Why the 2011 NBA Draft Class is Considered Weak, A Theory from 1995

I hate to keep harping on this, but I’ve had a significant breakthrough in my meditations about the overall weakness of the 2011 NBA Draft.

To start, let me paraphrase exactly how I feel about this year’s draft class: the players who are at the absolute top of the class (1-14) are thought of as weak, while the rest of the class (15-60) is about what we would expect from players taken in those positions.

Why do we perceive those top players to be so weak? It’s largely because we don’t know what to think about the high volume of foreign players.

But wait, wasn’t the super high-profile NBA Finals series that broke TV ratings records just a couple of weeks ago? And wasn’t the MVP of that series a foreign player? And not just a foreign player, but a stereotypical (big man who isn’t that athletic and has little to no post game, but drains threes) one. If ever there was a time in the NBA when we could truly appreciate the quality of the foreign players it should be now. And even if Dirk didn’t do it for you, how about little JJ Barea putting wherever he’s from on the map?

It’s Puerto Rico, but you get my point — We should be so drunk on appreciation of foreign players that a draft class with all these 7-foot European small forwards should have us trembling with joy.

So is there an N or isn't there? It's time for you to Spill. Your. Guts.

But how do we respond? We brush off these international guys before we even give them a shot.

You might say something like, “Yeah we know how they’ll turn out… horrible.” But how much do we actually know about them? How much do the experts know about the foreigners in this year’s class? Let me present you with some evidence from websites that should know what they’re talking about.

  • NBADraft.net: Montiejunas struggled against the smaller US defenders
  • Draftexpres.com: Benetton Treviso’s Donatas Motiejunas is easily the highest usage European prospect in this group at 12.6 possessions per-game.
  • Bleacherreport.com: Montiejunas is currently playing for Benetton Treviso in the Italian league, and the team has reached the semifinals in the Series A League thanks in part to the strong play of the Lithuanian big man.
  • Probasketballdraft.com: Like fellow European prospects, Motiejunas needs to add bulk and strength to his slender frame.

Notice anything? Sure, they are all saying things about his game that we can’t confirm or deny, but my focus on him in the last few days has led me to one ultimate realization: NBA Draft analysts can’t even agree on how to spell his name. If they can’t read his last name, which I assume has always been the same, off of a box score correctly, how are we supposed to take anything they say seriously? I know that only some sources are misspelling his name, but media in general takes a hit on this one and I feel like they’re all using the same obviously-weak sources to get their “scouting reports.”

Regardless of what we actually know about these players (don’t worry, the scouts don’t know much more than we do) there is still an overwhelming feeling that they won’t succeed in the Association. And directly in the face of the most successful foreign postseason in a long time. How can we look so boldly into the foreign faces of these young prospects and tell them that we don’t care what their skills are, we think they are inadequate simply because they aren’t American?

It truly is a puzzle, but I’ve got the answer. I want you to think about your first memorable experience with foreign athletes. I know exactly what mine was. It wasn’t the Olympics. Or the World Cup. Or the World Baseball Classic. It was Nickelodeon’s Global GUTS.

I know you all remember GUTS, the Nick game show that featured the three least athletic kids they could find, stumbling through vaguely-athletic challenges in multiple layers of padded clothing, probably tied to the roof or at least a wall, surrounded by an army of spotters, all eager to rush in at a moment’s notice. It was the portrait of everything wrong with athletics. Nonstop hype. Horribly below-average contestants. An overwhelming feeling that anyone watching in the room with you could achieve a perfect score on any day. A focus on safety over performance. Events that took more time to explain than to execute. It was awful. But we all watched it.

And what was the one thing on earth worse than GUTS? Global GUTS. It was miserable. Apparently the producers of the show ran out of sloppy American prepubescents and started scrubbing the corners of the earth for more. It was borderline torturous to watch Global GUTS. And yet this is my first and most memorable experience with foreign “athletes.” It took no time at all to find the following clip on YouTube to illustrate my point.

It’s like Max “the axe” went out of his way to fall down. He has all his safety gear on, driving what is essentially a half-bicycle-half-wheelchair hybrid and at the first moment he could possible run into any trouble, he manages to flip the whole thing upside-down and trap himself until spotter nation can come to his side. It’s unreal. When I think of Global GUTS, this is all that comes up. When I think of foreign “athletes,” I imagine this. It doesn’t matter how many times I see Jan Vesely dunk from 20 feet out, when he gets his name called tomorrow night, I am fully expecting 10-year-old-Max to trip on his way up the steps and need NBA-sanctioned spotters to help him up.

I’m not trying to say that I think all foreign athletes are clumsy teenagers. I am trying to say that maybe something out there is preventing us from realizing that these NBA prospects might actually be athletic. Maybe we can’t see them for who they are because we’re too busy seeing what we want them to be. Maybe Global GUTS determined that we will always undervalue foreign athletes because Max couldn’t handle some 2-inch bumps.

Will the foreigners be any good? Maybe they will. They have the same shot as everybody else. They could be great. They could be average. But let’s at least try to wait until they’ve played some games to pass judgment. Global GUTS was powerful, but if we all work together, we can overcome the injustices it’s bringing on today’s international athletes. I just hope there’s not a glowing, glittery radical rock near any professional basketball courts.

Come back later today for the first half of my mock draft, and don’t forget to enter my NBA draft contest before the big show tomorrow night.