The things behind John Hollinger

Really I have no business writing this, since this season's first Wire just showed up on On Demand. But while waiting for my better half to help me go to the grocery store, I stumbled upon this absolute gem of a Hollinger piece. I'm guessing a lot of you probably have Insider, and I'm not going to repost the whole thing for those who don't; the gist of it is that foreign-born NBA players hardly shredded raw timber at the Worlds. Some appears to have been due to fatigue (for some reason not an option for the USA), but by and large it raises some rather propulsive questions about this whole international/NBA divide.

For one, I find more than a little puzzling that competent NBA players with a FIBA background would play worse in this Worlds than in the League of Might. If anyone would seem to be the test case for (insert your pet theory on the relationship here), it would be those individuals who excel in both settings. Nowitzki, Gasol, Manu, Diaw. . . their backs are the petri dishes upon which proof shall fester. One would assume that they bring an international sensibility to the NBA game, and thus would be equally at home in both settings. Conversely, they are used to dealing with the athletic facility that distinguishes America's Version, meaning that they can bring all the tools and strategies gleaned from that experience. If anything, you'd think that they would be more perfect in their native context, building on what made them special by incorporating the U.S. slang. Maybe these are diametrically opposed worlds, in which future Hall of Famers flounder and NBA bench players soar, but surely these figures provide the slimy, compelling Rosetta Stone this argument so sorely needs.

In the interest of brevity and goodwill, here's a crude rundown of Hollinger's assessment. I've excluded the marginal names unless they were especially notable.

Arroyo: sick
Barbosa: useless
Bogut: sloppy
Primoz: foul-prone
Jose Calderon: efficient
Delfino: not bad
Diaw: a wreck
Pau: ROAR!!!!!!
Manu: tired, flat, no respect
Darko: absolutely spectacular inside. also prompted JH to write "the dude needs to get to the line."
Yao: "best player in the tournament"
Rasho: solid
Nocioni: the usual
Dirk: "weary," horrible percentages
Pietrus: horrendous
Varejao: meaningless but broke a face

. . .and not surprisingly, the overall verdict was "mixed reviews."

I am assuming that "mixed reviews" refers to them as a category, not meaning that there was a huge disagreement over certain players worth. That said, though, this does obliterate most of the notion that the two strains of basketball are related or even comparable. Remember, a lot of these guys are, in the NBA, models of ethical basketball; here, though, they fall to hell's cauldrons. I suppose one could propose that "success" be measured differently in international competition, which wouldn't make much sense to me, or that individual performance can often be tied mightily to the team around him. But really, Diaw, turnover machine? Dirk, frigid husk? Bogut, irresponsible?

There's only one explanation for this: you can't go home again if reared upon the rock of FIBA. The NBA ruins players, making them unable to correctly practice the sport as they once learned; they bring something to the league and it promptly defiles them. They are men without a home, internationals in the Association and turncoats in the Worlds. Fine, Darko's dominance and Rasho's solidity are a testament to the non-existent European low post. But when you have stars leaving us dizzy with underwhelmment. . . clearly something has gone horribly wrong.


At 9/05/2006 9:32 PM, Blogger there is no you or me without Suomi said...

Kevin Lomax Dept:
A. they play different roles on their national teams than on their Lig teams

B. sample set of games is too small

At 9/05/2006 11:37 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

The thing about Hollinger is that the sample size is always too small. But we have to assign some value to his statistical assessments anyway. He's not a total fool, and the tools he works with aren't totally useless.

At 9/05/2006 11:53 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

This bugs me. Based on your list (since I don't have insider), another interpretation would be that, except for Arroyo and Pau, that the tireless-role-player types can fit in, but anybody with any style or fluency is somehow castrated. It's as if some chemical attribute of FIBA ball is placing a ceiling on style; jumping out of the game violates some law of FIBA nature.

The question eating away inside me is What about it is so different? Can there really be some emergent force that springs from the difference in the lane, the 3-point line, etc.? Maybe we should blame the refs too, but part of me feels this is too easy and/or poor sportsmanship. I can't wrap my mind around a game masquerading as basketball that doesn't reward the invention we've come to love. I want to destroy it, but not before I memorize its mechanics.

wv: tnwvyojm=the new west virginny yearns 4 oj mayo (does a mystical sage write these, or just some ghetto printing press like in Last Dragon?)

At 9/06/2006 12:00 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

"...doesn't reward the inventiveness..." is more what i meant.

At 9/06/2006 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree with salt_bagel. Too much time has been spent on whether NBA or Int'l ball is better, rather than on what makes them different and how these differences allow an almost universally acknowledged superior collection of talent to be reduced to merely an "elite team", a "perennial contender".

