Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dart Adams presents Journey Into Mystery: Investigating The NBA's European Player Backlash

There are was a time when NBA scouts and GM's used to salivate over talent from the Euroleague and draft them over players that they saw every day in high school or even college. The reasoning was that the Euroleague talent had played more team basketball at an earlier age, they knew better fundamentals and they were rarely any character problems or questions. It helped that none of these kids ever played AAU and dealt with the any of the same issues that American kids did. This made Euroleague talent all the more attractive.

Some simply saw it as a way for the NBA to get more White players in the league because the number of White players that were getting drafted has dropped dramatically over the past 10 years. This has long been considered one of the reason that so many fans stopped caring about the NBA after all of the players from the beloved NBA On CBS era retired.

There are always drafting frenzy cycles in the NBA, first it was high schoolers, then it was college underclassmen. then it was junior college players and then Eurolegue talent. I'll break down how the whole frenzy happened and how it all abruptly cooled down in the following investigative blog about the current European* player backlash. Let's get in:

1998 NBA Draft

In this draft, 7 Euroleague players were drafted in total, the highest being Dirk Nowitzki at #9, right ahead of Kansas superstar Paul Pierce. No other European draftee from 1998 ever made a mark in the NBA except for Dirk.

1999 NBA Draft

In 1999, only 5 European players were drafted, the highest draft pick among them was Andrei "AK47" Kirilenko at #24. The other notable European player drafted that year was the second to last player chosen (#57) and his name was Manu Ginobili. Both of these players turned out to be super aggressive on both offense and defense which was something that no one expected from two Euro ballers. Combined with the emerging superstar Dirk Nowitzki, these European players seemed to be doing well for themselves.

2000 NBA Draft

The next year only 7 Euroleague players were drafted by NBA teams, chief among them being Hedo Turkoglu (#16). Hedo became an instant fan favorite and was one of the best shooters in the league almost immediately. He helped to make the Sacramento Kings a perennial powerhouse in the West when combined with Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic (14th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft). That helped raise the profile of Euroleague talent in the NBA.

2001 NBA Draft

This draft only fielded 6 Euroleague players with the highest pick going to Pau Gasol at #3. Other notable picks were Vladimir Radmonovich (#12), Tony Parker (#28) and Mehmet Okur (#38).

Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Mehmet Okur have all been All Stars. Parker has won a few rings with the Spurs and Pau and Vlad are teammates on the 2008 Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers.

2002 NBA Draft

The previous four drafts had brought in a plethora of talented European players sans any serious character problems, entourages or Hip Hop swagger. The NBA was attracting new fans both home and abroad so other execs and GM's decided to put more effort into their overseas scouting. This lead to 12 Euroleague players getting drafted in 2002, the highest choice was the 5th pick: Nikoloz "Skita" Tskitishvilli.

Of all 12 picks, the only one to make any kind of mark in the league so far has been Nenad Krstic (#24). Skita was out of the league after 4 seasons with 4 different teams. He couldn't score, rebound or defend well enough to warrant a seat on a bench in the NBA. Damn shame because he sure was a beast in the NBA Summer League!

2003 NBA Draft

The NBA is a copycat league, leading to every team in the NBA having scouts at Euroleague games and tournaments year round. This led to an NBA record high 17 Euroleague players getting drafted in 2003, the same year that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh all entered the league (think about that for a moment).

The Detroit Pistons drafted Darko Milicic with the 2nd pick and he never panned out. Other notable picks from this draft include Mickael Pietrus (#11), Sasha Pavlovic (#19) and Boris Diaw (#22). None of the 17 players picked in this draft have become anything better than an occasional starter in the NBA (Pavlovic and Diaw).

2004 NBA Draft

This time around a grand total of 12 Euros names were announced by either David Stern or Rod Thorn. The highest pick being Andris Biedrins at #11. The only other former Euroleague players of note from this draft are Sasha Vujacic (#27) and Beno Udrih (#28). Neither of these players have tore the league up but Biedrins has proven himself to be a better than average defender and he had flashes of brilliance in the past.

