The Inexperienced Invasion
The National Basketball Association displays the world's greatest basketball talent barring none. No one would question such a statement. Its players are more flashy than, and athletically and physically superior to all other international players around the globe.
And yet, particularly with an influx of inexperienced high school talent invading the game, it seems as though the basic fundamentals such as jump shooting, ball handling and passing are being eroded as players now play the game "above the rim." The fact is that international players, particularly those from Eastern European states, are generally better skilled on the fundamentals of the game than the new crop of talent infiltrating a seemingly watered-down NBA.
This fact will particularly come to the fore beginning next season when new zone defense rules marginalize the best talent and champion role players like Steve Kerr who can drain an open jump shot on demand time and time again. Next season, the vast majority of NBA players will not be able to get to the rim as easily, as zone defenses prevent penetration in the lane. The college game already shows us how important outside shooting is to break a zone defense: for instance, Duke would not have won the national championship game had it not been for Dunleavy's five three-point field goals.
While the impact of most high school players will not be felt for several years, European players tend to have an immediate and lasting influence on the game. They are better suited to play a game with zone defenses that stress fundamentals over style. Players such as Sacramento's Stojakovic, Dallas's Nowitzki and Portland's Sabonis are excellent examples of players who possess the skills and fundamentals many NBA players do not.
Sabonis is the best big man passer in the game. His precision on passes out of the double team far exceeds any passes I've seen future NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing make over the last 15 years of his career in New York.
Nowitzki, unlike most forwards his height, can shoot the three-point shot with accuracy. He is also an excellent ball handler and passer, and his ability to drive the lane and pull up for the soft jump makes him a major asset to Dallas.
The 2001 NBA Draft in New York featured a record 20 underclassmen, with four high school players drafted in the first eight picks. But less heralded in this year's draft were four international players who will probably have just as big, if not bigger, impacts as the high schoolers already have: Paul Gasol from Spain, Desagana Diop from Senegal, Vladimir Radmanovic from Bosnia, and Raul Lopez from Spain.
If you still don't believe that the European game is gaining on the NBA, then look no further than the recent "Dream Team's" performance in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. The U.S. squeaked by in the semifinals, winning the game by a single point as an opposing player narrowly missed an open shot as the final buzzer sounded. The NBA game is frankly not as far advanced as we once thought it was, primarily because the players who could couple the spectacular with the ordinary, men like Larry Bird, rarely exist. Maybe the NBA should look overseas for the next Larry Bird.