Tuesday, September 18, 2007
NBA Preview: FIBA Rapture
I have to admit, my passion for NBA previewing has waned in the past week. With the season so close to commencing, I find myself with nearly nothing intelligent to write. That said, I feel required to at least mention Russia's upset of Spain in the Eurobasket Championship on Sunday. That victory got me thinking about a few things. One was that I wish that David Blatt was hired by the Celtics as lead assistant this summer, as was rumored for a while. Blatt is approximately seven hundred times a better coach than Glenn.
But the more profound thought the Russian upset brought me was about chemistry, international ball, respecting your opponents, and how all that translates to the NBA. Obviously the best NBA teams usually have some of the best chemistry and commitment. There's no need to discuss this presently. What is worth bringing up, though, is how all these FIBA elements correlate to the Toronto Raptors - the one team in the league that is truly international.
Rasho Nesterovic, Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Jose Calderon, Carlos Delfino and Maceo Baston are all international players. That is astounding. I mean that's half their fucking squad. The Raptors at times feel like a FIBA team. The chemistry seems better, the basketball IQ elevated, the flow of the game more sound from a fundamental standpoint. Particularly unusual are those brief moments when Toronto's offensive spacing seems vastly different from any other team in the NBA. It's pure FIBA - excellent passing leading to weird mid range jumpers, inside finesse with little raw strength, and idiosyncratic knowledge of where every player is on the court. In brief, this is not your uncle's Atlantic Division champ.
Further amping up the quirkiness of the Raptors is their best player's qualities. Chris Bosh's game can fit into the FIBA system well, he's feathery and smooth, but his style really could only be made in America. His length and (at times terrifying) athleticism can wreak havoc even on an off night. He is a prototype modern NBA power forward - but the fact he is playing almost exclusively with Internationals is completely new to the NBA. Perhaps nothing argues more strongly for the success of the foreign invasion than this.
Sam Mitchell, meanwhile, did not seem to be the wisest choice to lead such a worldly team at this time last year. He was known as being too much of a screamer, a prodder; the perfect example of a tough love coach. Yet Mitchell's uniquely grouchy American persona proceeded to mesch fluidly with his European pupils, perhaps better than it ever could have with American players. This is because the internationals wanted to leave it all on the court - for guys like Garbajosa or Calderon that was the only way to do it. So Toronto, despite clearly subpar talent, won 47 games. Mitchell deservedly won coach of the year. It was a beautiful union of coach and players pushing each other along.
Bosh and Mitchell, along with T.J. Ford, are the primary American elements on the Raptors. Almost everything else seems cosmopolitan. Guys like Jason Kapono are FIBA players who happen to be in the NBA. What Bryan Colangelo has in mind with all this is still unclear to me. Originally many of us thought Colangelo was gonna bring the run and gun mentality with him from Phoenix. Instead he brought us a Canadian FIBA team, which is kind of awesome - but not necessarily for its effectiveness as much as the originality of product. Colangelo needs Bargnani to turn into a star, or to make other substantial moves. Otherwise all these cool FIBA elements are going to struggle to rise above adequacy. But it's a unique adequacy at least.
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