With the NBA in a full-on state of lockout, this is a good time to examine some of the issues that are beginning to plague the NBA, and it's not just all revenue or CBA jargon.
For any NBA fan who has seen the the NBA in its finest hour, it's undeniable that the game has changed, and it's not for the best. Take a look at this past NBA draft and one thing was extremely glaring about the first round—a large influx of non-American born players. In the first round alone, nine international players were selected, including a run of five straight between picks three and eight.
Not only are international players being selected by NBA teams, they are being selected in very high positions. In the first 20 picks, there were seven internationals selected, more than one third of the picks. This is not to say that it's not good for the NBA, because it is. Who it's truly bad for are the American players.
The 2011 NBA draft was labelled as a down year as far as the process goes, but honestly, it was the American-born players who were not of the usual quality expected in the draft; the international stars were as bright as ever, and many of them have the potential to be NBA-level players and starters.
The top five foreign players taken, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo are quality young stars, and as a group, the talent is certainly equal to the top five Americans taken (Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette), and in fact, they look more NBA ready as a whole than the latter.
The influx of international players is not new to 2011, however. It's an ongoing trend that should have American players worried about their guaranteed future in their own home professional league. One reason for the development of foreign ballers? Fundamentals. If you could say one thing about a vast majority of players from South America, Europe and Asia, it's that they are fundamentally sound.
American players have fallen victim to the idea that they need to be flashy and showstopping, ala LeBron James, to succeed in the NBA. Growing up as an aspiring basketball player, coaches will always stress how important fundamentals are and that they are the key to any future success that one might have. Without fundamentals, even the most flashy player won't go anywhere.
One major issue with American basketball is AAU leagues. As a general rule, AAU teams stress offense and do not focus on defensive fundamentals. They also create a grave sense of entitlement that characterizes a good number of American-born NBA stars, most notably the aforementioned LeBron James.
Aspiring NBA players can now be scouted as early as middle school, and the obsession with blockbuster contracts and Division I scholarships has led players to forget that playing professionally is a privelege not a right. AAU baskeetball has destroyed this game, and as it continues to grow, the quality of the game will continually decline.
Ask Larry Bird, a kid growing up in small town Indiana, if AAU is necessary to reaching one's goals. Pose the same question to LeBron James, and you're likely to receive an answer similar to the one he gave after coming under criticism for his collapse in the NBA Finals.
All one needs to do is look at the countries where these foreign players are coming from: Turkey, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Serbia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic as examples. What do these places have in common? For players coming from The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Serbia, there has been war in the history or in the present lives of many of these young players.
Turkey, the Czech Republic and Lithuania have many rural and poor, underpriveleged areas. The foreign players appreciate any opportunity to come over to America to make a living playing a game, while many American players expect they will be given the opportunity. What began as small-group tutoring sessions of European coaches by such notable coaching names as Red Auerbach, during the time when the NBA was great, has blossomed into a newfound love for many young European basketball players, and this trend is only bound to continue.
As European players get better and better, and American players continue to go through the ranks of AAU programs that create entitlement and a lack of emphasis on true fundamentals, the American players are going to have to start watching their backs. The number of first-round, internationally born players is only liable to grow and grow as the game does the same overseas, and basketball is slowly becoming the world's game.
2011 was the most internationally influenced draft, and it's a sign of what's to come in future years. Not good for the American baller.