Sunday, April 22, 2007

International Basketball – Part 1 – The International Players

In the last decade, basketball has seemingly gone from a sport dominated by the Americans to a sport that everyone in the world could play. With recent setbacks of the US Dream Teams losing at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Cup, and the MVP of the NBA in the last two seasons being Steve Nash (Canada), and this year’s MVP top contenders being Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and Nash once again. Nash and Nowitsky are considered the top point guard and power forward in the NBA right now and Yao Ming (China), the top center. United States still have the best shooting guard and small forward, with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Although the US still has the most top 1% players in the world but why do they lose, when they have to put a team together against other international team that only have 1 really good player and maybe 2 or 3 other players that play in the NBA?

The first wave – Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania), Valde Divac (Yugoslavia), Rik Smits (Netherlands), Luc Longley (Australia), Toni Kukoc (Lithuania)
In the late 80s and early 90s, top European players began to come to the NBA. At that time, most of the players that were able to come are mostly 7 footers, because we will never have enough of these giants in basketball in any period of time. Two things that all of them have in common are: they are not as physical as the other center and power forward in the NBA, and they could all shoot 15 foot jumpers or further, something that no big men in North America could do at that time. Sabonis and Divac are also good passer and Kukoc could shoot further and was pretty good at driving to the basket even at 6’10”.

Arvydas Sabonis was the best European player at the time. At 7 foot, he had been known to be able to dribble, occasionally shoot from 3-pt range and pass like a point guard (if not better). Sabonis led the USSR to win the 1988 Korea Olympics. However, due to the political circumstances, Sabonis was not able to come to the NBA in 1988, the year that he was drafted by the Portland Trail-blazers. When Sabonis was cleared to go to the NBA in 1989, he elected to stay and play professionally in Europe instead, and did not join the Trail-blazers until the end of his prime in 1995..

Toni Kukoc was perhaps the first non-7 footers that made a splash in the NBA. Who was a key player for the Chicago Bulls, when they won the NBA titles in 1996 / 97 / 98. At 6’10”, Kukoc shoot from beyond the 3-pt arc regularly and drive to the basket when guarded by a power forward. On the other hand, when he was defended by a small forward, Kukoc would be posting up, and at 6’10”, Kukoc could shoot over a smaller player from the outside at any time he wish. With his versatility, Kukoc revolutionize the playing style in the NBA, not just opening up the door for other European big men, but we see players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and Chris Bosh, American big men that could now add a shooting touch to their arsenal on top of their post up game. And in the long term, at the end of Kukoc’s career, we see the Phoenix Suns, which has an Italian coach in Mike D’Antoni, play the fast pace European style of basketball, which stress passing and shooting from every player on the court, including the center and power forward that could also dribble and move the ball on the run.

The Second wave – led by Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Pau Gasol (Spain), Toni Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Yao Ming (China)
Well, these are the group of players in the NBA, they are not just good players, but are considered as some of the elite players in the NBA right now. And now, not only big centers and power forwards are going to the NBA due to demand of big men, the overall skills of international players had improved. Big or small players became more athletic and are better suit for the North American style of basketball.

Nowitzki is a bigger, stronger version of Kukoc. Who is a MVP candidate this year, and finished 3rd in the voting in the past two seasons. Making him the first international player, who dominate the game regularly in the NBA.
Gasol is another Valde Divac, who could extend the other team’s defense, and play solid defense himself. Gasol has a better offensive skills set and more offensive moves, but not as good a passer as Divac.
Yao is just a good center that could shoot a little further away and dominate the paint area mainly because of his 7’6” frame.
Then there are Parker and Ginobili, they are the first international point guard and shooting that made a difference in the NBA. Parker uses his speed, quickness, as well as his basketball intelligence that a point guard requires, which he gain on the benefit of beginning playing professional basketball when he was 14. Ginobili is known to play tough defense, going strong to the basket and finding different ways to get to the basket in the most unusual/unbelievable ways. I guess it is just a matter of time that there are some good players in the pg, sg and sf positions from around the world to crack into the NBA.

Why is it good for NBA teams to draft / sign international players?

The advantage that international players have over players that grew up in North America is that, rather than learning to play basketball from the street and high schools, because the international style of basketball is less physical, they get a chance to play profession basketball beginning at a young age. This way, they get to learn the fundamentals better and become a more complete basketball player, thus higher basketball IQ, whereas the North American players are more athletic and could produce more spectacular plays. The international players are better passer and have more big game experiences in general.

