Apr 29, 2013 12:09 PM EDT
Like Dahntay Jones before him, Patrick Beverley became a household name for all the wrong reasons this season. Unfortunately, his role in knocking Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs overshadowed his breakout performance over the last week. Six months ago, he was playing in Europe, a second round pick who had been unable to crack an NBA roster. Now, at the age of 24, he’s a key member of a playoff team. When the Houston Rockets went small and inserted him into the starting lineup before Game 2, it changed the dynamic of their first-round series with the Thunder.
They still might be swept, but Beverley’s emergence is why any playoff series is valuable for a young team. In the playoffs, the cream rises. Jeremy Lin, in contrast, has struggled to stay on the floor, even before his chest injury. Beverley is a far better fit with Harden in the backcourt, and when adjusted for minutes played, their regular season stats were fairly similar. He could be the Rockets' point guard of the future, a tremendous coup considering how they acquired him. He’s the new poster boy for the benefits of mining Europe for talent as well as a walking embarrassment for every point guard-hungry team in the league.
While few NBA fans could have named him at the beginning of the season, Beverley didn’t come out of nowhere. He was a four-star recruit in high school, the No. 65 player in the class of 2006. In his freshman season at Arkansas, he was the leading scorer on an NCAA Tournament team. Unfortunately, his collegiate career was cut short before his junior season, when an academic scandal forced him out of school and sent him to play in Ukraine as a 21-year-old. He was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and was one of the last cuts in Heat training camp in 2010.
At that point, Beverley became another basketball vagabond. Every year, the college game churns out dozens of NBA-caliber guards, far too many for the NBA to absorb. A 7’0 with NBA-caliber athleticism will get opportunities well into his 30’s, but a 6’0 with NBA-caliber athleticism can easily slip through the cracks. Unless a guard is an elite scorer or distributor, their chance to stick often comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Beverley already had his chance; there was no guarantee he would ever get another. At the age of 22, he was yesterday’s news.
That rejection can ruin a young player’s psyche. Most never make it back from the NBDL or Europe, where they quickly become out of sight, out of mind. Beverley wound up playing with Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza on Olympiacos, one of the top teams in Greece. In 2011, he moved to a feature role for Spartak St. Petersburg. In 2012, he was named MVP of the Eurocup, a year-round competition between the top mid-tier teams on the continent. Beverley filled up his team's stat sheet -- first in points and steals, second in rebounds and assists -- and lead Spartak to the Eurocup Finals.
His time overseas served him well, both on and off the court. Due to his combination of length (6’6 wingspan) and footspeed, he was always an extremely intriguing prospect defensively. However, as a 6’1 combo guard coming out of Arkansas, he was a marginal NBA prospect. In Europe, he improved as a decision-maker and passer, almost doubling his assist-to-turnover ratio from his college days. Just as important, he was forced to mature, as unprofessional players have a hard time surviving the grind overseas. It can be a humbling experience, especially for guys who have been pampered in AAU and college.
Any team in the NBA could have had him at the start of the season, but only the Rockets pulled the trigger. Beverley is one of 20 different players they’ve used, as they’ve churned the bottom of their roster to find the right pieces around Harden. It’s a credit to both Daryl Morey, who has left no stone unturned to find talent, and Kevin McHale, whose been uncommonly willing to give unknowns a chance. McHale is the rare coach who will play rookies, D-League players and European free agents. He’s running a legitimate meritocracy in Houston, as opposed to the tenure-system used by many.
As a result, Lin’s job could be in jeopardy headed into next season. He has the brand name and the bigger contract, but Beverley is a better complement to Harden. A guard who plays next to the Rockets star has to be a good shooter and defensive player, two of Lin’s weaknesses and Beverley’s strengths. Per-36 minutes, Beverley averaged more rebounds, steals and blocks than Lin. He had a better assist-to-turnover ratio as well as higher shooting percentages. There’s room for both in Houston, but Lin would be most effective as a sixth man with the freedom to dominate the ball on their second unit.
Even if Beverley stays on the bench, his signing will have been a huge win for the Rockets. They found a quality 24-year old PG in the middle of the season while teams like the Mavericks brought in Derek Fisher and Mike James. Similarly, the Lakers have struggled for years with their lack of perimeter athleticism, but instead of actively searching for a solution overseas, they were content to use guys (Steve Blake, Darius Morris, Chris Duhon) they knew weren’t good enough. How much better would Dallas and L.A. have been this season with Beverley in the backcourt?
