Sunday, April 08, 2007

International Flavor: Vive le Basketball

You might’ve once known it as the National Basketball Association, but don’t forget there is a Canadian team still lingering around in Toronto. Not to mention, anytime you take a glance at most NBA rosters, you notice something less and less surprising: a ton of international players have begun to make major impacts in the NBA.

Whereas in years past there was a player or two you noticed from being born outside the US (such as a Kukoc, Divac, Mutombo, or Olajuwon)…now you notice several key players, especially the young up-and-coming ones, are in fact foreign-born.

Whether its Argentina [Ginobli & Nocioni], Brazil [Barbosa & Nene], Lithuania [Ilgauskas & Songaila], Serbia [Krstic, Milicic, & Stojakovic], Turkey [Okur & Turkoglu], or even the Virgin Islands [Duncan & Bell]…you see foreign players starting and making key impacts on NBA rosters from coast-to-coast. Even the two top MVP candidates (no, not Lebron and Kobe, American-lovers) are foreign born (Nash is Canadian and was born in South Africa and Nowitzki is German-born).

Yet, one country seems to be leading the charge with NBA-infused talent. While their Olympic and junior squads haven’t been the strongest or most consistent year-in and year-out; France is home to seven NBA players (2 of which are vital components – if not anchors - on championship-worthy teams).

So drop the Napoleon-jokes, put down your ‘freedom fries’, get over that palace in Versailles and enjoy the three courses remaining from your dinner a little bit later. Let’s check out the French impact on the NBA today…

In order of importance:
1) Tony Parker [PG,
San Antonio Spurs]
-Landing a babe like Eva Longoria should be worthy enough of praise; yet, Parker is one of the elite point guards in the NBA today. He is lightning quick, near-brilliant driving to the hoop, and seems to live under tense situations with relative ease. The first foreign-born player to be named to the Rookie 1st-team [2001], the Belgian-born Parker helped lead the San Antonio Spurs to their second and third NBA titles in 2003 & 2005. Only 24 years old, Parker will see his fair share of All-Star games, all-NBA teams, and playoff appearances. One of the top French-born performers in any sport, Parker is the heart of the French-exodus into the NBA.

Draft Selection: 1st Round, 28th selection [2001] by the San Antonio Spurs

2) Boris Diaw [F, Phoenix Suns]
-In one of the top trades in recent NBA-memory, the Phoenix Suns shipped Joe Johnson out to Atlanta for two future #1 picks (one of which may be a top 5 selection this year) and a 6-8 swing-man who can play just about every position on the floor (that’s Diaw of course). Unable to remain patient with their first year talent, the Hawks shipped out an invaluable swing-man who has the athleticism to run the point and the strength to post up with the majority of the 4s of the NBA in the blocks. Stepping in as seamlessly as possible during the injury to Amare Stoudamire, Diaw proved invaluable while earning 2005-2006 Most Improved Honors within the one-of-a-king Suns-system in 2006. Averaging 13 pts, 7 rebs, and 6 asts last season, Diaw (only in his 4th season) is as lethal a 7th man as the NBA has seen in recent memory. It will be scary to see how much
Atlanta lost out on trading Diaw, a throw-in from their vantage point of that Johnson-trade, to the Suns.
Draft Selection: 1st Round, 21st selection [2001] by the Atlanta Hawks

3) Mickael Pietrus [F, Golden State Warriors]
-Steadily progressing from his lottery-pick status over the past three seasons, Pietrus is often a victim of a team with too much similar talent and too few shots to go around. Just try finding a shot with guys like Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Monta Ellis (the only one of this bunch who shoots as much as he should) on your team. Averaging around 20 mins/game, Pietrus poses an incredibly difficult matchup at the swing 2/3 position (now a must-have in the NBA). While it may take a new destination for him to truly take off (ala Larry Hughes and a certain guy named Arenas), Pietrus is a hybrid-talent who will always be able to find a job as a complementary slashing/scorer and solid team-defender. The only question that remains for the Warriors: how much does he really fit into their future plans?

