Monday, October 19, 2015

NBA vs Euroleague: Is Euroleague basketball catching up to the NBA? Clearly not

It is a never ending issue amongst basketball fans outside of the US. “The Euroleague is closing the gap” “Real Madrid could compete against any team in the NBA” “The Euroleague Final Four teams would easily make the playoffs if they played a full NBA season”.
The above are only a few of the several remarks that can be heard in any basketball discussion amongst two European fans. The European basketball fandom can be basically divided into two huge slices: on one hand you have NBA freaks who will defend the Association’s quality and superiority even in detriment of their own country’s league.  On the other side of the spectrum one may find rabid fans, backing up their favorite teams until death, even if that means desperately trying to bash the NBA with gems such as “The NBA is not real basketball, it’s just a show”,  “They don’t play any defense in the NBA” or “Americans can’t shoot”.
Since I am not particularly biased on this subject and having the 2015 NBA Global Games fresh in our memories I thought tackling this subject would be a good idea, since it is a always a current issue in the Old Continent.
Real Madrid, the team with the most continental crowns with 9, defending Euroleague champion, as well as Spanish’s league and cup winners, got beaten easily in Madrid by the Boston Celtics, with a final score of 111-96. Just two days later they trashed Olimpia Milano (a team which last season cracked the Euroleague’s Top-16) in Milan by 33 points, 124-91. Don’t get me wrong, the Celtics are a solid team who happen to have a great coach. Nevertheless, they barely made it to the Playoffs last season, and in a league that would not be divided into Conferences they would not have made it in the Top-16. Nevertheless, despite being an average team with no current All Stars on its roster, they just easily beat a Top-16 Euroleague team and the defending Euroleague and ACB champion after having played in Milan two days prior and having had only one week of team practice since late April, when they were swept by the Cavs in four games.
Unfortunately, it would be erroneous to back up a general statement like that, involving approximately 30 teams on each side of the conflict, by looking at only two games, both played by the same NBA team. For this reason, I have examined the all time record between NBA teams and Euroleague teams.
Giving a quick look at the data a few conclusions con be drawn:
-          Historically NBA teams have widely dominated Euroleague teams, although the latter have improved slightly since the early 2000s.
-          The all time record for NBA teams is 73-15, which translates into an 83% winning percentage. Now let’s have a look at the European improvement we are talking about:

-          in the 1978-1999 era the NBA boasted a 23-3 record (88’5%), with the 3 European victories being inflicted by Maccabi Tel Aviv, who beat the NBA defending champions Washington Bullets in the first ever game between an NBA team and a European team back in 1978. Then in 1984 Maccabi beat the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns. All three games were played in Israel.

Since 2003, NBA teams have a winning record of 50-12 (80’6%). In the 2000s, when the NBA Europe Live Tour became a household name for international fans, they had a 31-5 record, an outstanding 86’1% winning percentage. This record was almost as commanding as the one from the last two decades of the 20th Century.

In the 2010s NBA teams have undergone a notable decline when facing teams from across the pond. In the few years since the start of the decade NBA teams are sitting on a 19-6 record. A 73’1% winning percentage. That’s still a major lead, but it is also a substantial decline in such a short period of time. So, should the NBA panic? Should Adam Silver fear European squads becoming a threat to his product? Not at all.

The 19 NBA wins have come with a 15’3 points margin, including 6 blowouts which ended with a +20 point difference. Meanwhile only 3 of those 19 wins came with a difference of 5 or less points. On the other hand, though, out of the 7 wins by Euroleague teams in the present decade 5 have come with a 5 or lower point differential, with only a six point win by Fenerbahçe over the Celtics in 2012 and a 14 point win by Barcelona over the Mavs in that same year being their only comfortable wins. The 2012-2013 season, by the way, has been the only season where the Mavs have missed the Playoffs since 2000.

Taking this into account, could Euroleague teams really compete in the NBA? Well, although the samples are very small, I have dissected the games from the 2010s into two categories: Non-Playoff teams vs Euroleague Final Four teams and Playoff teams vs Euroleague Final Four teams, meaning how teams fared at the end of that season, not how they performed the previous season, since summer trades may radically change the aspect of a team.

On the first category we can see that non-Playoff  teams present a 1-2 record against Final Four competition. If everything goes as planned this season, we will add Fenerbaçe’s (definitely a Top-3 Euroleague team this season) win in Brooklyn two weeks ago.

On the second category, Playoff teams are 3-0 against Final Four competition, boasting wins by Memphis and San Antonio over Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbaçe. Again, if things turn out as they should if we consider roster quality we could be able to include another 2 wins by Playoff teams that recently came in October, when the Celtics and the Thunder easily beat Real Madrid and Fenerbaçe.