In general, it might take a little longer for a young player from other countries to adjust to the more physical NBA basketball. But once they are used to the physical play, they began to excel and show their talent, and most of them become fairly successful in the NBA. This is because only the top prospects were drafted and since they began playing professional basketball at a young age, the level of competition that the European players had been through are higher than those who play in college in North America. So when they were drafted, NBA scouts know those players could play and it is just a matter of time on how long it would take for them to get use to playing in the NBA. So there are fewer busts in drafting international talents in comparison to drafting college players from NCAA.

Another advantage of international players is free agency, it is not necessarily to get young international players through the draft, NBA teams could sign a veteran player from any of the European league to help out their team right away. And with the continue increase popularity of basketball around the world, we could see more and more good international players joining the NBA in the future. All this would do is increase the overall entertainment level of the NBA, it is great for the true basketball fans.

In the next article, International Basketball – Part 2, I will talk about why the recent U.S. dream teams were failing to win in international tournament in the recent years.

BTW – When talking about great international players, we have to mention Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Dekembi Mutombu (Congo) and Steve Nash (Canada), but these guys are not mention above because they all had went to different universities in the U.S. and play in the NCAA. And of course, there are other international players that were not mention in this article such as Detlef Schrempf from Germany and Peja Stojakovic etc...

Monday, April 16, 2007

What I like(d) and dislike about the NBA

Everyone has their own opinion on each thing in this world. You might love something very much but something else might just don't care about it. And there is also something that everyone seems to like but you just don't have the vibe for it. So even though I love basketball and is one of the biggest NBA fans, there are still somthing in the NBA that I don't like.

Lets begin with What I like(d) about the NBA
10. Marc Cuban-I was going to list a group of my favourite players in the lower part of this list together, but decided to only list Yao Ming and Scottie Pippen at the end. Marc Cuban is probably the most popular owner of any pro sport in North America
9. Little Penny-a great creation in the 90s for the best NBA related commercials ever
8. Power Dancers (cheerleaders)-unfortunately not all of them are beautiful, so I only like a few of them from each team each year
7. Amazing athleticism-this is what everyone likes, including those who don't watch basketball regularly, all the spectacular dunks and circus shots (I don't like the lucky ones though, just the ones that the shot came out exactly as planned by the player)
6. A great pass-whether it is Steve Nash on the run or Shaq on the post, when a nice pass occurred, I love it. There are fewer good passer than dunker in the league.
5. Toronto Raptors-they are the only team left in Canada
4. Yao Ming-the "Great Wall" has a bright future ahead of him
3. Vancouver Grizzlies-I will always be a Vancouver Grizzlies fan and never a Memphis Grizziles fan
2. Scottie Pippen, Air Pippen II and Air Pippen IV basketball shoes-my favourtie player of all time because of his ability to do everything that could help a team win a basketball game. These two pair of shoes are simply the coolest looking shoes ever designed and I personally own a pair of Air Pippen II retro, they are so comfortable
1. nba basketball game-I liked every game, even blow outs(for those I only like the part before the losing team gave up) just the best sport in the world

What I Don't Like about the NBA
10. Imbalance of power-the two best teams don’t always meet in the NBA Finals. I don’t know what the eastern conference’s G.M.’s were doing. Hopefully, well Brian Colangelo going to the Raptors is a start. But since the western conference is so strong, their weaker teams seem to have the worst record in the NBA and have the best chance in winning the draft lottery for the best rookie, the Portland Trail-Blazers last year and the Memphis Grizzlies this year. What I don't like is that, in where I live, I get to watch the eastern conference teams play more often on tv and I want to see the western conference games
9. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant-they are like the New York Yankees and Manchester United, you either love them or hate them.
8. The James family-those commercials are so lame
7. long range buzzer beater-being half of the top 10 plays of the week, every week, is just un-acceptable. I don’t think a long range buzzer beater is a spectacular play in general
6. “Everybody clap your hands”-most use by the Charlotte Bobcats, it just sound so stupid and incredibly annoying
5. Isaiah Thomas-he just shouldn’t be a G.M., not just wasted the Knicks' money but ruining the younger players' career that are with the Knicks organization. He just keep on trading in bad contracts with the Knicks' high draft pick then over paid for free agents in the off season. The Knicks will struggle in the years to come
4. biased home team commentator-they are so brain washed, sometimes sound like a complete idiot
3. when referees call a blocking foul inside the restricted area-read my other article "The "no-charge" zone"
2. I don’t live in a NBA city and don’t get to watch the games in person
1. Steve Francis and the Memphis Grizzlies (especially David Heisley)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The "no-charge zone"