Draft Selection: 1st Round, 11th Selection [2003] Golden State Warriors

4) Ronny Turiaf [F/C, Los Angeles Lakers]
-While Turiaf’s talent may be questioned on the terms of him being much more than a role player, there’s no denying his heart. Literally. Turiaf underwent open-heart surgery on
July 26, 2005 and debuted on a NBA court only six months later. This season, his averages of 5 pts and 3 rebs have come in tough duty – aiding the Lakers in replacing the oft-injured Kwame Brown and the oft-inconsistent Andrew Bynum. After seeing his rookie contract voided, due to his heart problems, Turiaf is now one of the first big-men off the bench in the Lakers-rotation. While his future seems pretty hazy right now, in regards to being a real contributor or not, one thing appears clear: Turiaf is willing to work as hard as he can to make it in the NBA.
Draft Selection: 2nd Round, 7th selection [2005] Los Angeles Lakers

5) Johan Petro [C, Seattle Supersonics]
-Just another one of the four-dozen “project-laden big-men” the Sonics have drafted over the past few years, Petro seems to be the one they rely on (or at least would like to rely on) the most. Nearly eclipsing 20 mins/game as of late, Petro’s averages of 7 pts and 4 rebounds seem a bit pedestrian, but only because Nick Collison is this team’s starting center. Go figure. The 7-footer has a smooth touch in the paint, which unfortunately often lends him to being outmanned and outbodied by smaller competitors. One of the three-dozen tweener big-men in the NBA right now, there’s no telling how long Petro has to succeed in
Seattle. Yet, I find it hard to believe that with his unusual body type and his impressive agility that defenders will be able to keep him away from 10 pts/8 rebs potential coming off the bench for a contending team in 2-3 years.
Draft Selection: 1st Round, 25th selection [2005] Seattle Supersonics

6) Yakhouba Diawara [G, Denver Nuggets]
-One of the more fun names to pronounce through the league, Diawara has become a favorite of Nuggets head coach George Karl. Or at least it appeared that way before the trade deadline. A rookie, who played a few years ago for Pepperdine, Diawara used a strong stint in the Vegas league in 2006, to earn a spot on the Nuggets roster. Already impressively, he was one of the key leaders of the French team that took home the Under-18 2000 European Championship. After playing professionally in
France and Italy, Diawara became the Nuggets energy-guy in the backcourt off of the bench and one of their only true perimeter-based defenders. Struggling a bit to find minutes with JR Smith staying and Iverson arriving in Denver at the deadline, Diawara has unfortunately been off the court much more than he’s been on it as of late. Interestingly enough, he could be an important “throw-in” to an off-season Nuggets trade that could enable one team to land a potential game-changing player for little-to-nothing. This guy will be a starter in the NBA in the next 5 years…mark it down.
Draft Selection: Undrafted

7) Mickael Gelabale [F, Seattle Supersonics]
-Entering his first season in 2006-2007, Gelabale has become one of the more promising pieces in the
Seattle’s rather ominous rotation. His 6-7 frame allows him for some interesting matchups in the 2/3 spot; although he seems to stay away from inside-play a little too much for his size. He has clearly become more comfortable with the perimeter-game in the NBA. The real transition to watch with Gelabale will be from year 2 to year 3, when he may become one of the first people off the bench for the Sonics. While he lacks the soft-touch and smooth inside-scoring instincts of a Boris Diaw, Gelebale could very well see Pietrus-like numbers, and a similar swing-man impact, in the following years. Then potentially it could be Pietrus-type money for the French-born rookie talent.
Draft Selection: 2nd Round, 18th pick [2005] Seattle Supersonics

By the way, it won’t end here: Nicolas Batum, the top international prospect in the opinion of most experts (23 points on 9-13 shooting at the 2007 Nike Hoops Summit), is an 18-year old freakish athlete with a nose for the hoop and 7’1 wingspan. Easily a top-10 pick in 2008, he now is starring with French pro-team Le Mans Sarthe Basket…oh yeah, he’s only 18 years old. Look out for this one.

Batum could be one the top-prizes in the 2008 Draft.
Credit: FibaEurope

So there we have it. Rose-colored glasses in my analysis? Hardly. What I do see are seven talented players – some already impact players, while other are still waiting for their opportunity or perhaps a new location to get more minutes – who might’ve never seen the NBA ten years ago. Whereas role players and journeymen dominated the NBA landscape for years in spots 8-12 on the roster, now the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NBA Draft – both for pretenders and contenders – often include important investment and involvement in the stock of foreign-born players (especially since high school kids must spend at least one year in college).

What should come as no surprise to most NBA fans or even novices these days, France is one of those country’s leading the international charge.

Until next time...

1 comment:

Merd said...

Does Batum have any buyout issues similar to Fran Vasquez who duped Orlando a couple years back?