From a players’ perspective, the NBA is by no means losing its ground when it comes to talent, as the last couple of summers have seen the influx of Euroleague superstars such as Bojan Bogdanoviç and Nemanja Bjelica and rising stars like Mario Hezonja, whereas only role players or benchwarmers seem to be leaving the NBA for the Euroleague, with the likes of Ekpe Udoh, Jan Vesely, Alexey Shved or Luigi Datome. There is no reason to think this stars-in-scrubs-out trend will reverse anytime soon.

In conclusion, I do not think Euroleague squads could compete in the NBA, not even the perennial powerhouses. By competing I mean making it to the postseason or at least fight for a spot until the last couple of weeks. Previous games have shown the NBA is still a few floors above in terms of physical and overall individual talent, even though those games are played in early October, when NBA squads have barely started training camp. On top of that, European teams are used to a much lighter schedule and shorter games. The fact that they would have to endure the mileage of an NBA season, both on and off the court, makes me believe no Euroleague team would make it out of the bottom of the league, not being able to crack the Top 25.

What do you think? Is Euroleague basketball closing the gap?


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Legacy Matchup: Steve Nash vs Jason Kidd

    During the last week I have received a few emails from readers with various suggestions about different issues they would like me to write about. One of them is the never ending debate of "Who's better?", so I have decided to compare players, both former and current, making a case for both players, taking into account their stats, accomplishments and overall legacy, how they will be remembered. I have elected to start the Legacy Matchup series with two of my most beloved players of all time: Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.

    While both players will certainly be Hall of Famers and were very successful pass-first point guards, the passing ability is the only similar trait in their playing styles, as both players contributed to their teams in very different ways.


     Steve Nash

  Whenever you bring up the name Steve Nash in a basketball conversation two things come to mind: extraordinary passing and uncanny efficiency.

      An outstanding shooter throughout his entire career, he made 49% of his regular season career field goals, as well as putting up a 42'8% in 3s and being a 90'4% free-throw for his career, leading the league twice and ranking him amongst the best all-time when it comes to career free-throw percentage. Moreover, he was part of the exclusive 50-40-90 club, which requires players to shoot at least 50% from the field, 40% from 3, and 90% from the foul line for a season, while also making some minimum requirements on makes, such as a minimum of 300 made field goals and 125 made free throws. With only six players in NBA history having accomplished this feat, Steve Nash was part of this club four times during his career, two more than second place Larry Bird, while just missing out on the 2006/2007 season, where he made 89'9% of his free throws. On the opposite side, the current Milwaukee Bucks head coach shot a dreadful 40% from the field and 35% on 3s for his career

    In addition, not only was he more efficient, but Nash was the better scorer. Steve's 14'3 career PPG average tops Jason's 12'6, while also posting up better scoring seasons all around. Nash scored more than 15 points per game in nine different seasons, while Kidd only managed to do so in five seasons. Even though they were both considered pass first point guards, putting pressure on the defense helps create opportunities for all five players on the floor.

    While Jason Kidd has a higher career assist per game average, compiled more total assists and led the league five times (same as Nash) the Canadian surpassed Kidd's best season of 10'8 apg on four different seasons. However, it is hard to decide who was indeed the better passer.

    When it comes to legacy, Nash comes out on top when comparing individual accolades. The former University of Santa Clara poing guard is a two time MVP recipient, while the closest Kidd came to the award was a second place in 2002. Nash was an eight time All Star selection, while Kidd had ten All Star appearances. Nash was a 3x All NBA First Team, 2x All NBA Second Team and 2x All NBA Third Team, while Kidd made the All NBA First Team 5 times and the Second Team once, so we can assess they both had similar individual impact on the league, but Nash was considered the best player in the league for two straight years.

Career Stats: 14'3 ppg, 8'5 apg, 3 rpg, 0'7 spg; 49 FG%, 42'8 3FG%, 90'4 FT% in 1217 games

     Jason Kidd

     The Bay Area born and raised point guard is without question one of the most versatile, better all around point guards of all time. Dubbed "Mr Triple Double" the former California Golden Bears point guard could do it all on the court, which translated into ranking third in the all time career triple-double category with 107 regular season triple doubles, behind only Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson; and also third in the postseason triple-double category behind Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Steve Nash did not come close to being able to fill up the stat sheet the way Kidd did, a guy capable of averaging a triple-double in various Playoff series and even an entire postseason.

