Monday, July 18, 2011

Hall of Fame Candidates: Retired International NBAers (Toni, Vlade, Dino & Sarunas)

Now with Arvydas Sabonis headed to the Naismith Hall of Fame, we wanted to examine which other international ballers could soon follow Sabas to Springfield.

We'll focus on retired international NBAers who split their pro careers between Europe and the NBA: Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Sarunas Marciulionas.

While none of these players were perennial All-Stars, all could be considered solid NBA players. But remember there's a different threshold to gain HOF entry for players born & raised outside the U.S.

Even though these four candidates spent significant time in the NBA, they will not necessarily be compared to other NBA players. Rather they will be compared to other international players. How they fared in the NBA is only a part of the equation.

The Naismith Hall of Fame has four different screening committees: North American, Women's, Veterans and International (check here for further details). The international committee will evaluate these candidates and consider how their career stack up vs. players like current European Hall of Famers Sergei Belov, Dino Meneghin, Kresimir Cosic (deceased), Drazen Dalipagic, Drazen Petrovic (deceased) and Sabonis.

Kukoc is eligible for nomination for next year's class as he has been retired since 2006 and have to imagine his induction is a mere formality. Divac, Radja and Marciulionis are also eligible for induction, but would say their candidacies are up for more involved debate. However in their favor, these four players could be considered some of the best players from Europe of their era.

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TONI KUKOC:
NBA stats: 846 games; 26 mpg; 13 seasons
- 11.6 ppg; 4.2 rpg; 3.7 apg; 1 spg; 44.7% FG; 33.5% 3pt.

With Sabonis inducted, Kukoc should be soon to follow. Like Sabas, he split his career between America and Europe. Also like Sabas, Toni would not likely get in an NBA-only HOF, but when you factor in his European career, he's a lock. Kukoc is arguably one of the top ten Euro players of all-time.

Toni's NBA career was highlighted by his tenure with the Bulls. He was a vital cog during the Bulls' second three-peat era ('96-'98). Was named NBA Sixth-Man of the Year in 1996.

Before he came over to the NBA in '93, he was a force in Euro ball. Won the Euroleague title three times in a row while playing for Split (Croatia). Three-time Euro Player of the Year, plus numerous other individual awards in Europe.

Very successful national team career playing for Yugoslavia, then Croatia in the '90s. Toni won a World Champ. gold, 2 Olympic silvers, 1 World Champ. bronze. Not to mention two Euro golds and two Euro bronzes.

Expect to see Toni in the Hall in the next two years.


VLADE DIVAC:
NBA stats: 1134 games; 30 mins/game; 16 seasons
- 11.8 ppg; 8.2 rpg; 3 apg; 1.4 bpg; 1.1 spg; 49.5% FG; 69% FT

Vlade helped break down the door for foreign players to enter the NBA by being part of the first wave of int'l players in the late 80s. And Vlade was one of first Euro invasion players to have an impact in the NBA.

You could make the case that Vlade has been instrumental in helping the NBA spread its influence to Eastern Europe. No doubt a younger generation like Peja Stojakovic, Nenad Krstic and Marko Jaric owe Vlade a debt of gratitude for their hefty career earnings.

Like Yao Ming, Vlade could be considered a goodwill ambassador for the game of basketball. Vlade does a ton of charity work around the world and he's a hugely influential figure in Serbia.

One of the most decorated player in FIBA national team competition. Check out his trophy case: two World Champ. golds, two Olympic silvers, a Worlds bronze, three Euro golds and two Euro bronzes. Was named the European Player of the Year in '89. Though his NBA accolades pale in comparison. Only one All-Star game ('01) to his credit and one Finals appearance ('91).

Divac was a rather durable player throughout his career. Vlade had range out to 20 feet and he score around the basket with a old-school hook. One of the best passing centers of his era and flourished in Sacramento's Princeton-style sets.

The Kings loved to run the offense through Vlade and Webber at the high post, letting them pick apart the opposition. Vlade was key to making the Kings' offense flow so beautifully in the early 2000s. Most people think D'Antoni-era Suns had the most aesthetically pleasing offense of the last decade, but I think those Sacto teams were just as fun to watch execute their offense.

Though, some might feel Divac should be penalized a few points with the selection committee for helping introduce the fine art of flopping to the NBA.

His on-court NBA career was not Hall of Fame worthy like Nowitzki's. But when you factor in his FIBA accomplishments and all his off-court influence, have to believe that the int'l committee finds a place for Vlade in Springfield.