Far too many organizations are blinded by NBA experience. There are thousands of professional basketball players in the world; it’s hard to believe Fisher, Duhon and James are among the 450 best. Just as importantly, a player with five years of experience in the European leagues will be far cheaper than a five-year NBA veteran with similar ability. NBA teams are the same as any other company in modern America: why not take advantage of a globalized work force to cut labor costs? With the crippling luxury tax penalties in the new CBA, most won’t have a choice.
A decade from now, Beverley’s journey to the NBA may be closer to the norm. From Beverley to Alan Anderson, James Copeland, Gerald Green, Gary Neal and Pablo Prigioni, European free agents have proven they can hang with the best in the world. The European leagues are the perfect place for role players to develop: why take a chance on a 22-year old coming out of college or a 32-year old on the downside of his career when you can sign a 27-year old at his physical peak? There are a lot more Patrick Beverley’s out there, if only teams will open their eyes to find them.
Jan 11, 2013 1:42 PM EST
Five years after the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, Seattle appears poised to “pay it forward” by swiping the Kings from Sacramento. While nothing is ever official with the Maloofs until every last I is dotted and T is crossed, they are reportedly close to selling their franchise to a group of Seattle-based investors for $500 million dollars. And even if the people of Sacramento can pull one last rabbit out of their hat, Seattle will eventually get its hands on one of the NBA’s 29 other franchises, unless the league decides to give them an expansion team.
Franchise relocation is a race to the bottom that pits city against city, which owners of all four major professional sports leagues in North America have used to their benefit. Everyone knows investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a stadium is a terrible use of taxpayer resources, but when owners can credibly threaten to move without them, what other choice does a city have? While professional sports will always be a business, it’s high time to re-evaluate how this “business” actually works in the United States.
You might notice, for example, that European soccer clubs aren’t constantly extorting their home cities in thinly-veiled money grabs. You can’t threaten to move if there’s nowhere to move to. In every significant European city, there’s already at least one firmly established club with a relationship to its community that goes back decades, if not centuries. FC Barcelona can’t move to Madrid anymore than UCLA can move to San Francisco.
In contrast, the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL all keep a firm limit on the number of franchises, artificially limiting the supply in order to boost the demand. According to the last census, there are 51 metropolitan areas in the US with more than one million residents. Two of the NBA’s most successful markets, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City, check in at No. 43 and No. 48 respectively. As long as there are more cities interested than available franchises, owners will always be able to find a bigger sucker.
Why are there only 30 NBA franchises anyway? There’s clearly no shortage of cities interested in professional basketball. In the last year alone, the Maloofs have flirted with Virginia Beach, Louisville, Las Vegas, San Diego, Kansas City and St. Louis. Three -- Kansas City, Las Vegas and St. Louis -- have modern arenas that could seat upwards of 15,000 people and support a team tomorrow. All that’s missing is a professional team for those communities to watch. If pro sports were actually run like a business, they would expand to satisfy demand for their product.
Of course, having 40+ NBA franchises is hardly practical. The league benefits from having the top players concentrated on a few elite teams, while the quality of play would be harmed by adding another 150+ players. However, the distribution of talent in basketball is pyramidal. The difference between LeBron James and the #300 player in the world is immense; the difference between player #300 and #500 is fairly marginal. The NCAA “graduates” thousands of basketball players every year; there’s no shortage of players capable of putting together a product people will pay for. There are a lot of extremely popular D1 basketball programs, maybe a handful can offer more than NBADL-quality basketball.
It wouldn’t be practical to have 40+ franchises competing for the same championship either, but that’s a problem sports leagues all over the world, as well as the NCAA, have long since figured out. There are 32 conferences in Division I basketball and a lot more in Division II and III; there are five national soccer leagues in England, from the Premier League all the way to the Conference National. The stakes in the Missouri Valley Conference aren’t as high as they are in the SEC, but don’t tell that to fans of Creighton, Wichita State and Bradley. For mid-level soccer clubs, winning the UEFA cup is as big an accomplishment as winning a Champions League final.
As a result, European sports clubs and college athletic departments are subject to market pressures in a way American sports teams aren’t. The Maloofs have done a remarkable job of depressing interest in their franchise over the last decade, yet their stewardship of the Kings will soon net them hundreds of millions of dollars. NBA owners complain an awful lot about yearly profit margins when owning an NBA team is one of the most fool-proof investments in the world. If only there were only 30 houses in the US, it wouldn’t matter how poorly you maintained it. You could burn it to the ground and still make a killing. That, actually, is a pretty decent analogy for what’s happened in Sacramento.
