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.........