DINO RADJA:
NBA Stats: 33 mins/game; four seasons (only 25 games in '96/'97)
- 16.7 ppg; 8.4 rpg; 1.3 bpg; 1 spg; 49.7% FG; 73.5% FT

Some NBA fans might have completely forgotten about Dino Radja, but the Croatian big had an underrated NBA career. Possibly overlooked because it was rather brief. Or maybe because he played on some forgettable Boston squads during a dark era in the franchise's history.

During his short stint with the Celts he was one of their top players. Shined in the '95/'96 season, averaging nearly 20 ppg on 50% shooting and 10 rpg.

Highly skilled power forward with a steady mid-range jumper and turnaround in the post. Effective scorer around the painted area thanks to spin moves, ball fakes and sneaky driving ability. Subpar athlete but excellent timing made him somewhat effective as a shot-blocker. Didn't really showcase it that much in the NBA, but was a capable passer.

Came onto to the professional scene in Europe at the same time as Divac and Kukoc. These three guys formed a devastating frontline for the Yugoslavian national team in the mid-to-late '80s.

Dino's int'l trophy case looks very similar to Kukoc. They won medals together for Yugoslavia, then later for Croatia in the '90s: two Olympic silvers, a World Bronze, two Euro golds and three Euro bronze. They also played club ball together in Croatia (Split) and Dino helped Toni win two of his three European titles. Though he doesn't have quite as many individual awards as Toni.

Went back to Europe in '97 (after failing a physical in a trade transaction with the Sixers) and continued to star at the top level of European basketball. Helped lead Panathinaikos to two Greek League titles and finally retired in 2003.

His HOF candidacy has legitimacy since he was one of the top European players of his era. Also, Dino had as much individual success in the NBA as any Euro import in the 1990s.


SARUNAS MARCIULIONIS:
NBA stats: 363 games; 22 mpg; seven seasons
- 12.8 ppg; 2rpg; 2apg; 2 TOpg; 50.5% FG, 37% 3pt.; 77% FT

With Divac & Drazen, one of the few successful players from the 1st wave of Euros in the late 80s. Like Vlade, could be considered a trail blazer for helping opening the door for international players to enter the NBA.

A very good NBA bench player during his seven seasons: two-time runner-up for the 6th-man award. Did struggle with injuries throughout his NBA career--missed the entire '93/'94 season and only played 17 games in '96/'97 season.

Potent scorer off the bench who averaged 19 ppg on 54% shooting in 30 mins/game in '91/'92. Might consider Sarunas a poor man's Manu. Sarunas' aggressive driving style was a precursor to Manu. Used his strong body and quality first step to draw fouls constantly. After his knee injury, he became more jumpshot-centric and curtailed his bullish driving ways.

Had great success with both the Lithuanian team and the Soviet team. His combined national team tenure netted him a Olympic gold, two Olympic bronze, two Eurobasket silvers. Was named the European Player of Year (Mr. Europa) in 1988.

Like Vlade, Sarunas is a revered figure in his home country for his accomplishments on and off the court. He helped the Lithuanian national team procure funding (partly from the Grateful Dead) in the early '90s; you might remember the tie-dye shirts. He helped establish a domestic league in Lithuania (LKL) and served as president of the LKL. Also, has helped develop young talent in his homeland by setting up a basketball academy.

Sarunas was not quite as dominant in Europe as Kukoc or Sabas. But his candidacy could be aided by being part of the first wave of Euros and helping support the growth of basketball back in his homeland.

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Other retired internationals with NBA experience who be could be under consideration for HOF induction: Zelly Rebraca and Predrag "Sasha" Danilovic. You probably forgot about these guys as well, but don't totally dismiss their chances. They're longshots for the HOF, but both players had decorated careers in Europe.

Danilovic actually wasn't too bad in his brief stint in the NBA. Only managed 75 games in his two NBA seasons, but averaged nearly 13 ppg mostly starting at SG for the Heat. Sasha should extra credit for being one of the few Euros Pat Riley found suitable for his tastes.

In European ball during the '90s, Sasha was one of the better guards and one of the most decorated players. This dude simply just won.

Sasha won four Eurobasket golds playing for the Yugoslavia and one Olympic silver in '96. On the Euro club circuit, he won two Euro titles and four Italian League titles. Also, add a '98 European Player of the Year award (Mr. Europa) and Italian League MVP to his accolades.

Rebraca's NBA career never got off the ground because of constant health issues (only 215 games in 5 seasons), but the big man was successful before he came stateside. During his club career Zelly netted two Euroleague titles (2000 EL Final 4 MVP), two Greek League titles (2000 Greek League MVP) and one Italian League title. Playing for Yugoslavia, he took home one Olympic silver, two Euro gold and one Worlds gold in 1998 where he was key to their title.

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