In the 1997/98 season, the four foot radius “no-charge area” was first introduced. This was intended to promote freedom of movement and driving to the basket like the NBA in the past, before less offensive talented teams start winning games simply by working on their defense. And eventually evolving into all teams needed to play well defensively to win the NBA title, and taking a charge in the lane to prevent the highlight real dunk is an essential part of the game.
The “no-charge area,” formerly a two-by-six foot box where an offensive foul is not called if contact is made with a secondary defensive player who has established a defensive position, will be expanded to the area consisting of a half circle with a four-foot radius measured from the middle of the goal. –

The Rule
An offensive foul should never be called if the contact is with a secondary defensive player who has established a defensive position within a designated "restricted area" near the basket for the purpose of drawing an offensive foul. –

Why this Rule
This rule originated to open up the lane, in the hopes of more (spectacular) dunks or encourage the players to go to the basket more often instead of settling for a jump shot. The NBA was doing this to generate more excitement in the game because they were losing they were losing fans during the regular season. This is due to a) the lack of excitement in the NBA because the season is too long, so each game do not count as much comparing to college basketball, b) improving technology, there are more affordable computer and video games and other sort of entertainments.

The Problem of this Rule
In this rule, it never said that a blocking foul should be called, therefore, it should be a no call. But, when I am watching games on tv, when a supposively charge occurs in the restricted area, a blocking call is almost always made by the referees. But in such situation, a no call should be more appropriate, if it is interpreted as defined by the rules.

To be fair, charge and block are the toughest calls to differentiate in basketball, the referees call charges and blocks wrong half the time anyway, regardless if the play is in the restricted area or not. But sometimes, really the refs intend to call a charge, and then they saw that it was obvious that the defensive player is in the restricted area, but they had blown the whistle already, thus they decided to make it a blocking foul instead of admitting their mistake and it is an inadvertent whistle and a jump ball to follow.

In my opinion, many NBA players and coaches think this way too, it should be a no call if they took a charge inside the restricted area and if their feet are outside of the semi-circle, then a charging foul would be called on the offensive player. But you won’t see too much arguing made by the defensive team anymore, because they are now used to this being a blocking foul, although this is not stated in the rulebook, and this is called consistently both ways by the referees. Unfortunately, you will actually see the offensive player get more upset and continues to argue after the play, when a no call was made by the referees. And the referees explanations is simply, the defensive player got the position, it is not a charge because he is inside the restricted area, certainly it is not a blocking foul. Hah!!!

This rule really works is in a contradiction to its original purpose of opening up the lane for spectacular plays for the offensive players. Even though the referees are calling most of the contacts inside the restricted area as blocking fouls, every team have players that would continue to step in underneath the basket. They are doing this because a) they are preventing the spectacular to change the momentum of the game, b) making the offensive player to earn the two points from the free-throw line. Therefore, other than giving the offensive players a couple of free-throws and maybe increase the scoring a little bit (not really! just a couple of free throws). Therefore, this rule fail of its main purpose.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My all time NBA dream team

Enough about me, lets begin to talk about basketball.

How the players are selected
As we see in the olympics and world championships, top players don't result in best team, that is why the American team is losing. I am too young to judge players from the 80s and before, so I am picking the more recent players. I want this team to be a team that could work together as a team and win against any other team that you could think of so I am picking players with the original dream as the base (starting lineup) and then pick some unselfish players.