Assuming that the USA's raw talent/athleticism advantage is great enough that they should win every game (rendering the single-loss format an irrelevant difference), the biggest difference to me is the zone defense. I find it, in the NBA, to be an utterly baseless and retarded rule that (along with a significant dearth of talent) encouraged the late-90s' unwatchable brand of isolated mismatches. The players have no idea how to react to a sophisticated zone (college zones?...ha), their offense stagnates, and, perhaps most importantly, the ceiling on a team playing individualistically is far lower than a team that plays together. I can't imagine how 4-6 great players could play with each other today as the great Laker and Celtic teams did. I, by the way, am sure that elite national teams like Spain and Argentina would spank most NBA teams and beat the champs.

As far as other differences, the goaltending rules are completely insignificant, the three-pointer may be important, and the lane didn't seem to impeded Dwight Howard one bit.

At 9/06/2006 7:19 AM, Anonymous Alfred said...

Aww, come on, of course individual performance must be tied to the teams around them, that's especially true in FIBA world. Look, there's no Brazilian that played better than Barbosa or Varejao, no French played better than Diaw or Pietrus, their teams were eliminated because they weren't good enough, not because their NBA players failed. Since their teams failed Hollinger just assumes they played miserably. Completely NBA-centric.

Look, when you watch international competition you KNOW the NBA players and you don't know the rest, so you notice that Dirk was being 'frigid' while you don't notice that his teammates were awful. Or you notice that Diaw is a turnover machine without realizing that he's handling the ball more than he should have because the French guards sucked.

I guess the point of all this is: yes, individual talent needs more of a team to blossom in international competition than in the NBA but also, as it happens in relation to college, the NBA-worth of a player doesn't necessarily correlate with his FIBA-worth.

At 9/06/2006 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A point to add to Alfred's insight is that basketball is a game of anticipation and reaction and moreso than nearly any other sport. Those international teams that did very well were ones which were most familiar with one another: Spain and Argentina and Greece. This allowed the players to anticipate where their teamates were going to be on the floor for picks and passes and gave them a few extra brain ticks worth of reaction time against their opponents. Those teams had a core which had been together consistently for some years and, moreover, had played against and among each other in the domestic league in Spain and in Euroleague. I'm not that familiar with the background of the Hellenic team, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same properties hold.

It will be interesting to see how the USA team improves with extra time together and a few more plays practiced.

Finally and off-topically, I have to give a hollah-hollah out to Garbajosa for dropping some Argentinian with a sick back-court pick that knocked the kid on his ass and right out of the frame.

At 9/06/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Zone is kryptonite for athletic dominance? Then which is stronger? If we allowed zone in the states, would our players find a way to break free, like Ornette did from chord changes (to use the hated jazz analogy)? Or do the geometry/physics of the game simply forbid this, as they seem to have done these past few weeks?

Jellybean's boy can answer this question and talk Italian smack without headbutting anybody. As much as I hate him for not repping Philly.

wv: dujyh=pass it from the left-hand side.

At 9/06/2006 11:37 AM, Blogger Brian said...

We need to reclaim OUR game. None of these foreign teams could manage playing under NBA rules. Why is it that we have to adapt to FIBA and they dont have to adapt to the NBA? Why does FIBA think its rules are superior? Its not their game. Dont get me wrong, I love watching international ball. I just dont think that the rest of the world should get to decide on the rules of our game in world competition and limit us to zero input. Arent we the new Rome? Shall our gladiators be forced to play by persian rules? The shape of the lane combined with unlimited camping room, in my opinion, create a lack of game balance. This is fine if the euro leagues want to play this way. Hell, Ill be watchin it....however, why is international competition ruled by what the Euro leagues play and not at least a compromise across the leagues of who is playing in the competition?
Its OUR game and this is how we get it back. First, quit with this allstar bullshit. These guys are great players, some individually and others more team oriented, in the NBA. That is not how you win in Euro league ball. I dont care if ive never heard of any of the guys. You have 3 pure shooters who are always at the 3 point line, which is really a long 2. So a search must be made to see who can shoot long 2's all day blindfolded with someone jabbing them in the ribs. The search must be made because no one in the nba shoots that shot. Almost never, yet it is the most important shot in Euro league. Second, have bruisers. Mean big bruisers that are just cruel to their oponents and can rebound and throw dimes off the top of the key. these will be your 4s and 5s. Hurt the oponent. Then drop those long 2s on em and get 3 points. Next, realize that the old 2-3 zone you knew is not Euro league 2-3. In the Euro league you pack as many people camped in the lane as is possible, often resulting in a 3 man triangle which responds by either being a wall in front of the basket or the weak side guy running out at a 3 shooter. Its not far from the Euro league lane to a Euro league 3. You have 2 guys that are always guarding against the 3. The third guy comes from the interior triangle on the weak side only when necessary. Thats it, thats Euro league ball and thats how you beat it. Once accomplished, and the USA has its olympic gold, we refuse to play international competition of any kind until they compromise the Euro rules with the NBA rules. We will be on top, and they will need the ratings our teams bring. They will have no choice but to accept our terms.

At 9/06/2006 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recognize that individual talent and hyper-athleticism are footnotes in euro ball but why do I feel that Kobe would've completely flipped this game on its head?

