Friday, July 29, 2011

2012 Olympic Men's Basketball Qualifying Preview

We're now a year away from the 2012 London Olympics, and we can thankfully look forward to some actual competitive professional basketball as national teams in each FIBA zone (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania) are starting their preparations for the upcoming Olympic qualifying season.

Here are the events, listed chronologically, which will determine the field of 12 teams for the London Olympics (number of qualifying spots available in parens):

- Automatic Qualifiers (2): Great Britain (host), USA (2010 World Champs)
- Afrobasket '11 (1): Aug. 17-28 in Madagascar
- FIBA Americas Championship (2): Aug. 30-Sept. 11 in Argentina
- FIBA Oceania Championship (1): Sept. 7-11 in Australia
- EuroBasket '11 (2): Aug. 31-Sept. 18 in Lithuania
- FIBA Asia Championship (1): Sept. 15-25 in China
- FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (3): July 2-8, 2012, TBD

This FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament will consist of the next runners-up from the zones around the world, allocated like so:
- Europe (4)
- Americas (3)
- Africa (2)
- Asia (2)
- Oceania (1)
So, 12 teams will be competing for the last three spots next summer.

All in all, it seems a bit ridiculous that FIBA didn't expand the field from 12 to 16, considering there are so many strong basketball nations around the world, especially considering that the already tight field of 12 has a few automatic bids reserved for the lesser FIBA zones.

In any event, we'll have coverage of Olympic basketball qualifying throughout the summer. Rosters are still being determined and finalized, so for now, here's an early overview of which teams should be contenders to get Olympic berths:

Qualified: USA, Great Britain

Two of the 12 Olympic spots have been claimed by Team USA (reigning World Champ) and Great Britain (host country). 10 Olympic berths are open and seven of those 10 spots will be filled this summer. The U.S. is fortunate that it claimed the World Championship in Turkey last year, so that they don't have to try to qualify for the Olympics with a team on non-NBA players in this lockout summer.

Olympic berths: 1st & 2nd place
Qualifying Tourney berths: 3rd-6th place

The EuroBasket is the granddaddy of them all--the other qualifying tourneys pale in comparsion. 24 teams will convene in basketball-mad Lithuania from Aug. 31-Sept. 18 to determine the king of European basketball.

22 teams are currently set in the field, with Finland, Hungary and Portugal competing in a mini round-robin for the last two spots in August. The field will be divided into four opening round groups of six teams:
    Group A: Britain, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Qualifier
    Group B: France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Serbia
    Group C: Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Qualifier
    Group D: Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine
Each team plays the other five teams in its group once. The top three teams in Group A and Group B move onto the second round where they form Group E. The top three in Groups C and D form Group F. Then each team plays three games against the three teams from the opposite opening-round group.

From there, the top four teams apiece in Groups E and F move on to the quarterfinals of the knockout stage. Semis and finals follow. All told, it will require a somewhat absurd 11 games in 19 days to win the tournament.

I wish they would re-draw the field; it's all kinds of lopsided. I would say eight of the top 12 teams are in Groups A and B. Group A is absolutely brutal, the Group of Death, while Group B is nearly as deadly. Meanwhile, Groups C and D are clearly inferior. Groups A and B will combine for what looks to be a monster Group E--much tougher than Group F.

Reigning Euro champ Spain is once again the odds-on favorite to win gold this summer. After disappointing at the 2010 Worlds, Spain basically has the same team that rolled through the knockout phase in '09, with Pau Gasol returning to the national team. And just for overkill, Spain decided to add Serge Ibaka, now a naturalized citizen; I guess they didn't think the Gasol bros. were enough of an advantage.

Lithuania and Serbia are the next favorites to fight it out for the second Euro Olympic berth. Lithuania is coming off a surprising run to the World semis and will have the huge advantage of playing in front of the best fan base in Europe. Lithuania will be without Linas Kleiza, but they have added veterans Saras Jasikevicius, Rimas Kaukenas, Darius Songaila and the Lavrinovic Bros. back into the mix.

Serbia should be strong once again, with nearly the same roster that won the silver at the '09 Euro and was a few kooky plays away from the Worlds final last summer.

Turkey and France would have been non-contenders without their multiple NBA players available. But now that both national teams seemed to have their insurance issues squared away, they can both be considered medal contenders.