Starting Line up
pg: John Stockton => most assist and steals ever in the NBA
sg: Michael Jordan => best basketball player of all time
sf: Scottie Pippen => my favourit player, the ultimate team and winning first mentality
pf: Kevin Garnett => better than 20ppg / 10rpg / 5apg for 6 straight year when
had some decent teamates
c: David Robinson => great defensive and offensive center, tough call for Hakeem Olajuwon
In this starting line up, there is plenty of offence and top defencive players of respective positions too. Basically all five could do it all, post up(except stockton), shoot from the outside and run the floor as well as players that could score but do not need the glory of scoring (Stockton, Pippen and Robinson). Jordan, Pippen and Garnett are triple-double threat, Stockton and Rbinson get double-double regularly. Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan are tough to cut from the starting line up but I thought "The Admiral" is a little taller than "The Dream" and "The Big Ticket" is better on fast breaks than "The Big Fundamental"

The Back Ups
pg: Steve Nash => great on the open floor, not as good defensively but other players in this
team will be able to cover up his mistakes
sg: Kobe Bryant => one of the great offensive player of all time, don't like his personality, but
no doubt about his basketball ability
pf: Tim Duncan => great all around player in a great system, always pick up his game in the
playoffs, the only thing I don't like is slacking off a bit during season
c: Hakeem Olajuwon => same as David Robinson, and better shot blocker
util: Shaquille O'Neal => he is the diesel, no one could stop him since Robinson and Olajuwon retired
util: Penny Hardaway and sf: Grant Hill => these two were great players prior to their injuries and I had always liked them but unfortunately they were injuried at their prime and
would be replace by LeBron James and Chris Bosh/Dwayne Wade in a few years

Teams and Players that I like(d)

Players that I like, on top of being a good offensively, he also need to be a good defensive player as well and bring his defense every minute of the game, not just the last few pocessions. This is because when I first starting to enjoy basketball, I get to watch Scottie Pippen play.

At the beginning of my basketball career (12 or grade 7)
That was the 1995/96 NBA season, so naturally I am a Chicago Bulls fan. That is the first full year that MJ came back to basketball and the Bulls went on to a best regular season record ever (72-10) and won the championship. I began as a MJ fan but midway through the season I quickly became a Scottie Pippen fan and Scottie is now my all time favourite player, because of his ability to do everything, and willingness to sacrafice his offensive statistics (mainly points production), he let Jordan get the necessary scoring but Pippen would do everything else. I was further drawn to become a Scottie Pippen fan in the 97 and 98 NBA finals when Pippen would start by defending Greg Ostertag (7-foot center) then defend John Stockton during line up changes due to substitutions between 1st and 2nd period as well as 3rd and 4th period, and finally in the closing stages of a close game, Pippen would get the assignment of Karl Malone. Who else could defend Stockton and Malone, these two play a completely different role, let alone both are in the list of 50 greatest player of all time, who knew every trick in their position. Who else would ever have such versatility?
Another team that I liked at that time was the Vancouver Grizzlies, I just came to Canada so I figured I will take a new Canada base team as well. Even though they always had a losing season, I always loved them. And naturally I very much dislike Steve Francis, I hated him till this day and I am very happy to see him "sucking" with the New York Knicks.

The transition years
Well MJ retire for the second time and Bulls is over in 1998/99 season, Pippen left the Bulls for Houston so I follow him to be a Rockets fan and continue to cheer for the Grizzlies.
After the 98/99 season, Pippen was traded to Portland, so I become a Trail Blazers fan and the Grizzlies drafted Steve Francis with the second overall pick. Steve Francis don't want to play for the Grizzlies and the Grizzlies had no choice but trade him away to the Rockets, I go from a Rockets fan(Pippen factor) to hating them because of that.
2001/02 season, the Grizzlies is moving to Memphis, it was very sad and I will never be a Grizzlies fan no more, I could only follow Scottie Pippen but he is getting old and not a dominant player like he once was. That's when Vince Carter is at his prime with the Toronto Raptors, I could maybe become a Raptors fan, but I didn't, I just never like Carter that much even though he make spectacular plays but he doesn't have the defensive ability and isn't blue collar player that I liked.
2002/03 season, the Rockets use their 1st overall pick to get Yao Ming, I like him because I am Chinese, but he is now playing with Steve Francis, so I was just a Yao Ming fan but not a Rockets fan.

What a year
2004/05 season, the Rockets traded Francis for Tracy McGrady, I could finally become a Rockets fan and now I have a team to cheer for. In the middle of the season VC want out and the Raptors had became CB4's team and I could be a Raptors fan too. What a good year in basketball!!! I like both teams up until now and I think I would continue to like them in the future.