Also, LeBron has officially been dubbed LeBronze.

At 9/06/2006 2:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

kobe or duncan. add duncan to that category and it becomes self-explanatory.

which raises the unsettling possibility that the player kobe most closely resembles, conceptually, is tim duncan.

At 9/06/2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

@Shoals: From all the international guys I have watched Nowitzki the most in FIBA competition. He has really been unbelievable, putting a very weak team on his back. In this case I really believe he was simply tired. Dwyane Wade said as much about his own physical state, but he focused on giving Team USA 20-25 quality minutes with quite some breaks in between while Dirk usually got rest only at the end of some quarters. Gasol was really impressive, as was Yao. Ginobili disappointed me a little bit. That leaves Barbosa and Diaw as probably the biggest underachievers, which might point again to the unique Phoenix Suns style of ball/ team setup.

As far as Duncan goes, he was rendered a rebounder and mid-range shooter the last time I saw him in international competition, if I remember correctly. Might have been a result of opponents being able to crowd him more easily than in the NBA or of a backcourt with AI and Marbury prominently involved.

@ Salt Bagel: A zone, especially the 2-3 variety that was displayed a lot at the world championship, can take away a large amount of the athletic advantage. What it will allow is quite a lot of open 3's and penetration at the seems of the two defenders on top. But since there are three guys crowding the lane around the basket, penetration for athletic dunks or powerful lay-ups is quite difficult. What you can do/what the US could have done more with Brand and Bosh/Miller is let one of the big guys set-up at the free-throw line for open jumpers when facing up or dishing to open guys when covered at the high-post. My impression was that the US team passed the ball to the wing way too often (at least as the first option to attcak the holes in the zone) and failed to get into any significant motion of the ball, such as the PF and C rotating over the high-post position.

At 9/06/2006 4:04 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Of course it should have read "seams" of the two defenders and not "seems". Proves that German schools taught me needlework way before English.

At 9/06/2006 10:29 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Mean-as-sin thumpers and mid-range shooters who can pass. Sounds like the ultimate international player would be Karl Malone. In lieu of him, I nominate KG, Webber, and Morrison.

At 9/07/2006 3:58 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Eddie Johnson's take on Team USA. I'm not sure whether it adds a lot to the discussion, but at least he's a guy who has played both in the NBA and in Greece and his articles are relatively intelligent:


At 9/07/2006 1:14 PM, Blogger Kirk Krack said...

these recent threads & comments exhibit all sorts of weird, perhaps unexpected, jingoism

At 9/07/2006 1:24 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i guess that favoring a politically and socio-culturally complex american idiom over old world national teams built in labs and institutes is jingoism.

i always thought that the term implied siding with sweeping hegemony. the nba really isn't that, so it's strange to describe pro-nba sentiment in nationalist terms. team USA this time around, maybe, but i don't think anyone's really coming out in support of that vision.

wade salutes the common man fighing, not the military industrial complex. we cheer the message of the nba, not the formalized doldrums of USA basketball.

At 9/07/2006 1:36 PM, Anonymous aug said...

The USA's big problem against greece, wasn't just the zone, but playing defense. The US doesn't know how to play a good zone defense with the different rules which is important.

Also, a huge thing is the shorter 3 point line. It does make a difference. In the nba, you can go under screens because not many guys can shoot a 3 pointer over a defender from 24-26 ft out. In FIBA, you have to go over the screens because it's 3 ft shorter and a lot of guys have that kind of range. However, going over the screen allows your man to go by you to the basket and force the other defender to switch, which allows the point to pass it on the roll. This was the main problem of the US against greece. Couldn't defend the high pick and roll. Until the US can come up with a more sophisticated zone or get some players that can actually play defense(since the class of 03 can't play defense in the nba either), they're going to continue to have problems.

There is definitely work to do on offense to try to combine the nba game with the international one instead of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. They can take the international game and give it an nba/black flair with little to no problem. The nba has reinvented itself before, and there is no way they can't adapt to the fiba game eventually.

Not taking anything away from greece, argentina, and spain because they will still hold their own against the US if/when they do adapt(hopefully for the 08 olympics), but they won't be able to exploit the americans in the same way they have been. It will be a well fought game to the end, going back and forth, and finding new ways to win, just like we saw in the nba playoffs this past year. Should be fun.

At 9/09/2006 7:20 AM, Anonymous Alfred said...

Bethlehem: "Wade salutes the common man fighting, not the military-industrial complex". You think an Iranian watching the game will think about that? Can we even imagine a Lebanese team holding a Hizbollah banner after an international game, just saluting the common man fighting?

At 9/09/2006 1:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

please. let's not get so carried away that we forget about inequalities within America.

and there's no comparison with hezbollah, since that's semi-militia empowered by the will of the common man. that would be tommie smith and john carlos.

At 9/09/2006 9:02 PM, Anonymous Alfred said...

OK. Sorry if I got carried away. Let's not pursue this further.


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