Croatia, Germany, Russia and Slovenia are other quality teams that are all capable of finishing in the top six spots. Croatia is currently the favorite to take Group C while Slovenia and Russia should fight it out for Group D supremacy.

Germany vaulted into qualifying contention the moment Dirk (and Kaman) signed on for the summer. In the last two EuroBaskets Dirk played in, he led Germany to a fifth-place finish in '07 (and ultimately qualified for the '08 Olympics) and a silver medal in '05.

Now, after underachieving over the last five years, Italy looks to regain its footing in the upper echelon of Euro teams. Danilo Gallinari joins Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli after being sidelined the last few summers.

While Greece's Olympic chances shrink by day because injuries (Nick Calathes, Vassilis Spanoulis) threaten to decimate their perimeter rotation further, with veterans Dimitris Diamantidis and Theo Papaloukas opting not to play.

Watch out for relative newcomers to the top-level of FIBA Europe, Montenegro and Macedonia. Both team have tough frontcourts with talented naturalized American PGs--Montenegro's Omar Cook and Macedonia's Bo McCalebb.

Also, both teams are beneficiaries of a lucky draw being placed in Group C with an injury-riddled Greece team. Either team could sneak into the second round and even grab one of the four knockout phase spots in Group F.

The Brits are still waiting to hear if Luol Deng and Ben Gordon will obtain insurance. But even if they get their NBAers cleared, just advancing out of the opening round could be a chore with Spain, Lithuania and Turkey in their group.

Olympic berths: 1st & 2nd place
Qualifying tourney berth: 3rd-5th place

Mar Del Plata, Argentina will host the FIBA Americas Championships from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. I'm not really sure who decided to schedule this tourney at the same time as EuroBasket, but it was a rather poor choice.

10 teams will divided into two opening round groups of five:
    Group A: Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Rep., Venezuela
    Group B: Argentina, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay
Each team plays every other team in its group once. The top four teams from both groups advance to the second round. These eight teams form one group and they play four games vs. the teams from the opposite opening-round group. The second round uses an unrelenting schedule of four games in four days. Then, the top four teams move on the knockout phase.

Argentina is the clear favorite to win gold at home in a last hurrah for their Golden Generation, if they can get their NBAers' insurance covered. Still no official confirmation if Ginobili, Scola, Delfino and Nocioni are cleared to play (Update: on Friday, it was reported that an insurance deal has been reached for all four), though Fab Oberto will be coming out of retirement to play at home.

The Dominican Republic will be a serious contender for the second Americas Olympic berth with its trio of NBAers (Al Horford, Cisco Garcia & Chuck Villanueva) confirmed for participation and John Calipari directing the squad.

Brazil and Puerto Rico are the other top medal contenders. No Nene, Varejao or Barbosa for Brazil this summer, but they do have Tiago Splitter and Marcelo Huertas available to keep them competitive.

As of right now, it's tough to get a definitive read on Puerto Rico's situation. The backcourt should be fine with JJ Barea and Carlos Arroyo likely to suit up, but the frontcourt could be decimated because of injuries.

After an awful Worlds performance (partly due to a rash of injuries), Canada should fare better this year with Joel Anthony and a healthy Andy Rautins leading the way. Cavs' lottery pick Tristan Thompson will not join Canada this summer but Spurs' draftee Cory Joseph is a possibility to join Team Great White North. And it would help the cause if fellow Spur Matt Bonner can get his Canadian citizenship cleared in time to play, but it's highly unlikely.

It's doubtful Canada will earn one of the two Olympic berths, though they are capable of finishing in the fifth-place slot which will secure a berth into the qualifying tourney next summer.

Olympic berth: Winner
Qualifying tourney berth: Loser

The Oceania "Championship" (use that term loosely) is simply a best-of-three series between the Aussies and the Kiwis to be played in Australia on Sept. 7, 9 & 11. The winner earns a bid to the Olympics. Even without Andrew Bogut and Dave Andersen, the Australia's Boomers should be the favorites with players like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matt Nielsen and Brad Newley available.

It's past due that this "zone" should just be absorbed into the Asian zone. And ideally an Olympic berth would be transferred over to Europe to give them three auto bids. Australia would arguably be the top team in this reformed Asian zone, but at least they would have to go through a full tournament to earn their title.

In EuroBasket for example, a team has to go through a gauntlet of quality teams and has to slog through a brutal schedule of 11 games in 19 days to win the title. By contrast, giving an Olympic bid to a zone with two teams is laughable.