2005 NBA Draft

Skita and Darko Milicic both turned out to be huge busts but that didn't deter NBA teams from drafting a total of 14 different Euroleague players. The highest pick went to Fran Vazquez at #11 by Orlando. The Orlando Magic brass figured that Vazquez would spend a few years overseas getting seasoning before he came to the NBA. Problem is that Vazquez had a horrible past season in the Euroleague on a new team without a bunch of stars on it.

Vazquez has shown that he doesn't have a very good grasp of post play or defense and he has looked absolutely lost on the court in several contests this past season. At this rate, the Magic would probably just pass on him completely. How the hell do you become a bust before you even get the chance to play in the NBA? None of the other former Euroleague players drafted in 2005 even warrant mention.

2006 NBA Draft

With the first pick of the 2006 NBA Draft the Toronto Raptors select...Andrea Bargnani! This draft was a virtual nightmare from top to bottom and as of the writing of this blog none of the other 10 Euroleague prospects drafted this year are worth writing about (i.e. Thabo Sefalosha).

Andrea "Il Mago" Barganani is a 7 foot 250 pound jump shooter with handles that shoots at just 40% from the floor and just slightly worse at 38% from the three point line. That makes absolutely no sense at all, but it does make sense once you realize that he's a 7 footer with no real post game, aggressiveness or mental toughness.

Bargnani is also a horrible rebounder for his size (4 rpg) and he couldn't guard a mailbox due to the fact he's softer than wet toilet paper. After a mediocre rookie season 0f 11.g ppg and 4 rpg he responded last season with a terrible year (10 ppg 4 rpg). "Il Mago" has been criticized by his teammates for being lackadaisical on defense and having no intensity, pride or fire. Toronto Raptors fans have called for him to be traded in the offseason and now Toronto is looking for a true big man to complement Chris Bosh in the 2008 NBA Draft.

The sad thing is that Bargnani was the best story of all of the Euroleague draftees in the 2006 NBA Draft.

2007 NBA Draft

Last season, a total of 10 Euros were picked by NBA teams with the highest pick being used by the Golden State Warriors at #18. They selected Euroleague sensation Marco Bellinelli, a high energy, athletic shooter/scorer that has yet to decide when he'll ever make the trek to the States and play in the L. Of the 10 Euroleague players picked last season only 3 of them went in the 1st round as NBA GM's and execs have kind of soured on Euroleague players given the recent track record of success versus (epic) failure.

In the past 10 NBA drafts, a grand total of 110 Euroleague prospects have been drafted. Of those 110 only about half ever make it to the NBA, of those 55-60 players only about half of them ever even last more than 3 seasons and end up scrubs or role players in the league (Krstic, Pavlovic, Delfino, Milicic, Scola, Vujacic, etc.). This means that only about 25- 30 of these players even managed to hang around. Of these remaining players, few of them are starters (Radmanovich, Biedrins, Turkoglu, Udrih, Okur, Bargnani, Kirilenko, etc.) and far fewer are considered adequate defenders (Nowitzki, Kirilenko, Ginobili, Pietrus, Diaw, Tony Parker and Biedrins) at their positions.

After 10 drafts between 1998-2007 and 100+ picks only four ex-Euroleaguers are certified superstars (Nowitzki, Ginobili, Parker and Gasol). Compare that to the amount of high schoolers that were drafted between 1995-2004 (more than 30) and the superstars they ultimately produced (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O' Neal, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and Dwight Howard). Looking at the numbers, there is clearly something wrong. Besides, the only team in NBA history with a bunch of ex-Euroleaguers to win at the pro level is the San Antonio Spurs...all of the others got out toughed in the playoffs.

One thing that has also soured many GM's on drafting a bunch of European players was highlighted by the 2008 NBA Finals when the collection of mentally tough and physical Boston Celtics completely overwhelmed the European players on the Lakers roster (Gasol, Radmanovich and Vujacic) at both ends of the court. Now that it's been hammered into the heads of everyone in the league that "defense wins championships" expect a bunch of teams to try to swing blockbuster trades and go after some lockdown defenders this offseason in hopes of challenging for a championship.

The only Euroleague prospect that's expected to be drafted high this year is Danilo Gallinari. Other than him, it all up in the air as the new trend is to draft "one and outs" and big men. I can't wait for the draft to start this year as see what goes down.

* Does not include players who originate or emigrated from Europe to the United States to play either high school or college basketball.


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