15 range, at best - become #1 pick candidates.

The draft is going to be completely screwed up. No wonder everyone is pawning off their 06 picks; there are going to be so few values. Has an NBA draft ever been so bad the same year as the NFL draft has been so good?

At 4/05/2006 12:14 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

As for the girl's name joke, I always point to none other than Tracy McGrady. And Andrea actually is a very common name for guys in Italy - it might even be a stricly male name if I'm not mistaken.

I think the conclusion you draw is a little bit harsh. Hyperbole or not, but putting Matt Bonner in the same category of players as Nowitzki or even the much more limited Peja is just too much of a stretch for me.

When you use the term Euro (which might habe been more clearly defined in an earlier post I have missed), I assume you are thinking of players who rely on their jump shot more than on drives and who would be classified as finesse players. And only the second attribute would even begin to describe Ginobili, who 1. isn't from Europe and 2. plays much less methodical than in the Euro Leagues or college ball for that matter.

Anyway, I think the notion of the 'Euro' as a jump shooter and finesse player vs. the American athletic slasher is a moot point. It's not that America now produces 'Euros' itself, it's rather that these categories are old-fashioned and not valid anymore. What I can't dispute is the fact that there hasn't been a Euro-Amare yet - there probably won't ever be one. But that's not a problem. I'd argue that the European player types arriving in the US possess these typical skills and characteristics because the European brand of basketball demands exactly this skill set - more so than college ball. Seeing a steady dose of zone defenses and also with the European game and especially the charging rules being called much more tightly, a big guy will shoot more jump shots and maybe develop such a tendency and maybe even proficiency. But what it comes down to in the end is still the individual talent, which - drawing from a very different brand of basketball - might turn either into a Nowitzki or Skita on the opposite ends of the Euro spectrum or an Adam Morrison or Ostertag on the American side.

Take Sabonis for example, who had the size to battle with Shaq. What made him and to a lesser extent also Vlade special wasn't playing further away from the basket than say Antonio or Dale Davis, it was their unique passing and shooting ability. Through their basketball education in Europe they maximized their special skills (court vision and a solid mid-range to 3-point shot) and, as a result, had a lot of success in the NBA. But still, they were not better at passing or shooting than Dale Davis because they were from Europe but rather because they were more skilled in these areas to begin with.

Since basketball's influence crosses the Atlantic in both directions, I'm pretty sure that in the future there will be several European NBA players that will also be known for their athleticism. AK47 might be the pioneer in this departement, but kids over here see NBA highlights, all the dunks and alley-oops and emulate that. This is slowly finding its way into European leagues and will probably also be seen in future NBA draftees from overseas.

Since I'm pretty sure that my point wasn't half as coherent as I hoped it to be, let me sum up. I don't agree that NBA basketball doesn't need Euros anymore, plus I see a steady blurring of the lines between the categories traditionally assigned to European and American players. Because of the brand of basketball played in Europe (more zone defenses, charges being called more tightly) most of the Europeans coming to the NBA are still predisposed to relying more on their jump shot than their American counterparts. But if you look at the 4s in todays Association right now, maybe we're already witnessing the Euro-fication of the power forward position. In other words, basketball as a whole is changing in a way that makes these old destinctions of slasher vs. shooter or power vs. finesse player worthless anyway.

At 4/05/2006 12:16 PM, Blogger embot said...

"Pau," in Portuguese, means "wood." But it also has a secondary, less polite meaning, which I couldn't help but recalling when I first heard this man's name. I had to wonder how the Brazilian players think of Pau. Probably the same way we think of Dick Butkus.

At 4/05/2006 12:44 PM, Blogger skinny said...

that 12 minute song dude with krust was pretty cool.

(saul williams, not joakim noah)

At 4/05/2006 12:55 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

what went wrong with any number of euros is that, having been groomed their whole life to play the international game, gm's assumed that they could suddenly seize on their raw skills and translate them into an nba-ready package.

i'd almost argue that actually getting pt in "europe" is what would've allowed these guys to make sense of what they'd been set up to do--i.e., play the international game--and then, and only then, make the move to the u.s. ,where they could work on taking these skills and smarts and making them work in that context. as in, it's better that a hs player has some college experience before he goes pro; why wouldn't the same be true of international players?

of course, as kaifa points out, international players are now not necessarily learning a game so different from their u.s. peers. but in the past, i now see clearly that they should've followed through on that first act before trying to assimilate that potential--and it was an international-minded potnetial--into a totally unfamilar context.

someone probably should come with a list, but manu and nocioni come to mind as examples of what i'm saying works best. and like going to college, there are different degrees. seeing some action for a year or two is different than being hidden on the bench or never even playing with adults.

to break this all, i can't remember what pau or dirk did.