Olympic berth: 1st place
Qualifying tourney berths: 2nd & 3rd place

If you like your basketball played in exotic locales, maybe you should consider buying tickets to Afrobasket which is being held in Madagascar from Aug. 17-28. Angola is the odds-on fave once again and will likely grab the one automatic Olympic bid given to Africa. Senegal could be Angola's toughest foe while Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Tunisia are possible medal contenders.

Olympic berth: 1st place
Qualifying tourney berths: 2nd & 3rd place

The last of the qualifying tourneys will take place in Wuhan, China on Sept. 15-25. With Yao Ming sadly retired, China is no longer a heavy favorite, but with the services of Yi Jianlian, they will likely still be a slight fave for gold. However, China was pounded by Iran in the '09 Asian title game and Iran (led by Memphis' Hamed Haddadi) will be China's toughest competition this summer. Jordan and Lebanon are the other medal contenders.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Notes from Seattle's H206 Charity Basketball Classic

Pro basketball returned to Seattle, ever briefly, on Saturday for the H206 Charity Basketball Classic at KeyArena, which featured a "Seattle vs. The League" matchup. While several of the world's best players were entertaining fans across the Pacific in Manila, a less star-studded pair of lineups hit the floor in Seattle, yet the approximately 5,000 in attendance were quite happy to see NBA players back on the floor at the Key.

The Seattle roster featured Jamal Crawford and Terrence Williams from Rainier Beach H.S., Aaron Brooks from Franklin H.S., former Seattle Prep teammates Spencer Hawes and Martell Webster, Isaiah Thomas from Tacoma (and UW), O.G. Michael Dickerson from Federal Way, and Will Conroy from Garfield High (and UW). Brandon Roy and Rodney Stuckey were also at the game, but did not play. Meanwhile, two truly legendary Sonics in Shawn Kemp and Jack Sikma were on the bench as coaches of the Seattle team.

The League team was something of a mishmash, headlined by Michael Beasley, a triumvirate of Warriors (Dorell Wright, Klay Thompson and Jeremy Tyler) and a pair of Duke rookies (Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler), plus a collection of backcourt flotsam (Pooh Jeter, Troy Bell, Corey Williams).

The Seattle team broke open the game in the second half to win 140-122, in a game that was a good show, and about as competitive as one would expect from a summer exhibition, as evidenced by the fact that Corey "Homicide" Williams, 2010 MVP of the Australian NBL, was the game's leading scorer with 29 points (I believe - going off of memory here, as there is no box score available).

With that as a caveat, it was still interesting to see rookie big man Jeremy Tyler, who spent the last couple years in Israel and Japan, in action. As Bethlehem Shoals noted to me, one can understand how GMs would become enamored with Tyler, as he certainly looks like a potential NBA star. Tyler was very impressive physically, as a 6-11 center with good length and eye-catching athleticism, which he flashed on a couple windmill dunks. Tyler looked like he belonged on a couple post moves vs. Hawes, on plays where Spencer actually seemed to be defending, and the rookie also showed a decent shooting touch, though he also wasn't shy about tallying up the FGAs. Of course, it's a long way from summer charity games to the league itself, so there's nothing conclusive here, but my overall thought was that it's hard to believe Tyler slipped past the first pick of the second round (he went ninth in that round), where there is essentially no risk, because his upside seems so high - there can't be more than a couple guys in this year's draft class who are comparable physically. Persistent attitude questions are a main reason Tyler's physical stature far surpasses his draft position.

My only other observation which may relate to actual NBA basketball, should we ever see it again, was that it was a bummer to see Brandon Roy sitting with his kids on the bench, rather than out on the floor, especially after he'd been one of the primary players seen on promotional posters for the game around town, though it certainly wasn't a surprise given his well-documented knee problems.

Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge caught up with Roy, who turned 27 on Saturday, for Roy claimed that he skipped the game as a precaution, saying, "I'm healthy." I just wish I believed that.

Other random observations:

-- Steve Ballmer was a major supporter of the H206 game, and he looked quite comfortable sitting in the courtside seats once occupied by former Sonics owner Howard Schultz. When I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, the Microsoft CEO could be seen chilling outside the arena.

I saw multiple people walk by Ballmer and implore him to bring NBA ball back to Seattle. So much of the future of the NBA in Seattle really does seem to be in his hands. If there is an arena solution, I believe the NBA will return; if there isn't, I believe it won't. I also think it's unlikely that much, if any, public funding will be available. In many ways, it feels like the answer to the question "Will the NBA return to Seattle?" is dependent upon the question "Will Steve Ballmer fund an arena solution out of his pocket?"

