The EuroZone: Perpetually Correcting The NBA’s Market Inefficiencies

Feb 3, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Next weekend’s All-Star game may be without the presence of a European for the first time since 2001, but their collective imprint on the league is felt more so than ever.

If you’re in the NBA, and are of European decent, chances are, at some point in your amateur career, you were labeled “soft” and/or “limited athletically” by NBA scouts.

I guess you can’t really blame the selected few who evaluate such players for a living; as after all, there’s a proven history of Europeans not living up to their predetermined hype.

Does this make them less tough, or less of a man than, say, domestic busts? Probably not; but that’s just how our North American society works, I guess.

To really grasp a fundamental understanding of this stereotype, one would have to travel back to the 1990s. Certainly, the 1992 USA Dream Team played a profounding part in globalizing the game of basketball. Without their domination in Barcelona, we may not have been able to witness Dirk Nowitzki or Yao Ming grace the NBA with their presence .

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International countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, also realized there is no way for them to match the Americans physically — they simply have no avenue to procreate a Hakeem Olajuwon, a David Robinson or a Shaquille O’Neal.

Instead, they started trotting out a battalion of skilled, tall shooters with guard skills. Soon enough, the versatility and spacing players like Dirk and Peja Stojakovic presented made them highly sought-after commodities in the isolation-heavy era of the early 2000s.

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But, being 6’10”-plus with an outside-oriented game was seen as somewhat of a faux pas back then. We didn’t necessarily appreciate the beauty in their guard-like skill sets compacted within their near seven-foot bodies; alternatively, we chalked it up to their lack of testicular fortitude to “mix it up inside.”

Fast forward to present day, you’ll be hard pressed to find a team who doesn’t house a stretch-4 on their roster. Being able to shoot the three and put the ball on the deck in a pinch has become more of a prerequisite for the power forward position than, say, being able to score on the low block or pound the offensive glass.

However, with American players adapting to the “European” style of play, and big men growing up idolizing the likes of Kevin Garnett as a face-up big, the attribute that separated most international prospects has dissipated.

Just look at the premier bigs in the association — both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the two lone 20-and-10 big men in the NBA this year, prefer to play facing up.

As such, over the past handful of years, countries like Spain, Lithuania, France, and Serbia — just to name a few — are churning out traditional centers at a rapid rate.

Just like 20 years ago, they recognize they have no way of replicating a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant; instead, why not develop seven-foot traditional bruisers — an aspect and a position that many perceive as the major weak link today’s game?

Many would agree, though, the center position is making a comeback.

Sure, having generational talents like a Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns helps tremendously; but looking at the depth of the position and you’ll find an army of European bigs who are either at the upper-echelon at the center hierarchy or are one of the more highly-touted up-and-coming prospects.

I’m talking about established behemoths like Marc Gasol, Zaza Pachulia, Marcin Gortat, Jonas Valanciunus, Nikola Vucevic and Timofey Mozgov, as well as potential-filled studs like Kristaps Porzingis, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Boban Marjanovic (who is breaking the internet bit by bit with each passing day) and Alex Len.

So while for the first time in forever, the NBA All-Star game will be without the presence of a European, the continent as a whole continues to supply the league with its biggest needs — filling its largest voids.

And as we enter in this new age of three-point crazed basketball, don’t expect this trend dampen anytime soon.