     Despite being known for his remarkable passing ability and court vision Kidd was an outstanding rebounder at the point guard position, at 6'3 rebounds per game for his career. His worst rebounding season saw him grab 4'1 rebounds per night, Nash's best rebounding season saw him grab 4'2. At 6'3 rpg he more than doubles Steve's career average of 3'0 rpg. During the 2006-7 and 2007-8 seasons the Nets guard averaged 8'2 and 8'1 rebounds per game. That's right, more than 8 rebounds per game on two straight seasons. His 8 725 total career rebounds make him the point guard with the most total rebounds in NBA history.

     Alongside his rebounding dominance for a guard, Kidd is widely known to have been considerably better than Nash on the defensive end. While the Canadian point guard was often torched by opposing point guards, Kidd was a 4x NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, while earning a spot on the Second Team five times. His 1'9 steals per game rank him amongst the NBA's elite defense. Just for the sake of historic perspective, Gary Payton, perhaps the best defensive point guard of all time, had a career average of 1'8 spg. Nash, on the other hand, averaged 0'7 steals for his career, with a career best 1'0 spg on three different seasons. Kidd never had a season below 1'5 spg, and had at least 2 steals per game on eleven different seasons, retiring second in the all time steals list behind only John Stockton.

     Although he earned multiple All-NBA selections, his individual accolades do fall behind his rival in this legacy matchup, as he never received an MVP award. Collectively, however, Kidd does have an edge, since he led the Nets to two straight NBA Finals appearances as the team's best player, while also contributing in an important role as the starting point guard for the 2011 championship winning Dallas Mavericks. Steve Nash on the other hand, despite playing in a more competitive Western Conference, is one of the best players of all time to have never played in the NBA's biggest stage, The Finals. As a member of USA Basketball he brought home two Olympic gold medals, and went undefeated in FIBA Basketball at 46-0.

     His consistency is also an importante factor to consider. While Nash had a tremendous career, he did not truly make an impact until his fifth season. Kidd was a second overall pick and contributed from day one, sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill and becoming an All Star by his sophomore year.

  Career Stats: 12'6 ppg, 6'3 rpg, 8'7 apg, 1'9 spg; 40 FG%, 34'9 3FG%, 78'5 FT% in 1391 games

   Conclusion

    Taking all the previous arguments into consideration, at NBA Freaks we do believe Jason Kidd has the better legacy and is the overall better player, as he was able to make up for his atrocious shooting percentage with top notch defense, rebounding and passing. His status as a two way player, being able to impact games on both sides of the floor, and as a champion make him the winner of our first Legacy Matchup.

Who do you think had the better career? Who was the better player? Follow us on Twitter @NBAFreaksBlog and join the discussion at #NBAFreaksBlog and #KiddvsNash
   

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Knicks just got the steal of the Draft in Jerian Grant

      On Thursday night the Washington Wizards selected senior point guard Jerian Grant with the 19th pick. He was inmediately to the Hawks in exchange for 15th pick Kelly Oubre. That same night, Grant was traded to the Knicks, who sent former first round pick Tim Hardaway Jr to Atlanta.

      Not much has been talked about this move, not even in New York City, where media outlets are too busy bashing Phil Jackson's main election on Draft night, Latvian Kristaps Porzingis. However, I have various reasons to think Grant has been overlooked by several franchises and that he will be a solid contributor and a starting point guard at the next level, for a 19th pick, I think that is a steal.

    Strengths

   Size. At 6'5 Grant will have excellent size as an NBA point guard. He has shown he knows how to use this advantage by shooting and passing over smaller defenders, as well as making plays from the low block, an underrated and unusual skill amongst point guards today.

   Passing. Without question one of the most effective passers in this year's Draft. His 7'3 assists per 40 were one of the best in the NCAA, his assist-to-turnover ratio was the third best amongst this year's prospects. He is always looking to push the ball up the court and find shooters and thrives in pick&roll situations, which play a vital role in any NBA team's offensive scheme.

  Creates offense. His quick first step, ability to change speeds and court vision make him an ideal player to create scoring opportunities for himself and for his teammates.

  Basketball IQ. Four years of college basketball paired with former NBA players within his family make up for a very smart player. Although he can improve certain fundamentals, mainly tighten his handles, he is fundamentally sound and will grasp Phil Jackson's triangle offense quickly.

   Weaknesses

On the downside of his game, Grant must improve certain aspects if he wants to excel in the NBA.

  Inconsistent shooting. Firstly, he must gain consistency in his shot. His shooting mechanics are solid, so I think it will be a matter of repetition rather than fundamentals.
   
