A National Basketball Association record was set at the league’s June 23rd draft, with four international players selected in the first seven picks. Never before has the influence of foreign-born players been more evident in pro basketball’s top league. German-born Dirk Nowitzki recently led the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA title, becoming the first European player to win the Finals MVP award in the process. Less than two weeks later, more than a dozen players who played overseas last season became part of NBA franchises.
A weak draft class could be the reason for the sudden influx of internationals. This is a result of a looming suspension of all league activities because of an owner-player dispute. Some college players decided to stay in school and not enter the NBA Draft because of the labor impasse. Although some of the NBA-ready athletes decided against going pro, the depth of talent coming from around the world is undeniable. Four Africa-born players were selected in the draft, including 2.06 meters tall (6’9”) forward Bismack Biyombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was the seventh pick overall. Biyombo’s incredible athleticism and defensive prowess make him an immediate weapon for Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats. You can check out a post-draft video interview with Biyombo at this NBA link.
Although many of these prospects are extremely talented, the unpolished aspects of their game make them a risk to stay overseas or a coaching challenge to their NBA franchise. Biyombo, for instance, has been criticized for his lack of offensive ability for a post player. Although he can throw down some highlight-reel dunks in transition, he lacks the post-up game that is priceless in today’s game.
The wait for these players to reach their full potential is a calculated risk that NBA general managers consciously take. These risks can make front office personnel look like a genius (take Nowitzki for example) or cost them their reputations (see Darko Milicic). There is no question that international stars are becoming a bigger part of the American game, but it remains to be seen whether they are worth the large investment. These players come with a warning label, and it’s up to the NBA teams to heed that warning or not.
This blog post written by VOA intern Nicholas Berault.