But while the economic structure of the NBA is built on a rotten foundation, it’s probably too late to change course now. The owners would never consent to a system of relegation that actually forced them to run their franchises like businesses. If they aren’t allowed to make a profit in both the short and long-term while adding zero value to their investments, they have more than proven their willingness to take their ball and go home.
Any change will have to come from outside the existing power structure. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, but it has never established a firm foothold in the world’s richest country. If the MLS wants to become are popular as the EPL, a good first step would be structuring itself in a similar manner. Create a system that rewards the most well-run teams and punishes the worst, one designed to respond to market pressures, not subvert them. There are millions of people alive today who remember when boxing, horse racing and baseball were the country’s three most popular sports. Look what Dana White has already done with MMA: these things can change a lot faster than you might imagine.
At the end of the day, sports are a societal construct without any inherent meaning behind them. The NBA Finals are only as important as the number of people who decide to care about them. Otherwise, it’s just 10 really athletic guys in tank-tops running around a hardwood floor trying to throw a ball through a cylinder raised 10 feet in the air. An NCAA Tournament appearance means as much to a low-major school as a Sweet 16 berth does to a mid-major school and a Final Four does to a high-major school. Fans decide what’s important and make it so, not the other way around.
The stands, not the field of play, are what makes sports great. In a society where people are becoming increasingly more isolated from their neighbors, sports are one of the only things that still bring them together. It’s the glue that holds together relationships, between a community and its residents, a school and its students and between fathers and sons. That’s what Seattle basketball fans were robbed off five years ago and what Sacramento could be losing now. There is a better way.
Nov 13, 2012 1:47 PM EST
Looking for depth at the wing positions, the Toronto Raptors signed Landry Fields to a three-year $20 million deal this offseason, making him the fifth highest paid player on their roster. Yet, only six games into his new contract, in an admittedly small sample size, Fields has been steadily losing playing time to Alan Anderson, a 30-year-old veteran whom Toronto picked up off the European scrap heap last season.
In all likelihood, neither Anderson nor Fields is a long-term answer for the Raptors. Both are smart 6’6+ wings who can spot up off the ball, serve as a secondary ball-handler and be a cog in a defensive system, but neither has the athleticism to be an elite perimeter defender or consistently create good offensive looks, either for themselves or their teammates. The only real difference between them is the opportunity Fields received early in his career with New York, an opportunity Anderson never received in his first stint in the NBA.
Anderson, a 6’6, 220 swingman, was a four-year contributor at Michigan State from 2001-2005. As a senior, he averaged 13 points, six rebounds and two assists on 39/56/87 shooting, helping lead the Spartans to a Final Four appearance. However, on a team that featured six players averaging between 9-14 points a game, including three other future NBA players (Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Paul Davis), Anderson’s steady play was overlooked by most of the league.
After going undrafted, he signed a free agent deal with the Bobcats and made their roster, a significant accomplishment for any UDFA. Unfortunately, with Gerald Wallace entrenched at a forward position and No. 3 overall pick Adam Morrison at another, Anderson never got much of a chance to earn consistent minutes. He played in 53 games over two seasons and his per-36 minute averages were respectable, but NBA teams weren’t beating down the door for an undrafted 12th man on two lottery-bound Charlotte squads.
After the 2006-07 season, Anderson began a six-year odyssey through the hinterlands of pro basketball. There was a stint in the NBDL, and then Russia, Italy, Spain, Israel and China. In 2012, at the age of 29, he was still in the prime of his pro basketball career, but his name had long been forgotten by even the most hardcore NBA fans. The Raptors, a team with extensive connections in Europe, eventually gave him a chance last season, signing him to a minimum contract.
In contrast, Fields has led a rather charmed NBA existence since coming out of Stanford in 2010. A 6’7, 215 swingman, he was a four-year contributor for the Cardinal who became the team’s star player as a senior, averaging 22 points, nine rebounds and three assists on 34/49/67 shooting. But with very little talent around him, Stanford went 14-18 and missed the postseason, so his exploits occurred largely under the radar of the national media and even most scouts.