  Finishing at the rim. Despite his size, his vertical leap is average. During his senior season, he shot a poor 46'8% at the rim in 14 games against teams that made the NCAA tournament. However, he shot 74'1% at the rim in 24 games against non-NCAA Tournament squads. Basically, the guy can finish, just not against the elite defenders and rim protectors he will encounter in the NBA. This flaw in his game can be fixed by working to strengthen his upper body, which will enable him to absorb contact and finish in traffic at a higher success rate.

  Man to man defense. The former Notre Dame point guard has quick feet and a considerable wingspan, but his lack of strength and willingness to play defense will translate into problems when guarding NBA point guards, which is by far the position with the most talented players at the next level.

  Why is he a steal then?

   His basketball IQ and passing ability will be key in a team full of shooters at almost every spot. His size will also enable him to play as a shooting guard if he has to share the floor with a smaller point guard, like Jose Calderón or Shane Larkin.

   After four years at Notre Dame Grant is ready to step into a starting point guard role for the New York Knicks. An aging and often injured Jose Calderon and an inefficient Shane Larkin do not seem enough of a threat to avoid Grant making the starting lineup and playing 20+ minutes frow day one. Abundant playing time and improving his shot will make him one of the best players in this year's Draft when it is all said and done.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

NBA Mock Draft

Just two hours away from the ceremony that will shape the NBA landscape for years to come there are still dozens of unanswered questions, ranging from the actual picks to possible Draft night trades, a yearly shocking experience. This is the order in which I think the first 10 players' names will be called out tonight.


1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, F-C, Kentucky(Fr), 6'11, 250

      He would be a great fit for the Wolves at the power forward spot, forming a great tandem with Andrew Wiggins. Although he is not as NBA ready as Jahlil Okafor I do think he will end up being the better player, as he will be more of a mid-range threat as opposed to Okafor, who will make a living on the low post. Fans in Minnesota finally have a reason to be excited.

2. Los Angeles Lakers: D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State (Fr), 6'5, 180

     Even though most Mock Drafts place Okafor at number 2, I truly think Lakers executives will go small with this pick. Playing Okafor alongside Randle could translate into problems on the offensive end, as neither of the two have a mid-range game. Okafor will be a very good player in the NBA, but his lack of defensive presence and conditioning raise questions.

3. Philadelphia Sixers: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke (Fr), 6'11, 270

    Sure, the Sixers have already drafted several bigs in the last couple of years, however, I believe they will take the best player available with the third pick, a player that will contribute as soon as he lands in Philly. Moreover, out of the three recently drafted big men, only one (Nerlens Noel) will be available this season, as Joel Embiid has suffered a setback with his foot injury and Dario Saric will stay in Europe for another year. Pairing a defensive minded big in Noel with a low post threat will positively reflect on the Sixers win column.

4. New York Knicks: Justise Winslow, F, Duke (Fr), 6'6, 225

    As I argumented in my previous post, the Knicks don't have the luxury of waiting for Kristaps Porzingis to blossom into a great player, and I feel like, although Phil Jackson likes big guards, Emmanuel Mudiay is still an unproven prospect. On the other hand, at only 19, Winslow has an already NBA body, and his versatility and defensive ability set him apart from other prospects.

5. Orlando Magic: Kristaps Porzingis, F, Baloncesto Sevilla, 7', 220

   The Magic are in the middle of a slow rebuilding process and can therefore aford to wait a couple of years until the Latvian power forward starts contributing on a nightly basis. I truly believe he has the most upside in this year's Draft. Furthermore, pairing a low post phenom like Nikola Vucevic with a stretch-4 that will give him room in the paint to operate seems like a combination that should give fans in Orlando something to cheer about.

6. Sacramento Kings: Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Guangdong Tigers, 6'5, 190

7. Denver Nuggets: Mario Hezonja, G, FC Barcelona, 6'8, 201

    Great offensive player, already a dangerous shooter, he is by far one of the most athletic European prospects in the last decade. He has a ton of upside, as he has played a limited role for European powerhouse FC Barcelona, mainly due to attitude related issues.

8. Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson, F, Arizona (Fr), 6'7, 245

    Forward who is always willing to play defense and with an NBA body. Stan Van Gundy generally likes this type of players.

9. Charlotte Hornets: Devin Booker, G, Kentucky (Fr), 6'6, 206

   The fact that the Hornets were a bad shooting team last season and that they have a free guard spot following the Lance Stephenson trade make Booker the ideal pick.

10. Miami Heat: Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin (Sr), 7', 234

   The first upperclassman in this year's Draft, Kaminsky will add depth to an already interesting frontcourt in Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. His defense is below average and there are questions surrounding his strength, but he is an NBA ready player who be an outstanding low post scorer as soon as he steps in the league.

Get ready for a wild night.