Memo To NBA Teams: Foreign Players + Lack Of Defense = No NBA Title

By L.A. Batchelor
Updated: June 14, 2007

NORTH CAROLINA — What do Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bogut all have in common? They are all leaders of their NBA teams whose original birthplace is somewhere other than the United States.

Yes, they all are talented foreign players who are expected to lead their teams to the playoffs, NBA Finals and of the course, the ultimate prize: an NBA Championship.

These talented players from abroad also have shown the kind of offensive abilities which led to the teams they represent believing they can bring their franchise a NBA Title.

The game abroad is filled with lots of passing, its fast-paced, high scoring, energy field with lots of emotion, passion and vigor. What the professional game in Europe and other areas lack is defense.

Players are very skilled in moving without the ball, passing, knocking down big shots from the outside and are very good at running and scoring on the fast break, but that however will not make an equation that leads to Championships in the NBA.

The “foreign game” is exciting for the fans of the NBA who love the slam dunk, the big blocked shot, fancy fast break or the 3-pointer at the buzzer because those are arguably the same fans who loves the big touchdown, interception, sack or punt/kick off return in football.

The NASCAR fan that loves to see the crash on the speedway, the fan that loves the big brawling fight in hockey or the last minute break away goal. The fan that loves the bloody battle between to boxers clashing like the Greek Gods or the fan that loves the big home run, strike out or collision at home plate. Those fans want excitement, drama and suspense.

Unfortunately, excitement, drama and suspense doesn’t bring titles in most sports. The NBA as well as other major sports is no exception. You need fundamentals and defense is one of the more important fundamentals of the game essential to winning championships at any level.

Now some foreign players have played exceptionally well when it counted such as San Antonio’s guard combo of Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina).

But they seem to be the exception and not the rule when it comes to foreign players not only playing well, but leading their teams down the path of a title.

Let’s examine the strength and weaknesses of each player mentioned:

NASH: The two-time MVP exhibits great ball handling and passing skills and knows how to get his teammates involved offensively but as brilliant as Mr. Nash demonstrates, he’s yet to take his team to the NBA Finals which should be disappointing to Suns fans considering the wealth of talent surrounding him. The biggest and most glaring weakness for Nash is revealed when he faces fast, athletic guards who can shoot it from the outside, drive the lanes to the basket and forces him to play defense which causes him to wear down as the game progresses.

NOWITZKI: From one MVP to another, Dirk has the ability to be unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball. He can shoot well from the perimeter, post and score in the paint and can even get his on shot. However the newly crowned MVP has some of the same deficiencies as the previous two-time MVP. He has major problems defending one on one on defense especially out on the perimeter and he is often looks confused and out of place on different defensive assignments and when the Mavs are in situations where they have to switch players they are defending. These liabilities were very apparent in the stunning first round lost to the eight seeded Golden Warriors. If “no man is an island”, the author never met Notwitzki.

YAO: Out of the five players mentioned with poor defensive skills both in team defense and man defense, Yao may be the “best of the worst” and some of his shortcomings could be directly attributed to the players around him. In the past, the Rockets franchise were accustomed to the original “Twin Towers” of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson and although one of the two when on to have a stellar and Hall of Fame career, they at least led their team to the 1986 NBA Finals against the eventual champion Celtics. Defensively, the twin towers guarded the basket like it was “Fort Knox” by blocking and altering shots and causing the opposing teams to make adjustments during the game because of their defensive prowess. Even the Spurs had their version of the “Twin Towers” that led to the franchise’s first NBA title with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Yao however, is not afforded that luxury. With all due respect to Tracy McGrady, I seriously doubt he’ll make the NBA first team or when a defensive player of the year any time in his career. Like Notwitzki, Yao can light up a basket and score at will when he is in his offensive rhythm, but unlike Notwitzki, he is not as mobile, agile and really only plays well and scores in the paint with his back to the basket. He also lacks foot speed to defend a smaller player, still needs to get bigger, stronger and learn to be much more focus in staying out of foul trouble.

GASOL: Not much to say about Mr. Gasol. Their is no questioning the “potential” he possesses on the offensive end of the court. He has the size to shoot over smaller defenders and is quick enough to get around SOME players defending him one on one. But in my opinion, the accolades stop there. He lacks consistency offensively and defensively once again, tall but no real strength and a lack of understanding of how to play team and one on one defense. After some years in the league, shamefully, Gasol in my opinion, is still in the category of “potential”

BOGUT: One thing I’ve learned, if the experts are extremely high on a player coming out of college, be very leary of that player. Mr. Bogut fits firmly into that category. Yes he is young, has somewhat of an “upside” and has the word many love to use to defend a player they really are unsure of, “POTENTIAL”. Mr. Bogut however, falls well short of the potential to even be one of the better players/defenders in the Association. He lacks many if any offensive abilities especially when trying to get his own shot in the paint or around the basket. Defensively? Well let’s just say we can take most if not all the defensive deficiencies of the four previously mentioned players and that would equate to the enormous weakness defensively Bogut unfortunately displays.

The other connection between these players is the inability to make the big shot or get the “big shot” when their team needs it. Although Nowitzki helped the Mavericks get to the finals last year, he was a MIA in key stretches and situations against the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat. Steve Nash has played well over the last few years leading to two MVP awards but no titles. In fact, he’s never led his team out of the Western Conference Finals, forget about the NBA Finals. I find it very ironic the last two MVP winners have no rings to match their personal trophies.

The more things change, the more they stay the same and the NBA is no different then any other major sport. Defense wins Championships. The Spurs (with Duncan and Parker) and Pistons (with Billups, Wallace, and Hamilton) of the present play great team defensive, rotate extremely well, don’t allow many open shots against the teams they play, rebound well and have front line players and guards that can get a defensive stop when their team desperately needs it. They play defense that would make the 80’s Lakers, 90’s Pistons, and 90’s Bulls proud.

Furthermore, the star player of those teams didn’t have to be the best defensively, but they played solid defense and made the big steal, got the big rebound or block shot, took the huge charge against the other teams best scorer or just played help defense which usually change the game in their teams favor in some way, shape or form.

The players I mentioned in this article with the defensive weaknesses have not and until they do, don’t expect any championships for their perspective teams. In the NBA, most players can score and some can score at will, but how many can really defend? Scoring points, leads to personal accolades and awards, playing solid defense and stepping up when the game is on the line and the team needs you, leads to championships.

Ask most players in the league which would they prefer?