-- Jamal Crawford's game was really made for summer exhibitions. On multiple occasions, he dribbled through his legs as he skipped up the court, and one time he even went through the legs of rookie Klay Thompson off the dribble. All told, I felt like it wasn't dissimilar to watching Crawford play in high school. Fellow Rainier Beach Viking Terrence Williams also seemed well-suited for the event, winning the MVP after scoring 25 and delivering several highlight-reel plays.

-- It's been well-documented by now that Spencer Hawes had a replica of the Space Needle shaved into the back of his head. The Sixer also led the crowd in a chant of "Come Home, Sonics" at game's end.

-- The crowd of about 5,000 seemed promising for the first stab at a Seattle charity game, especially on one of the few glorious days of a dreadful summer, weather-wise. Hopefully, momentum can build for another game next year, with upgraded rosters including guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis (who've voiced support for Seattle charity games in the past), as well as a fuller complement of Seattle guys, like Jason Terry and Nate Robinson, not to mention Sonics legends of the past, such as the impressive collection which is gathering for Sonics Appreciation Night at Safeco Field this coming Friday night. There are easily enough notables out there to even create a game with rosters composed entirely of players who are Seattle-Tacoma products and/or ex-Sonics.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hall of Fame Candidates: What to do with Detlef?

In our continuing series on reviewing possible Naismith Hall of Fame candidates we'll focus on international born players who played their entire pro career (plus college) in the U.S.

In the previous HOF post we tackled the candidacies of outstanding international players (Divac, Kukoc, Radja, Marciulionis) who split their pro careers between Europe and the NBA.

But what will be the standards for internationals who played most, if not, their entire pro career in US but didn't have HOF-caliber careers?

All of the int'l players currently in the Hall played either their entire pro career in Europe (Sergei Belov, Dino Meneghin, Kresimir Cosic & Drazen Dalipagic) or a chunk of their career in Europe (Drazen Petrovic and Sabonis).

How does the selection committee interpret Detlet Schrempf's status? Arguably one of the best player ever born and raised in Europe. But Detlef played his entire pro career in America, not to mention four years of college and a year of high school in the U.S. Detlef had a solid, underrated NBA career but would not qualify it as HOF-caliber.

Very interesting to see how the HOF committee, particularly the international arm, decides to interpret the careers of players like Schrempf and Rik Smits.

The committee might have to postulate how Detlef and Rik's career would have played out if they played mostly in Europe.

If Detlef stayed in Europe, he would have likely been a perennial top 10 talent on the Euro club circuit. Smits possibly could have been dominant as well. Don't think it's absurd to say Detlef could have had a career that paralleled Toni Kukoc in Europe.

Another drawback for Detlef and Smits--they have very little in the way of FIBA accomplishments like Kukoc or Divac for the HOF to consider. No Euro club titles like Kukoc and no national team medals for Det and Rik. Their respective national teams did not have the overwhelming talent that the Yugoslavian or Russian teams had.

How the HOF candidate handles Detlef or Smits could set a precedent on how they handle current int'l NBA like Z. Ilgauskas. Maybe in a weird way the international committee views Detlef (and Smits) as de-facto North American players as they played basketball in America their entire adult life (besides a few national team competitions). Not sure.

But a dilemma the HOF is going to have to figure out because you will have more Euros (who played most of their pro career in the US) retiring in the next decade.


Let's take a closer look at Schrempf's and Smits' resumes:

NBA stats- 1136 games; 30 mpg; 16 seasons
- 14 ppg; 6.2 rpg; 3.4 apg; 2 TOpg; 49% FG; 38.4% 3pt,; 80% FT
- Three All-Star selections ('93, '95, '97)
- One All-NBA (3rd team - '94/'95)
- Two-time Sixth-Man of Year ('90/'91 & '91/'92)

Detlef was a groundbreaker as one of the first Euros to ever have any type of success in the NBA. Just could say Swen Nater was the only European player to have success in American pro ball before Detlef.

Began his NBA career with the Mavs then was traded to the Pacers in '89 where he took his game to another level. Came off the bench during his stint with the Pacers where he won two Sixth Man of the Year awards. Played both forward spots for the Pacers.