At 4/05/2006 1:05 PM, Blogger T. said...

to break this all, i can't remember what pau or dirk did.

Dirk played for a 2nd divison Germany team, IIRC.

(Wurzburg X-Rays?)

It was really his single-handedly destroying the US team in the Nike Euro-camp in Paris (either he played against Charles Barkley OR Charles Barkley watched the game - I'm not sure) that vaulted him to top-10 draft status.

At 4/05/2006 1:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this is nbadraft.net's scouting report on pau, from then, and obviously a little biased

Strengths: Pau is the hope of all the people who like basketball in Spain. Pau is the star of the league. He also said rencently he wants to go to the NBA, but he wants to wait at least until 2002 (in this year he finish his contract with Barcelona), Gasol can play of SG, SF, PF or C, but his natural position is SF. In the paint he lacks strengh and struggles against stronger players. When playing at his true SF position he has no comparison in Europe. He can shoot 2 pointers, can slam (he loves it), can run in the fastbreak, and can play in low and high post. He is a complete player. Has a bright future in the NBA.

-Abel from Spain

Weaknesses: Lack of intensity, dosn't have great speed for a small forward (conditioning can possibly improve this), lack of strength (this can be improved, for sure), Shot selection and shooting are question marks.

At 4/05/2006 1:14 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Nowitzki didn't even play in Germany's first division. When he got drafted he was 19 years old and had just helped his second-league team win the championship and thereby advancing to the first league.

So Dirk didn't have any international experience other than youth national teams, but he did play against adults in league competition.

I'd say in his case it's just that he's a special talent. A guy from my team played against Nowitzki in the 3rd German league back when Dirk was 15 or 16 years old - and he still dropped over 30 points on them.

It's still hard to judge whether playing against adult competition or just a certain amount of time under professonial coaching guidance will do the trick as far as being prepared for the pros goes. But I think it must be a certain quality that enables some players to just continue against top competition with what they've been doing on a lower level (Chris Paul, Amare, Duncan, LeBron). It can't all be physical, so many PFs are athletically superior to Duncan for example. What exactly that quality is, I'm sure not only I but also a lot of NBA folks would like to know. Amybe Isiah Thomas can give us a hint, he seems to have an (intuitive?) understanding of who translates well to the pro game.

At 4/05/2006 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nowitzkis 2nd league team was DJK Würzburg. And T was on point with the Nike Hoops summit, Barkley was a spectator if I remember correctly.

At 4/05/2006 1:31 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

judging a player's ability to jump to that other level depends on whether you think

1. talent should go straight to the nba

2. players need to pay dues/get seasoned for the sake of experience, albeit at lower levels of ball

3. each level has lessons of its own to teach, all valuable

4. developmentally, bypassing a step/level/whatever throws them off, since they prepare, as one can't help but do, as if they'll follow the logical progression of things

which one you side with determines how you see this whole business, esp. as pertaining to international player who never come to fruition overseas. in theory, theirs is the most extensive and convoluted of all the paths to american prodom

At 4/05/2006 2:03 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

We also have to remember that Dirk is something of an outlier because of his crazy mentor/guru guy, who's had the plan of making him NBA game-ready since day 1.

At 4/05/2006 2:11 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

OT, but Ugh. Amare has more surgery. This might not end well.

At 4/05/2006 2:13 PM, Blogger T. said...

Barkley was a spectator if I remember correctly.

I also remember that he was ready to pay his tuition to go to Auburn.

At 4/05/2006 2:18 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

unc and ucla tried to recruit dirk after that game, but after he heard he had a legit shot to go in the lottery, he stopped considering college. it's crazy to think he was traded for tractor traylor straight up, especially by the bucks. can you imagine how huge he'd be up in milwaukee with all those germans?

At 4/05/2006 4:12 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

no comments on adam morrison as the next manu? i thought that was pretty brilliant when i came up with it when i was watching morrison play in the tournament. have other people already made that comparison or something? or is it just totally off?

