The Truth? Dick Vitale Can't Handle the Truth!
Dukie V. gets paid the big bucks to be a loud cheerleader, but when his commentary is actually taken seriously, it is evident that he lacks knowledge in areas where he pontificates as an expert; it is sad ESPN masquerades Dukie V’s opinions as verifiable facts, as though he were a basketball luminary, and not an average former coach and obnoxious broadcaster. In his latest ESPN column, Dukie V. says: “I feel we will see a backlash involving the foreign players. I believe there will be a number of flops, with several guys unable to endure the long term of an NBA season. It is certainly different than the pressures of playing abroad.”
This may be true. Of course there will be flops. San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford believes there are 10-11 great players in each draft; that leaves 48 picks who fail to achieve greatness, falling somewhere between outright flop and solid professional. By Buford’s numbers, between 16-20% of the players drafted will be great. Therefore, in any draft, 16-20% of the International players selected should be great. In the years 1998-2002, every draft has achieved at least a 20% success rate. So, while there may be flops in the 2003 NBA Draft, the likelihood of the flops being International players is no more prevalent than college players.
In 1998, most analysts ridiculed Don Nelson when he said a skinny seven-foot teenager from Germany would be Rookie of the Year. Of course he was wrong; however, Dirk Nowitski is arguably the best player from the 1998 draft class, though he was drafted behind solid, if not spectacular players like Michael Olowakandi, Mike Bibby, Raef Lafrentz, Robert Traylor, Jason Williams and Larry Hughes.
There were five International players selected in 1998; to achieve success based on Buford’s numbers, only one of the five had to be a great player, so Nowitski solidifies the 1998 draft. However, a very solid Radoslav Nesterovic, picked after Michael Doleac (12) and Bryce Drew (16), could potentially push the International success rate to 40%.
Dukie V mentioned two International players in his rant: Dirk Nowitski as the player everyone covets and Frederic Weis as the shining example of International failure. Weis was the 15th pick in the 1999 draft, selected one pick ahead of Ron Artest, an obvious mistake Vitale quickly pointed out. However, were he to examine the rest of the draft and its five international selections, he might be willing to allow one slip-up.
The Jazz snagged a Russian forward named Andrei Kirilenko at number 24, drafted after somebody named Cal Bowdler (17) and other solid, if not great players like James Posey, Quincy Lewis, Dion Glover, Jeff Foster and Kenny Thomas. Besides Bowdler, there is not a flop in the group, but none who would be picked ahead of Kirilenko today.
In the second round, however, Wang Zhi-Zhi went 36th, Gordan Giricek went 40th and Manu Ginobili was drafted 57th. The players drafted ahead of these International players included Leon Smith (29), John Celestand (30), Rico Hill (31), Michael Ruffin (31), Chris Herren (33), Evan Eschmeyer (34), Obinna Ekezie (37), Laron Profit (38), AJ Bramlett (39) and Francisco Elson (41), among the well-known names.
Kirilenko and Ginobili overwhelmingly qualify this draft as a success, and Giricek and Zhi-Zhi could potentially make this a great draft for International players, despite the presence of Vitale’s poster boy for failure.
In 2000, six international players were drafted, with Hedo Turkoglu (16), Jake Tskalidis (25) and Marko Jaric (30) the most recognizable names. While Hedo has yet to reach star status because he plays behind an All-Star in Peja Stojakovic, his talent is unquestioned, and he stands as one of the best picks in a very mediocre draft. He was drafted behind such luminaries as Demarr Johnson (6), Chris Mihm (7), Joel Pryzbilla (8), Keyon Dooling (10), Etan Thomas (12), Mateen Cleaves (14), and Jason Collier (15).
Jamaal Magloire (19) and Eduardo Najera (38) stand as two of the best picks in this draft and a host of forgettable players were drafted before Marko Jaric’s selection by the Clippers at number 30. Jaric, even as a backup, is already one of the better players in this draft class, while Hedo’s talent alone qualifies it as a successful International draft, with potential for greatness if Tskalidis or Jaric ever get consistent minutes.
In 2001, seven international players were selected, headlined by Rookie of the Year, Pau Gasol as the 3rd pick. However, Vladimir Radmanovic (12) appears to be a much better pick than Sagana Diop, Rodney White, Joe Johnson or Kedrick Brown at eight through eleven.
The jury is out on Raul Lopez (24), unavailable because of a knee injury; however, Tony Parker (28) is a steal, drafted after Joe Forte, Jarryl Sasser, Brandon Armstrong, Samuel Delambert, and Jamaal Tinsley. Mehmet Okur (38) seems to be a steal in the draft, though the best pick may have been the thirtieth pick, Gilbert Arenas. Regardless, Gasol, Radmanovic, Parker and Okur make this an overwhelmingly successful International draft.
2002 is hard to read because players need more than one year to develop and showcase their skills. However, four players had break-through rookie seasons, and two of the four were foreign players: Yao Ming and Nene Hilario (along with Amare Stoudemire and Caron Butler). In a draft where 11 International players were selected, these two already qualify it as a successful year for the International player, while the jury is still out on the other picks. However, few other rookies established themselves at all after the top ten picks, except possibly Tayshaun Prince (23) during the play-offs and second-rounder Carlos Boozer, so it is hard to say whether Jiri Welsch (16) was a good pick. However, with 2 of the top 4 rookies, this draft again shapes up to be a success.
With facts in hand, I wonder if Dukie V still believes this is the year the International player will finally flop. However, the previous five drafts indicate that International players see success at the same rate, if not a greater rate, than American players. I wonder if Dukie V, the “expert” has been to Europe to watch the International players, teams and competitions, or if he simply stays in Florida, oblivious to basketball’s growth throughout the world, a homer for the American college player.
If he ever bothered to leave Florida, he might see that teams in Europe are actually better than his beloved Blue Devils, that coaches are allowed to work year-round with players, that the best teams play throughout Europe, competing for Domestic championships and the coveted Euro League crown, contrary to his opinion as stated in his latest ESPN article: “Many of these international players drafted high up don't have that much experience. They are drafted on potential because they're so young, 18 or 19 years old, and because of an individual workout. But these guys haven't gotten the job done night in and night out, 30-35 times a season, like a college player in America.”
In the 2003 NBA Draft, these “unproven” and “untested” players who have not “gotten the job done” like the good old American college player, include players like Boris Diaw, the MVP of the French League, who played for the French champion, Pau Orthez, which also competed in the Euro League; Darko Milicic, who played for four years in the Yugoslavian league; Mickael Pietrus, a teammate of Diaw’s with Pau Orthez; Zoran Planinic, who played for the best team in Croatia and in the Euro League; Alexander Pavlovic and Zarko Cabarkapa, teammates for Buducnost, one of the best teams in the Euro League; Zaur Pauchila, who played for one of Turkey’s best teams and in the Euro League and Carlos Delfino, who played for one of Europe’s best teams, the Italian club Skipper Bologna.
While success in these leagues does not guarantee success in the L, neither does success in the Big 12 or ACC. Every player has an adjustment when entering the Association, as the game is faster, players are stronger and the game is officiated differently. However, recent history illustrates that, despite the diatribes by Dukie V, International players succeed at a similar rate to American players; meaning 3-4 of the above players will likely excel in the L.
McCormick coached professionally in Europe during the 2002-03 season and is a freelance writer currently based in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.