Finally got to start when he was traded to the Sonics in '93 and played mostly at the SF. Was the third-option behind Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton on those powerful mid-90s Sonic teams.

Possessed an impressive multi-skilled game. Great passer for his size and could make plays & passes off the dibble. Mismatch threat thanks to his 6-10 frame. Could drill from behind the arc and punish smaller SFs in post.

Appeared in two Olympic games ('84, '92) and played in few Eurobasket tournies but was never able to medal. Played four years at U. of Washington after coming over to the US for his senior year of high school.

Schrempf has been eligible for induction for five years after ending in his career with the Blazers in 2001. I think Detlef deserves his place in Springfield. Detlef was as good as any international player in the NBA during the '80s and '90s. Safe to say that he was equal the talent that Kukoc was in the NBA. Detlef just doesn't have the three NBA rings that Toni has.

NBA Stats: 867 games; 27 mpg; 12 seasons
- 14.8 ppg; 6 rpg; 1.3 bpg; 1.4 apg; 1.8 TOpg; 51% FG; 77% FT

Played his entire 12-season NBA career with the Pacers where he played a nice second fiddle to Reggie Miller during the '90s. Helped Indy reach the Eastern Conf. Finals four times in the second half of the decade.

Feathery touch allowed the Dutchmen to draw opposing bigs out to the perimeter. Could also score in the basket area with a hook. Subpar rebounder for his size and a mediocre defensive presence. Rarely played more than 30 mpg in any season, parrtly due to being foul-prone.

His NBA trophy case is pretty bare: one All-Star selection ('98), first-team All-Rookie ('88/'89) and one ECF banner ('99/'00).

Made a few appearances on the Netherlands national team but earned no medals. Like Detlef, he did not have the caliber of teammates to consistently compete for medals.

Smits had a pretty solid NBA career that was of similar quality to Detlef's. Smits' HOF status will be a tricky call for the committee.


Other international-born retired NBAers to give some possible consideration: Swen Nater and Rony Seikaly. Nater played before my time, only faintly remember him as a bench player on the Lakers, but his numbers are good.

Nater was born in the Netherlands then moved to the US at age nine and didn't start playing organized ball until college (see Chris Broussard's great 2004 piece on Nater). No idea how you caterogize Nater--does he even qualify as an international player? If the HOF powers-that-be determine he qualifies as an international player, then he needs serious consideration for being the first Euro to have impact in American pro ball.

Nater split his career between the ABA and NBA. In his 11 pro seasons, the big Dutchmen averaged (combined) 12.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.7 apg, 53.5% FG and 75% FT. Nater was an exceptional rebounder who was the fourth-best boarder in ABA history (22nd overall on combined ABA/NBA list). Also, the fifth-best field goal shooter in ABA history.

Impressive ABA resume: Rookie of the Year in '73/'74, two-time All-Star ('74 & '75) and two All-ABA 2nd-team selections ('73/'74 & '74/'75). Won two NCAA title backing-up Bill Walton at UCLA.

Seikaly is another foreign-born big (born in Lebanon but also spent some of his youth in Greece), who had a solid career in America. Seikaly did play one year in Europe in 2000 after finishing his 11-year NBA career.

Rony had a solid career playing mostly for the expansion-era Heat. Rony averaged 14.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 2.8 TOpg, 48% FG & 68% FT.

Rony was often at an advantage athletically vs. other centers and was a very effective offensive rebounder. Was never on a team that got out of the first round. No NBA awards besides an Most Improved trophy in '89/'90.

Seikaly actually does own a FIBA Worlds gold medal. Rony was a member of the 1986 USA team that slipped by the Sabonis-led USSR squad, though Rony played sparingly. Very good college career at Syracuse--was integral part of '87 runner-up team. Earned All-American honors his senior year.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hall of Fame Candidates: International NBA Standouts

The history of the Hall of Fame has been to reward multiple players from teams with multiple championships (we don't necessarily agree with this, that's just the way it is). This would indicate players like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol are strong candidates strictly on the basis of their NBA careers.

What also helps international standouts is that there's a different threshold to gain HOF entry for players born outside the U.S. We noted in the past that the Hall of Fame had set a tenuous precedent by inducting FIBA legends Drazen Petrovic, Dino Meneghin and Drazen Dalipagic.

Once you factor in Manu and Pau's FIBA accomplishments, those two should be shoo-ins. We already made the case for Pau as a Naismith candidate after leading Spain to the '09 Eurobasket crown.

