Czar’s Season Update: Injury Report

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Mike’s Take: Global NBA

Foreign Policy Digest’s South Asia Regional Editor Mahanth Joishy asked me to discuss the globalization of the NBA and the influence of international players on the league. Here’s an excerpt from our Q & A session:

FPD: I recently read that there are approximately 80 international basketball players from over 30 countries in the NBA. I’d guess there are many hundreds more on the radar screen of NBA scouts. Many are all-star caliber players: Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, Yao Ming of China, and of course Steve Nash from Canada, via South Africa. Do you believe this trend of bringing in foreign talent will continue to grow?

Yes, I think this trend will continue to grow, because the pool of talent is beginning to diminish here in the United States, which in turn has watered down our product somewhat. Nowadays, many players are turning pro after one year in college, before they are close to maturing to the point that they will eventually get to. So scouts will continue to look at international players who have perhaps been playing as pros since they were 15 or 16 years old, and have therefore matured at an earlier age. A player who has four, five, six years of pro experience under his belt and enters the NBA as a 23- or 24-year-old rookie can help contribute more quickly than one who leaves college after one year and has only 35 collegiate games under his belt and isn’t physically ready to handle the demands of the NBA. So yes, NBA teams will continue to look outside the United States for talent.

FPD: There is the oft-repeated stereotype that European players have better fundamentals, such as long-range shooting and passing, though they’re not always as “well-fed” or flashy at dunking, due to differences in training mentality. Is this true?

Yes, I would agree that European players generally have better fundamentals than American players. One reason for that is that their game has always been more of a perimeter shooting game than the drive-it-and-dunk-it type game that we have here due to the speed, quickness, athleticism, and ball-handling abilities that we have in so many players in the United States. In other countries, their ball-handling skills have developed more recently and have gotten to a different level over the last 5-10 years.

Another factor is that they play only two games a week in Europe, as opposed to three or four games a week in the NBA, which affords them more practice time. It’s not unusual for European teams to have three practices in a day. One practice will be used to work on the skill areas: dribbling, passing, and shooting. Another will be for strength and conditioning. And the last will focus on playing the game itself. And when they have skills training, they do it with all the positions. That’s why so many of their big guys are good shooters. You haven’t had as many great low-post scoring players in international competition, which has something to do with the trapezoidal lane, which they are working to change. They are trying to make it the same as the NBA’s rectangular lane, so it’s consistent in international play.

FPD: Which country or region of the world may represent the next hotbed of undiscovered basketball talent, in your opinion?

It could be China, based on its population size and the growing interest in the sport. They have over 1.3 billion people, including a wealth of young men close to or over seven feet tall in the country. And they also have a great passion for the game now. Yao Ming certainly did a lot to promote the sport of basketball and upgrade the NBA’s image in that country. Now that the Chinese have had more exposure to basketball and understand what it’s all about, the sport has caught on. The Latin countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, also have a great passion for basketball now. And countries that have historically been very good are those that were part of the former Yugoslavia and former USSR. They have always had excellent teams.

FPD: It seems like national teams from other nations, such as Spain, Argentina, or Lithuania, are catching up with the US. What will the United States national team have to do better to continue to win at the highest levels of international competition, such as the Olympics or the FIBA world championships, and avoid disappointing upsets?

The United States national team will have to continue to get commitments from the best American players to go and compete, just as they did in the 2008 Olympics and in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. For the Olympics, they got top NBA players, such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Dwyane Wade to play for Team USA. And the young guys who had been their understudies when training and preparing for the Olympics, such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Kevin Love all made a commitment to compete in the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, and we wound up winning the title. So that’s what it will take: the continued commitment from our best players to still be a part of our national team.

Click here to read the rest of our interview on Foreign Policy Digest.

Around the League: Will the Nets Go From Worst to First in Five?

Tomorrow the Nets tip off against Yao Ming and the Rockets in Beijing for the first of two exhibition games headlining the NBA China Games 2010. This preseason pit stop arrives on the heels of the team’s day-long debut in Moscow. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov met many of the players for the first time and introduced them to Russian basketball fans by way of an open practice and a clinic for 3,000 youths in an effort to build their global brand and broaden their fan base.

Prokhorov has set his team’s sights on making the playoffs this season and winning a championship in five years. This might sound like an impossibly tall order for a 12-win team that is coming off the worst season in franchise history.

However, just a few years back the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics reminded us what a difference a summer can make. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA in 2007 and drawing a disappointing fifth-round draft pick, the Celtics reinvented their roster, acquiring Ray Allen, Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett, and took the championship title in 2008 – their first since 1986.

With a new owner, a new GM, a new head coach, a new arena and lot of new names on their roster including third overall draft pick Derrick Favors, who is certainly a special player, the reconstituted Nets are poised to stage their own incredible comeback. But first they must convince themselves that they’ve got what it takes. A little self-induced amnesia may go a long way as the team’s ability to head into the new season with a winning mentality will be crucial to its success. This starts at the top so it bodes well that Prokhorov has a strong desire to win and is committed to turning the program around, backing up his lofty expectations and goals with a financial commitment.

General manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson share Prokhorov’s ambitions and are taking a “team first” approach to their relationship. In addition to the support of Prokhorov and King, Avery has assembled a tremendous coaching staff consisting of former head coaches with great basketball minds and invaluable experience including lead assistant Sam Mitchell, Larry Krystkowiak, John Loyer, Popeye Jones and longtime Nets guy Tom Barrise, who was also my former scout back in Atlanta.

In last Thursday’s exhibition game against the veteran Celtics, the Nets got off to a good start, faltered in the second quarter, and then made a game of it in the fourth. Though Boston ultimately held off the Nets 96-92, there’s a lot to like about how competitive a game it was. A combination of youth, talent and veteran leadership, the new Nets are already looking much improved this season.

It was unusual to see Nets’ former head coach Lawrence Frank sitting on Celts’ bench as Doc’s new assistant. I like Boston’s new pickups and thought that former Cavs Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West played well and looked like they will be contributors.

The Celts’ new roster gives them depth and versatility, which becomes extremely valuable down the stretch. Ian pointed out we could be looking at five future Hall of Famers on the Celtics starting lineup. They still have to get back their starting center Perkins, but it will be interesting to see if this season’s roster is stronger than last year’s title contenders.

The NBA China Games 2010 opener featuring the Houston Rockets against the New Jersey Nets will be televised live from the Wukesong Arena in Beijing, China on NBA TV this Wednesday, October 13 at 8:00 AM EST.