At 4/05/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

BR: Those are two of my favorite players, so hearing their names mentioned in your blog was nice, although the comparison seemed off. Manu's game is fluid and penetration-oriented. He is a much more natural passer and finisher around the rim. Morrison's game is straight out of Hoosiers; jump shot as first option, then drive. While both players have great range and court vision, AM is a natural scorer who looks for his jump shot above all. Granted, he can finish the drive with a dunk, but he seems much more comfortable draining Js. However, one striking similarity is their ability to draw fouls. Both are adept at getting to the line.

At 4/05/2006 5:00 PM, Blogger T. said...

no comments on adam morrison as the next manu?

Manu is a much superior defensive player (ironic because he's basically Euro - yes, Argentina is not Europe, but Argentina is the most European country not in Europe and besides, Manu played in Italy)

And like Mirabeau Lamar - Manu seems like a slashed who added the shot to his game later - and he finishes around the rim much better than he has any right to.

Morrison - seems to use his drive to set up for his jumper. I can't think of a guy in the league who plays offense that way - Big Dog Glenn Robinson? Larry Bird - minus the passing rebounding and court vision? Sam Cassell?

At 4/05/2006 6:29 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Style-wise, Morrison has a lot in common with Steve Smith later in his career.

My thought is that Morrison's success is very team-dependant, as one of his best skills is off the ball movement. On some teams that's useful. On others *cough*Knicks*cough*, not so much.

At 4/05/2006 8:48 PM, Blogger donthaveablog said...

Let's wait until Morrison proves himself in the NBA before comparing him to the great Manu Ginobili.

At 4/06/2006 4:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hum noah was born in New York raised in France and got his basketball education in New york but his father is french and mother swedish . Plus he will play with the french national team so technically he is a Euro

At 4/06/2006 11:44 AM, Anonymous Ramo said...

As a Milwaukee resident, I have to set the facts straight, Dirk was never going to play for the Bucks, Dallas just wanted Dirk at a lower salary slot. Tractor Traylor was always the Bucks pick.

Now, if you want to argue that the Bucks should have just picked Dirk in the first place, then go on.

At 4/06/2006 12:17 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

ramo, i knew that, i did mean that the bucks should've just taken dirk themselves. they had the higher pick. dirk doesn't seem like a george karl guy, though, which is probably why they took traylor.

i really hope noah's involvement with the french national team leads to him joining tony parker's posse along with diaw and turiaf. the nba should put together a contest where the winner gets to go to a wine-tasting or something with them. i would love to hang out with those guys.

At 4/07/2006 12:51 PM, Anonymous French contra said...

noah's iconic position will be very difficult to hold since his father is France's favourite star (as if Oprah's children were good at anything)

Joakim's res gestae were opening the news in France (where you NEVER see any basketball during the news)

wait and see ( that's a man with a julius hodge's tee on who tells you that)

At 4/07/2006 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me introduce the opinion of a european fan who likes the Euro League.
The difference between Gasol and Skita is very easy. When Gasol leave the Spanish League, he has been the MVP that year. When Skita went to the NBA... well, he plays in a good team in Italy, but as a backup. Personally, I haven´t seen him play ever.
Same about Darko. Same about Biedrins, Korolev or Cabarkapa. They haven´t played with their national teams. They haven´t played in main european teams in the Euroleague. I have seen their names for the first time, in several cases, in the mock drafts.
The difference: Ginobili was the star of a team that won the Euroleague twice before going to the States.
Why to choose in the draft such kind of young unproven kids? Well... Dirk is the reason. Nowitzki hadn´t played even in the main german League when Don Nelson discovered him. The NBA scouts wants to discover the next Dirk before anybody does. And make mistakes betting on players who are obviously unexperienced, and can´t get it in the NBA.
By the way, Bargnani is an important player in a good italian team. And Splitter is an important player in the team who was the runner-up in last year´s Euroleague. I don´t know if some of them deserves to be a top-ten in the draft. But they can be legitimate backups in half of the NBA teams right now. The future will tell if they are better than that.
As in the NCAA, the best thing with the european players would be to let him develope in their own environment and let them make the big jump when they were really prepared. But people want the big bucks inmediatly, everywhere.


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