Also, by those standards, Tony Parker and Yao Ming are likely Hall-of-Famers, because those two players could be considered some of the best players born overseas. The biggest conundrum for the Hall of Fame committee is how to deal with international players going forward, given the precedents which have been set. In '06, we covered some Euro candidates whose Hall of Fame candidacy is tough to evaluate.

We examine the Hall of Fame candidacy of some high-level international NBAers (Ginobili, Gasol, Parker & Yao) below:

Manu Ginobili:

- Nine NBA seasons; 633 games; 28 mins/game
- 15.3 ppg; 4 apg; 4 rpg; 1.5 spg; 2 TOpg: 45% FG pct.; 37% 3PA; 83% FTA
- Two All-Star selections ('05, '11)
- Two All-NBA selections (3rd Team- '07/'08, '10/'11)
- Three NBA Titles ('02/'03, '04/'05, '06/'07)
- '04 Olympic Gold, '08 Olympic Bronze, '02 Worlds Silver, '03 FIBA Amer. Silver

Ginobili has been one of the better all-around shooting guards over the last 10 years and was a key component on three NBA title teams. Wherever he goes, he wins: besides Bill Bradley, he's the only player to win an Olympic Gold, Euroleague title and NBA title.

Would Manu get into a NBA-only HOF? I think so, but it would be debatable. Manu's NBA stats and accomplishments compare favorably to Joe Dumars'. Actually, Manu's numbers (21.7 PER) are even more impressive than Dumars' (15.3 PER). Dumars has more All-Defensive team nominations, but Manu is no slouch on the defensive end, and maybe deserves more recognition for his defense.

Unique, herky-jerky game has caused problems for opposing teams throughout his NBA career. His ability to handle the ball and finish in traffic is legendary. Combines great ball-handling with terrific footwork to slither his way to the rim. Great at playing through contact and doesn't mind giving up his body.

Actually don't think he gets enough credit for his passing skills. One of the best passing off-guards of all-time. Uncanny ability to alter the touch and trajectory of his passes. His use of bounce passes is unparalleled among non-point guards. One of the top entry passers in the NBA.

Really no need for debate--Manu should be elected to Hall of Fame.

Pau Gasol:

- 10 NBA seasons, 731 games, 36 mins/game
- 18.8 ppg; 9 rpg; 3.2 apg; 1.7 bpg; 2.4 TOpg; 52.2% FGA; 75% FTA
- Two NBA titles ('08/'09, '09/'10)
- Four All-Star Games
- Three All-NBA teams (2nd Team- '10/'11), (3rd Team- '08/'09, '09/'10)
- 2002 Rookie of the Year
- 2006 Worlds Gold, '08 Olympic Silver, '09 Euro Gold, Euro Silver ('03 & '07), '01 Euro Bronze

Think Pau's situation is similar to Manu's. Are Pau's NBA accomplishments good enough for entry into the HOF? I think so, but some might see him as a borderline case. But when you factor in his FIBA accolades, and the fact that Pau is one of the top European players of all-time, there's no doubt he belongs in Springfield.

James Worthy got rewarded for being the third-best player on three NBA title teams, so why shouldn't Pau get rewarded for being the second-best player on two NBA title teams. Worthy's storied NCAA career probably also helped his case. But then Gasol has his storied career with the Spanish national team to augment his NBA accolades. Gasol's NBA numbers (22 PER) are clearly better than Worthy's (17.7 PER) as well.

Gasol is currently one of the top bigs in the NBA and probably has 4-5 good years still ahead of him. His length and highly-skilled game should help him age well. With Tim Duncan slowly fading, Gasol probably has the most varied post game in the NBA right now.

Pau should be able to add a few more All-Star games and/or All-NBA selections to his resume. The Lakers are still a contending team and another ring is not out of the question. Plus, Spain should be in the running for medals over the next few summers.

Could make the case that Pau has been the best player in national-team competitions over the last decade. Since 2003, Pau has led Spain to three Eurobasket finals, one World Championship, and one Olympic final in six summers of competition (he missed the 2005 Euro due to injury).

Every summer Pau has participated in FIBA competition, he has been selected for 1st team All-Tournament honors. It's no surprise that the rise of the Spanish national team has coincided with the emergence of Pau Gasol as one of the top players in the world.