And during those transition years, I start to really enjoy the John Stockton plays, he was so efficient and his decision making on the court is second to none. One thing that people often forgotten about Stockton is how tough he is, he is probably the best at setting screens, I mean he is a 6'2" point guard, who would set screens for Karl Malone. Another player that was not mention but I really like is Tayshaun Prince, he is someone who will do whatever it takes to win games, very much like Scottie Pippen, but lacking the offensive skills a little.
My three favourite players of all time are 1.Scottie Pippen, T-2.John Stockton, T-2Michael Jordan
My three favourite players now are 1.Yao Ming, 2.Chris Bosh, 3.Tayshaun Prince

Other Sports team and players
Football (soccer) the Holland (Netherlands) national team, and my favourite player of all time is Dennis Bergkamp
In hockey I like the Ottawa Senators because I started watching hockey when I decided to join the fantasy hockey league with Yahoo and I win my league due to good statistics of Patrick Lalime. And my favourite player after watching hockey for a bit is Zdeno Chara the big defenceman.

koalabear and basketball

I guess the first article on this blog should be about me and my passion for basketball. I was born in Hong Kong and grew up watching soccer instead of basketball, since there was rarely NBA games being telecast in Hong Kong in the late 80s, early 90s. The first time I play with a basketball would be in grade 3, just some simple dribbling in one gym class and that is it until grade 5. In grade 5 we have more gym classes that we play basketball but the teacher don't teach us anything, he just separate us into teams and let us play, I never learn to shoot, not even lay ups but I was good enounh on everything else that I was picked into the 10 players team to represent our class in the grade 5 basketball league. Our team ended with a fourth place finish out of 8 teams. In grade 6, my family immagrated to Canada and we play basketball on occasional gym class and soccer is still my goto sport.

The Changing Point
Another year past, I start watching basketball on tv in grade 7, this is 1995-96 NBA season, Michael Jordan first full year after coming back from baseball, the Chicago Bulls won 72 games and lose only 10 that year. I began to be a Jordan fan like everyone who don't know anything about basketball would. Change the subject a little bit, one of my two older brothers is almost 5 years older than me and he was a good basketball player in his high school when we were in Hong Kong and basketball had became his number 1 sport ahead of soccer already. That year, he convince our parents to get us a basketbll net to put on the drive-way. Over the snowed in winter months, I had slowly became a Scottie Pippen fan on the style that he plays, during easter break, we build the basketball net and my brother taught me and my other brother how to play basketball. I just fall in love with basketball, I would be playing whenever I have time and the weather permits, finally know how to shoot and start copying moves of Scottie Pippen. In grade 8, I was already the best player on my elementary school team, mainly because our shool won the city title the year before with a full roster of grade 8 players and all of them went to high shools. Our team stinks that year, in 8 games, our teams scores ranging from 19 to 44 points and I score a minimu of 11 points each game including 13 on the game that we had 19.

Bad luck derailed my basketball development
In high school, I went to the junior team tryout and on sign up day, he asked you to write down the name of your elementary school, my elementary school didn't had a good year and I didn't made the first cut. The year after, I try out for the junior team again, this time I was cut in the final round and the explanation I got from the coach was "You had imporved a lot from last year, but ou are not as good as (the two starters' name in shooting guard and small forward, who were in the team the year before), and I want some grade 9's in the team for experience to prepare them for next year". I was so mad, I was better than half of the team but I got cut. I hate that coach. In grade 11, I went to the try out for the senior team, and the team was fixed, basically, if you never play for the junior team, you are out. And I gave up in grade 12, only to know that, our junior coach was a teacher in our school got transfer to a different high school and the new teacher that took over, see the interest we had in our school toward basketball decided that we had enough resource to have 2 junior teams, if we had that earlier, I could had join the second team and be the main man there and show him up (the coach that cut me from the junior team).

Recent years
I played in Campus Recreation basketball league all 5 years that I was there and play regularly every week as well. My offensive game is a bit raw since I never get to improve in the team environment through my high school years, but it wasn't bad and I had always been a great defensive player. If you don't count the university team, just everyone else in the university, I would be rank in about 65th percentile in offence but the 95th percentile in defence. 95th percentile in basketball IQ as well. I got good b-ball IQ mainly because I watch a lot of games on tv and I like basketball players like Scottie Pippen and John Stockton, who are two of the smartest basketball players ever offensively and defensively instead of a top scorer.