NBA Players That Should Be in Europe
The under-appreciated have another option.
Every American kid who’s ever gripped a Spalding has wondered for a moment what it might feel like to suit up for your favorite team and emulate your favorite players. We all did it. For me it was Grant Hill, and in my backyard, he played for the Hawks. One thing is for certain: I never pretended I was Predrag Danilovic or Dejan Bodiroga and I never played for Belgrade or Barcelona. Although it’s not usually in the initial gameplan, Europe has become a viable option for NBA free agents—Kleiza and Wafer the latest to defect—and over the next three weeks I’ll be putting together a three-part series with a total of 30 NBA players who may be better off overseas. In this first installment, I’ve tabbed 10 role players who could blossom into European superstars if they decided to see the world and play some tax-free basketball.
Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic: After receiving toss-in treatment in the Vince Carter deal, I started wondering if the second-year forward out of Cal was destined for a career as a spot starting, role playing big guy whose only asset was a nice three-ball (think Austin Croshere or Pat Garrity). Six starts and 15 ppg later, it appears as though the basketball Gods have bigger things in store, which screws up my case for Mr. Anderson to pack his shoes and his jumper and meet me in Europe. With a stroke more fluid than anyone else’s in his guard-heavy 2008 draft class, the 6-10 Anderson would have the green light the moment he stepped off the plane, and with a solid face-up game to go with his range, he’d be a tough cover for (almost) any defender. The team oriented defensive approach would mask the issues he has guarding stronger players in the paint and quicker players on the perimeter, and his athleticism—which is mediocre by NBA standards—would be considered above average for a player of his stature in even the top European leagues. So Ryan, I know luring you away from a key role on a championship contender is a lost cause, but if you decide you’d rather go after a Euroleague MVP Award, we’ll keep a roster spot warm for you.
Marcus Banks, Toronto Raptors: Quick, powerful, and with enough range to be an effective NBA point guard, Marcus Banks finally got his chance at a starting gig in 2005 after the Celtics unloaded him to the TWolves. He put in 12 ppg to go along with 4.7 assists in 30 minutes for Minny, and his reward? A backup role with Phoenix. Then a backup role in Miami. Now he’s in Toronto as the third-stringer. He’s slippery enough to navigate the congested European paint and strong enough to finish once he gets to the bucket, and when his shots are falling from outside, he can put up some gaudy numbers. If this Runnin’ Rebel ever wants a chance at stardom, he’ll have to open his mind and spin the globe.
Jose Juan Barea, Dallas Mavericks: Next to Anderson, this is probably my favorite hypothetical European hoopstar. Just picture it: JJ Barea’s squat little figure all decked out in a satin jersey complete with stripes and the name of some Belgian insurance agency splashed across the chest. It would surely be something to behold. Everyone’s favorite Puerto Rican point guard (nothing personal, Carlos Arroyo) would have a field day in Europe, where his scoring spurts could last entire games instead of four-minute intervals. While he’s listed generously at 6-0 standing upright with shoes on, he hardly hits 3-5 when he lowers his shoulder and puts the ball on the deck. Add his ability to penetrate to a deadly outside shot and his improved dime-age and you’ve got yourself a bonafide star.
Travis Diener, Indiana Pacers: When I started this list, I promised I would limit myself to only a couple players from the “white guys with good shots” category (Jason Kapono, Chris Quinn missed the cut for varying reasons). I was pleasantly surprised with how easily I could envision the former Marquette stud carving out a beautiful reputation in Europe as a reliable leader with a pretty jump shot. He hasn’t had the same success from the NBA three-point line that he did in college, and being one or two steps closer to the bucket couldn’t hurt. Go on, Travis, and join your cousin Drake in Italy.
Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers: Ever since Daniel dropped 31 on Detroit in the 2007 Playoffs and became “Booby,” folks have expected more of the same from the fourth-year man from Texas. An inability to defend and distribute has always kept Booby’s shooting touch out of Mike Brown’s starting squad, and last year’s signing of Mo Williams solidified Gibson’s status as a backup. In Europe he could slide into a scoring guard’s slot where he would be allowed to work primarily off of the ball, provided his backcourt companion was capable of running the show (Marcus Banks, anyone?). I’m sure he could even do a decent point guard impersonation as long as he could run the pick and roll with some level of competency. But quite frankly, he’ll always be a Delonte West guitar case away from an expanded role with the Cavs, so he’ll probably just stay put.
Kris Humphries, Dallas Mavericks: Here’s one of those head scratchers. Super talented, ultra strong, textbook power forward gets drafted 14th by Utah in 2004. Averages 13 minutes as a rook, 10 the next and is then traded before they ever get a feel for how he’d do as a starter (which any team hopes to squeeze out of a 14th overall pick). Plays three years in Toronto, similar minutes—11, 13, and 9 respectively—and then he’s off to Dallas, where he’s made the leap to 15 mpg early in the season. Six years in the League and only eight starts despite per-36-minutes averages of 13 points and 9.4 boards. Even Rafael Araujo got to start 75 games in his first two seasons before everyone agreed that he was a colossal disappointment. If an NBA team won’t give him a legitimate chance to fail, I reckon he’d be able to find a European suitor without much of a hassle.
Jason Maxiell, Detroit Pistons: “But, I thought all European big men could shoot?” While there certainly are some behemoths who like to get their shots up, this stereotype is severely overstated in almost every instance. Take, for example, the Euroleague’s two best big men, Nikola Pekovic of Panathinaikos and Caja Laboral’s Tiago Splitter. Between this season and last, the pair combined for an entire one three-point attempt. So although Maxiell is no Mehmet, he does offer something far more valuable than a fancy triple: efficiency. In his fifth year out of Cincinnati, Maxiell’s a career 53 percent shooter and despite being undersized at 6-7, he averages nearly a block per game and has only fouled out twice in his career. In Europe, his size wouldn’t be an issue and the ferocity and athleticism of his slams and putbacks would be challenged by very few (Stephane Lasme of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Mike Batiste of Panathinaikos come to mind as possible competitors). Besides, with the absence of the defensive three-second call, he could hang out around the basket with those long arms of his and wait to pounce on unsuspecting floaters. A limited offensive arsenal has stunted Maxiell’s growth as a prototypical post presence, but he’d only need his explosiveness and his trademark tenacity to make a dent in Europe.
Anthony Morrow, Golden State Warriors: He lands on this list for two reasons: 1) Morrow would probably be a commodity in any league that accepts “points” as a statistic and 2) With Don Nelson at the helm, Morrow’s starter-esque minutes could dwindle to nothing if the wind blows the wrong way, so he should be prepared to make a drastic career choice in the face of Nellie’s world class fickleness.
Craig Smith, Los Angeles Clippers: Another 6-7 power forward, Craig Smith has never been the most athletically gifted guy on the court; however, he usually has been the hardest working and he’s almost always the strongest. With similar career numbers to Maxiell and one fewer year under his very large belt, Smith does the brunt of his work without the ball, relying on hustle and positioning to make his hay around the basket. With NBA teams always anxious to try out the youngsters—especially if they’re raw, fundamentally challenged, and dripping with “upside”—guys like Craig Smith often stick around but ultimately get taken for granted. Not in Europe, Craigster. There, your unshakeable consistency will go unpunished.
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.