Every article I read about the NBA suggests that the NBA is going more European with its style of play. The media points to the Warriors and the Suns as examples of “European-like” teams. I always laugh because 90% of these writers have never been to a European basketball game and only speculate as to the way the game is played.
I am not an expert on all of Europe, either, as my experience as been confined to the smaller leagues; I’d very much like the opportunity to work with a bigger European club, but the opportunity has yet to present itself. However, I know enough to know that (1) there is not a distinct “European style” as different regions, countries and teams play differently, just like there are observable differences between the Pac 10 and Big East, for instance. And, (2) I also know that the Golden State Warriors are not, by any stretch, an example of any successful, top level European club. My favorite is the suggestion that European teams do not even use post players; there is a difference between post players having a full skill set, like a Tim Duncan, versus a post player like Eric Dampier who plays because he is big and blocks shots. European teams use the former, not the latter. In fact, the Spurs are an example of a team with a European flavor, as they use Duncan to draw double teams and kick out and they also run a lot of pick and rolls to free a dribbler or a three-point shooter.
However, with all the talk of the “European Movement,” arguably the top two European players of the last couple years, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Vasilis Spanoulis, hardly played. What’s interesting, I think, is that Jasikevicius said in an interview this week that the Jazz play the most like a European team. And, after getting to see them play in the play-offs, since they are rarely on TV, I completely agree.
I have been an unabashed Suns’ fan since they signed Steve Nash. Actually, since they hired Mike D’Antoni, as he actually responded to one of my emails when I was 24 years old and he was coaching in Italy. But, when I saw the Jazz play against the Kings at Arco Arena, my allegiance started to change. While I like the Suns, I think they rely too much on Steve Nash. And, while I like the open court tempo and freedom D’Antoni allows, I am often confused when people talk about how great their ball movement is, as Steve Nash controls the ball for about 90% of possessions. The Spurs, imo, move the ball better than the Suns because they almost always make the extra pass which leads to a wide open three, especially when passing out of a double team where they catch the defense scrambling.
But, the Jazz do everything. Deron Williams sold it in an interview after the Kings’ game when he said that Jerry Sloan trusts him to make the right decision and push if it is there or slow down and run a set if not. And, that is good, fundamental basketball. Entertainment-wise, the Suns may be a better show, but the Jazz are a coach’s team.
The Jazz, the second most efficient team in the regular season, use a PG and a post equally well. They run back screens, flex cuts, UCLA cuts, screen the screeners, pick and rolls, etc. They use almost every basic basketball tactic in their approach, which is why they are a great team to watch and emulate. And, Jasikevicius is correct. The Jazz play a very European-style of basketball. They do not rely on one player. They have posts who can make threes (Okur) and who have great low post footwork (Boozer). They have a PG who controls tempo, understands the game and runs the pick and roll well (Williams). They have a couple guys who can hit stand-still threes (Fisher, Giricek) or short jumpers off the curl cuts (Harpring). They post guards (Harpring, Williams) and have posts (Kirilenko, Boozer, Okur) who can make the pass. They have guys who slash (Kirilenko, Giricek). They have the full repertoire of skills and players who can perform their role using these skills.
If the NBA is indeed headed toward a more international game, in terms of style of play not just roster compilation, the Jazz is the team to highlight and put on TV. And, for coaches, the Jazz is the team to watch because they do so many things well and use such a variety of tactics which maximize the individual’s potential.
Brian McCormick wrote the book Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development and offers coaches a free weekly newsletter called Hard 2 Guard. This article was taken from the latest newsletter which is available for free. To get his weekly newsletter sent to your email account all you need to do is send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “subscribe” in the title.