The international flavor in today’s NBA

By By Matthew Piper

By Matthew Piper

Bill Walton loves to remind us that international basketball is thriving these days. NBA fans are constantly bombarded with reports of the foreign influx of talent. In the last five years, more than two-thirds of NBA teams have spent at least one first-round pick on alien forces.

When analyzing the chances of NBA success for an international player, scouts will often fail to consider the hoards of imports who fail to see NBA action. You know them as the skinny, white guys with platinum blonde hairstyles on the bench, stone-faced and petrified, scowling through their downcast, sunken eyes at a style of basketball that they fail to comprehend.

These towel-wavers know perfectly well what shots they hit at a high percentage, owing to the thousands of hours they’ve spent in a gym working at all ranges. Thus, after Antoine Walker launches an off-balanced mortar shot from 25 feet, they understandably recoil at the sight of his release hand, paraded high above his head in arrogant anticipation of an unlikely success.

American basketball fans bestow mythical “street cred” upon those who throw down flamboyant dunks and jog with a swagger-and the NBA caters to these endorsement machines.

American coaches are overshadowed by the players they coach in profile, pay, and profanity-laced interviews. They cannot possibly motivate icons like Vince Carter, who can afford enough luxuries to quench the thirst of competitiveness.

“You could be working on your jump shot,” or you could be on your yacht taking shots with some local ‘associates’ of the banging hot variety. Remember, whichever you choose, that you have enough money to do the latter for the rest of your life-every single damn day.

The reason it seemed like the Italians shot 95 percent at the Olympics is that they work to be fundamentally sounder than the high-profile Americans. It’s not Commie trickery, they aren’t hiding performance enhancers of mass destruction, and the court of international opinion (FIBA) did not eliminate the chances of an American success. It’s just that instead of carousing about after two-hour practices, foreign players spend their entire week in gyms working tirelessly at all facets of the game. By process of proximity, the lives of these players revolve around their teams.

Foreigners are also influenced by athletic mentalities that lend themselves to free-flowing games. In soccer, players are trained to move to positions at which their teammates can advance the ball to them under duress, and to be conscious of the whereabouts and movements of other teammates in case they receive a pass. The progression of organized support groups advances the ball down the pitch. When this approach is applied to basketball, there become fewer opportunities for turnovers, and “isolation” is not a popular formation, but something to avoid. There’s no reason not to enter a zone defense, and if you do, it’s not essential that you frantically attempt to score immediately.

Crafty point guards like Tony Parker are thriving, dodging and darting through zones, drawing defenders into a state of confusion and frustration. It’s no coincidence, then, that slasher Steve Nash is a former soccer player. International players at off-ball positions often find themselves relying on American point guards who wait for them to set slcreens so they can spray 20-foot jumpers.

It therefore makes good sense for foreign bigs like Andrew Bogut to forsake immediate paydays overseas and flourish in the spotlight of the NCAA. His success exemplifies the greater ease of assimilating to a less-altered variation of the international game. Coaches still reign supreme in college basketball, and the movement without the ball by motivated players yields a gameplay less reliant on complex whiteboard plays that nobody ever seems to pay much attention to, anyway (if I ran a JumboTron, I’d run a graphic that said “Your coach is making bunny ears behind you, Al” during every Philly timeout).

As for Bogut, many are forecasting him as a top-10 pick in next year’s draft, when another GM will “roll the dice” on a big guy who can shoot, pass, rebound, run the floor, set picks, and contribute in every category to a team’s success… “Running all hard like that, naw, coach, you best sit that rookie.”

To the Darkos and the Zarkos of the world, I feel your pain, but you’ll learn to live with the practice squad. Stop by Atlanta and get yourself a membership at the Gold Club, tell the girls you know Antoine. It’s not so bad. I mean, at least you’re overpaid, right?

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