Going into the 2010 Draft, he wasn’t even in ESPN Insider Chad Ford’s Top 100 list. And while Ford is hardly the Mel Kiper Jr. of the NBA, his rankings do a fairly good job of mirroring the consensus of NBA front offices. Nevertheless, all it takes is one team who believes in you, and the Knicks, who were running Mike D’Antoni’s free-flowing offensive system at the time, made Fields the No. 39 pick.
More importantly, D’Antoni installed Fields as the team’s starting shooting guard before the season even started, rare in a league where even lottery picks are eyed warily by many coaches. Playing in a system that stressed ball movement and sharing the floor with four bigger offensive threats (Amare Stoudemire, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton), Fields absolutely thrived, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and two assists on 50/39/77 shooting.
No one thought Fields would be a future star, but his steady play on a high-profile Knicks outfit earned him a spot on the All-Rookie first-team. However, while rookie performance has an outsized role in shaping early perception of a player, the sophomore season is generally a far better indicator of their true talent level. Fields beat out Paul George, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley and Gordon Hayward, among others, for that spot on the All-Rookie team.
The acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, negatively impacted Fields, as his minutes were cut while the system he thrived in as a rookie was replaced, culminating in D’Antoni’s resignation towards the end of last season. As a restricted free agent this offseason, he was low on the Knicks' priority list, so when the Raptors swooped in with their $20 million offer, New York had no problem letting a once prized rookie walk for nothing.
As it turns out, Toronto probably didn’t value Fields’ skills all that much either. Many believe they signed him in order to prevent the Knicks for using him as part of a sign-and-trade deal for Steve Nash, since the Raptors had made acquiring the Canadian icon their top offseason priority. Instead, Nash opted to chase a ring with the Lakers/be closer to his family in Phoenix, leaving Toronto holding the bag on an overpriced replacement-level swingman.
What many NBA teams don’t seem to understand is that the market for perimeter players who can’t create their own shot is incredibly fungible. A first-order effect of the explosion of interest in basketball worldwide is the ever growing number of international players in the NBA; a second-order effect is those players have pushed numerous Americans overseas who would have made the NBA a generation ago.
There’s no bright line dividing proven NBA rotation players like Fields and European free agents like Anderson. For the most part, “NBA experience” isn’t worth the extra cost. Just as in tennis, the distribution of talent in basketball is pyramidal. The difference between LeBron James or Novak Djokovic and the #350 player in their respective sports is immense; the difference between player #350 and player #450 is negligible, as much a matter of opportunity as anything else.
Fields will rebound from his abysmal start to the 2012 season because no NBA-caliber player is that bad, while Anderson will need to improve his efficiency numbers if he’s going to stick in the league in his second time around. No matter what happens, he’s doesn’t need to become a poster child for the quality of European free agents, not with Gary Neal, Gerald Green and Anthony Parker already out there. In a post-CBA world of punitive luxury tax penalties, overpaying role players and ignoring the vast amount of readily available talent overseas is a luxury NBA teams can no longer afford.
Jan 06, 2012
Like quarterbacks, quality big men are difficult to find. Here is a look on how the lack of strong frontcourt depth could harm teams like the Knicks and the Clippers in a compressed regular season.
Oct 12, 2011
The lockout will unquestionably damage the NBA, but not to the extent its fans fear or its detractors hope. There are several important reasons why it is so well-positioned in the long-term.
Jul 26, 2011
Many blamed the youth development system for Team USA's loss in the Women's World Cup. Those same arguments can be applied to the consequences of American basketball players raised on an AAU-dominated system.
Apr 27, 2011
While more money can be made in Europe, some current and former D-League players were pleased to receive the opporturnity to be seen by NBA scouts on a consistent basis and play in their home country.
Feb 01, 2011
Players who go to Europe rave about the opportunity to play at a high level while making good sums of money; unlike what is available in the D-League
Jan 27, 2011
RealGM is pleased to be releasing the initial, beta phase, of our new basketball website with dozens of brand new features.
Jan 14, 2011
Justin Dentmon starred with 38 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.
Jan 13, 2011
Cole Aldrich had 19 points and five rebounds in Tulsa's win over Dakota.
Jan 12, 2011
Shane Edwards, Anthony Goods, Brandon Costner and Chris Johnson had standout performances in Tuesday's D-League Showcase.
Jan 11, 2011
Jeff Adrien, Othyur Jeffers, Orien Greene and Dar Tucker had big days on Monday.
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