Tony Parker:

- 10 NBA seasons; 746 games; 33 mins/game
- 16.7 ppg; 5.7 apg; 3 rpg; 2.5 TOpg; 1 spg; 49% FG pct.; 31% 3PA
- Three All-Star Games ('06, '07, '09)
- One All-NBA (3rd team-'08/'09)
- 2007 NBA Finals MVP

Parker might qualify as a Joe Dumars-type HOF selection--a key figure on a franchise with multiple titles. The Hall voters love players with multiple titles. Tony has three NBA titles under his belt to Joe's two. Tony has a superior PER of 18.5 to Dumars' 15.3 PER. Though, Parker has never been as good as defender as Dumars.

Has steadily improved his perimeter jumper over the years. Dangerous as a one-man fast-break. Like his backcourt partner Manu, has a tremendous ability to finish at the rim in traffic. One of the better finishing point guards of all-time.

Struggled in the Spurs' playoff runs early in his career, but became more reliable as his jumper improved. Was key during the Spurs' '07 playoff campaign, neutralizing Steve Nash in the West Semis and earning the Finals MVP award.

Don't feel as strongly about Tony's case for the Hall as I do for Manu. His game is not as well-rounded as Manu's. Manu's is the better defender, shooter and even better passer than Tony is my estimation.

Nor does Tony have the FIBA resume of Manu or Pau. France has rarely medaled during Parker's tenure. But hard to fault Tony too much considering that he's had very little shooting or scoring around him for most of his national-team career.

Has only one All-NBA selection (3rd team) in 10 seasons. It will be tough for Tony to garner another All-NBA nod during his career with the likes of Rose, Paul, Williams, Westbrook and Wall plying their wares.

Though, Parker does have the advantage of being an international player, which gives him a broader appeal with Hall voters. He's one of the better NBA players to come from Europe and is arguably the best int'l point guard ever not named Steve Nash. I have to imagine this pushes Parker over the edge with Hall voters.

Yao Ming:

- 486 games, 32.5 mins/game, seven seasons* (missed entire '09/'10 season, only played five games in '10/'11).
- 19 ppg; 9.2 rpg; 2 bpg; 2.7 TOpg; 1.6 apg; 52.4% FG pct.; 83.3% FTA
- Eight All-Star selections (did not play in '07 & '11)
- Five All-NBA (2nd Team- '06/'07 & '08/'09), (3rd Team- '03/'04, '05/'06, '07/'08)
- Three FIBA Asia Golds ('01, '03', '05)

The case for electing Yao to the Hall of Fame is a little more murkier than the others. He has no NBA titles, no MVP awards, no major FIBA medals, no NCAA titles, no NCAA MVP awards and no major club titles in Europe (did win a club title in China).

Also, he has played fewer than 500 NBA games and we believe the threshold of NBA games played to be considered for Hall consideration should be around 525, if not at least above 500. Bill Walton has fewer than 500 NBA games played but he does have an NBA MVP trophy, two NBA titles and a legendary NCAA career to fall back on. Though, we wouldn't elect Walton to a NBA-only HOF, if one existed, because of the low games played total.

The one thing that Yao has going for him is his international status. He will be viewed through a different prism than American-born players.

I expect Vlade Divac to be inducted in the near future for contributions on and off the court. 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. As an international player, Yao's one of the best bigs of all-time, like Vlade.

Also, Yao could be considered as an goodwill ambassador for the game of basketball similar to Vlade Divac. Yao has been instrumental in helping the NBA spread its influence to millions of new fans in Asia. From all accounts, Yao is known as a great teammate and terrific human being. I'm sure if David Stern has a HOF vote, he would give one to Yao.

As for Yao's NBA career, he was one of the top-five centers of his era. Elected to five All-NBA teams. Very effective around the paint with hooks and a nice turnaround jumper. His soft shooting touch not only made him a jumpshooting threat--he was one of the best foul-shooting centers ever thanks to his smooth release. His passing skills were never fully utilized--he was a better passer than his pedestrian assist numbers would indicate.

Though he might have not been a technically good defender and could be slow on rotations, his sheer size made him a major defensive presence. He was a big reason the Rockets were a top-rated defensive team and it's no coincidence the Rockets' team defense has struggled the last two years with no Yao around.

If there were a NBA-only HOF, we don't think Yao should belong, much like Walton. But we'd take no issue if Yao were nominated to the Naismith Hall as a combination of contributor to the game and an international standout player.