The following is a guest article from a very intelligent player, Evan Harris. His capacity to understand and analyze the game is incomparable. Evan is a Los Angeles native professional player and former graduate of Harvard (2009). He is about to start his second season in Europe playing for Illiabum, in Portugal. Last year he started playing in Romania for Craiova then he moved to Germany where he played for Wolfenbuttel.
I really thank Evan for his contribution given to basketballtelegraph.com with his analisys on the main differences between the NBA vs European basketball.
I was asked to do this blog as sort of a re-issue of an older blog I had written on the subject. At the time, I was a rookie playing in Germany and had gotten into a pretty heavy conversation with one of my teammates about the differences between the NBA and the European game. Right after this conversation, I came home and watched the highlights of a couple of Lebron's dunks, and some things stood out to me..
Okay, so let me first start off by saying I mean no offense to anyone (European or American) by this post.
These are just my observations after almost a full year of European basketball and 4 years of NCAA basketball and nearly 20 years of studying the NBA game.
With that being said, everything is a trade off. What I mean by this is, what Europeans may lack in one area, they make up for in another and viceversa.
Anyways, the first MAJOR difference I have seen is the speed/athleticism of the individual players. In America, the game seems sped up, and the game itself is more geared towards scoring and helping out individual scorers. During the conversation with my teammate, Brandon Jennings was brought up as a perfect example. He played at both a high level in Europe, and in America - so he serves as the perfect comparison. Statistically, his one season in the Euroleague produced 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game (over 16 Euroleague games). Conversely, last season he has averaged 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists (over the 82 NBA games).
The (in my mind) incorrect conclusion to the dramatic difference in numbers would be to assume that the Euroleague competition is somewhat tougher than the NBA competition. While this is undoubtedly a debatable point, I believe the reality is that the NBA game is just geared more to showcase individual talent while the European game is much more team oriented. You need to look no further than the averages of the scoring champion of each league for that point to be illustrated. The Euroleague scoring champion (former Denver Nugget Linas Kleiza) led the league in scoring at 17.3 points a game. In comparison, Kevin Durant who ended up winning last year's NBA scoring title averaged 30.1 points a game. Nearly double Kleiza's output.
Now the question is...WHY? Yes, Kevin Durant is a much better scorer than Kleiza is, but it also doesn't help that the rules of the NBA facilitate one on one scoring much more than the European game does.
Which brings me to Lebron's dunk. You will see that the help defense is not existent. A couple years ago the league introduced the "Defensive Three Second" rule. The rule itself states that, "Any defensive player, who is positioned in the 16-foot lane or the area extending 4 feet past the lane endline, must be actively guarding an opponent within three seconds. Actively guarding means being within arms length of an offensive player and in a guarding position".
For you non basketball enthusiasts, this means that you can't be in the key for more than three seconds without reaching out and touching an offensive player. This pretty much eliminates the idea of a "help side", which from middle school on you are taught that if the ball is on the opposite side of the court to at least have one foot in the key, and often to be standing on the "basket line" or directly under the rim. This help side effectively shrinks the floor, and makes it much harder for the offensive player to score (it turns a one on one situation to a one on 3-4).
Anyways, to the video... Watch specifically that before Varejao's post up, the other 4 defensive players are standing outside the key, essentially letting Lebron go one on one with James Johnson while the other 8 players watch..
Because of the Defensive Three Second Rule, there is no way the help can get there in time if Lebron (or any NBA level athlete) takes one dribble from the free throw line and takes off. Unfortunately for James Johnson, he isn't playing in Europe where that play would have undoubtedly ended in a charging call on Lebron (they also didn't have the protected semi-circle under the basket, but it is making its way to Europe for next season).
There isn't much of a point to this, just to point out one of the biggest things I have learned/had to adjust to since arriving here.
Another big difference that often gets overlooked, is the strategy/focus of each team. Obviously, both teams in the NBA and in Europe are geared towards and built to winning. However, with the star and marketing power of the NBA, it is inevitably also geared for the stars to shine. Not to say that there aren't stars in Europe, but the whole team concept is stressed much more. For example, if you look at a typical European offensive set, it is often a lot of continuity, breaking down to a pick and roll late in the shot clock. In stark contrast, many typical NBA offenses are simply a pick and roll with a little bit of movement off the ball. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see what kind of difference the recent change in FIBA rules does for the European game. Most interesting for me will be the inclusion of the restricted area under the basket and the removal of the trapezoidal key in favor of the NBA's rectangle..
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment with any insight you may have!