*The ability to throw fast passes accurately is an underrated skill; the speed of the ball in the air is critical to giving shooters an extra split second before defenders arrive. It is part of what makes LeBron James such an effective passer.
*I am of the opinion that a player should always stay in the draft if he is going to be a first-rounder, although this applies more to college players than Europeans. The draft is littered with prospects who would have been in the first round but sank by staying in school. Then consider the extra year of pro basketball and the fact that he can start the clock on a more lucrative second contract right away. There is also a solid argument that players develop better in the NBA without the distraction of school and access to pro training staffs and coaching. Moreover, going later in the draft can sometimes help because it means going to a better organization. Finally, would you rather have a guaranteed $2 million (the minimum for a 2-year first-round contract) or a 50% chance of $4 million? It seems like when you have nothing, getting a guarantee of 7 figures (with a higher upside due to starting the clock on the second contract earlier) is superior to rolling the dice on getting hurt or regressing compared to the chance of improving one's draft position.
*With Luol Deng's contract expiring and Carlos Boozer a possible amnesty candidate, the Bulls could be well under the cap in 2014, or into the luxury tax and over the “apron” (which restricts salary cap exceptions and sign and trades) by keeping Boozer and resigning Deng. The apron sits approximately $4 million above the luxury tax line.
- Another fascinating discussion was whether it is better to draft and “Eurostash” a prospect or bring him over immediately. One scout I talked to said it is always better to bring him over immediately when the team plans to use him in its rotation. If not, they are usually better kept in Europe to develop with more playing time, the exception being where the prospect really needs to get in an NBA condition program and work on his body.
- Being at the Palau Blaugrana for my first high-level European basketball game was a fascinating experience. I purchased a 5th row ticket right at center court for 81 Euros (~$100) online 2 days before the game. The arena is tiny at only 7,500 seats, and boasted no luxury boxes or apparent amenities. (A new arena is scheduled to open soon.) It started out even smaller, but had a heavily overhanging upper deck installed along the baselines. This put the club's famous Dracs 1991 supporters almost right on top of the opposition, and they made their presence felt by singing, chanting, and banging drums while standing the whole game. The first row stood almost on the railing of the balcony and constantly seemed on the verge of being pushed off by the surging tide of the fans further back.*
*I saw one father constantly holding on to his son to keep him from falling.
- While the fan clubs were completely insane, the rest of the arena barely stood at all except for a few individuals who yelled at the refs.* The arena was spectacularly loud at times, notably during the Real Madrid introductions when the earsplitting whistles drowned out the PA announcer completely. During the game, the fans seemed to get most agitated whenever an opposing player complained to the officials. While Dracs' constant singing showed impressive dedication, I didn't find it particularly effective cheering because it was basically omnipresent, even as FCB was clearly out of it down the stretch. While this crowd was consistently louder (perhaps because of the far smaller building), it did seem like the energy at Oracle Arena during the Denver series I attended did a little more to buoy the home team.
*With 44 fouls in the 40 minute game, at least 70% of which seemed to be called off the ball, they had plenty of opportunities. Next time you want to complain about NBA refs, watch a European or college game.
- A number of events during the game served as yet another reminder of how different the European game is. Most striking was the fact that Marcelino Huertas, probably the best pure point guard outside of the NBA right now, played only 6 minutes for FCB and none in the 2nd half.* Sarunas Jasikevicius played only 10 minutes despite a throwback first half that had him in double figures as he led a Barcelona comeback in the second quarter. Instead, coach Xavi Pascual played the unremarkable Victor Sada throughout crunchtime. All of these bizarre playing time decisions seemed the Catalan version of de rigueur to the FCB season ticket holder sitting next to me.
*Team USA fans will remember him carving up the defense for the Brazilian national team during an exhibition last summer.
- I would pay hundreds of dollars to see a 7 game series of HORSE between FC Barcelona stalwart Juan Carlos Navarro and Stephen Curry. These two feature the best assortments of floaters, runners, one-leggers, and pure shooting in the world. At one point in the doldrums of the second half, Navarro sprinted around screens for 20 seconds of the shot clock before finally receiving the ball and driving to the top of the key, where he successfully launched a left-handed one-legged floater that rattled in as the shot clock expired. Although he doesn't look it, Navarro is in absolutely killer shape. He is a good reminder that cardio shape and low body fat are by no means one and the same.
- Spanish national team member Felipe Reyes absolutely killed Barcelona by simply outtoughing them. FCB really has little in the way of frontcourt strength at the moment with Erazem Lorbek a shell of his former self,* and Reyes took advantage. Despite never even thinking about going left or shooting anything other than a righty layup or jump hook, Reyes had 20 points on 12 shooting possessions with 4 offensive rebounds.
*Lorbek suffered a concussion in Game 2 but returned for Game 3. I did not hear anything about him having to pass the league's concussion tests to play.
- Reyes, Lorbek, Ante Tomic, and other post players repeatedly backed down their man for 5 foot jump hooks with absolutely no help. Relying on this, coach Paso inserted Tremmell Darden (who I had never heard of) for a few possessions at the end of each half solely for the purpose of backing down the undersized Brad Oleson for 5 foot turnaround jumpers. It worked beautifully few times, but it was really odd to see that Darden's only playing time came in the last minutes of each half. It was clear that the edict from both coaches was not to double team the post under any circumstances, which led to some easy buckets. It was surprising to see in Europe, where helping is easier due to the lack of a defensive 3 second rule.