Today’s NBA is all about movement and offense – just ask Brooklyn fans. While scoring is fun, many old-school fans do not love the loss of physicality and defense, making a lot of games boring and one-dimensional. But if you go over the pond, you can still find team basketball with tactics and defense being emphasized over the quality of individuals. We are talking about European basketball.
There is no doubt – the NBA has the best players in the world. Period. It is why the whole world loves it, and the best players come to play there. But there is a massive difference between great individual play and excellent team basketball. Both of them have their advantages, but when it comes down to it, basketball is a team game that is most beautiful to watch when you have five guys playing together, trying to find the best shot, and playing tough defense. It creates battles between teams that keep you on the edge of your seat, thinking about how each team will adjust their gameplan and from which angle they will try to get a competitive advantage.
For Hall of Famer Dino Rađa, there’s no doubt which of the two versions he prefers. Dino used the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the triple-double phenom Russell Westbrook as examples of players that thrive in the way the game is being played in the NBA while explaining how they wouldn’t be able to do the same thing in Europe.
“They don’t play defense in the NBA, and you come to Europe with five guys who know what they are doing. They close your penetration; they don’t let you rebound in the offense … By chance, we played against Greece in the qualifications for the Olympic Games, and that was the tactic. Back then, Giannis was also a good player, he was not an MVP, but he was at the very top. Don’t let him penetrate, block him, and don’t let him receive the ball in the fastbreak. Everything else he gives, let him. He gave us four points.”Dino Rađa, Nuggets Srbija
Rađa knows what he is talking about – he had great careers both in the NBA and Europe. When talking about Giannis, he referred to the semifinal game of the 2016 qualifying Olympic Tournament in which Croatia beat Greece. Rađa is a part of the Croatian Basketball Federation, as he saw up-close how former Croatia head coach and the brother of the late-great Dražen Petrović, Aleksandar Petrović, exposed the “Greek Freak.”
He didn’t have some defensive juggernauts and stoppers that would bang with Giannis. Instead, his players played like one on the defensive end, as they shrunk the floor and closed the lane on Giannis, making him impact the game from areas he isn’t dangerous from. It was no accident. Petrović would do the same thing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup with the Brazilian National Team, as they beat the favorites Greece in a similar game.
How could average international teams find a way to stop a player dominating the NBA for the last couple of years? The answer is tactics and defense. In the NBA, you can see those two factors come into play in the playoffs when coaches actually have to make some adjustments in a seven-game series. It is no coincidence that’s then when Giannis only comes up short.
“To me, that Westbrook guy … Bring him to Barcelona, CSKA, or Barcelona and tell him to be the European champion … That has no chance of happening.”Dino Rađa, Nuggets Srbija
But in Europe, teams play like that the whole season. Every game, you are facing a tough defense that has a gameplan just for you. That’s why some of the best individual players who dominate, primarily because of their athletic ability, like Giannis or Westbrook, wouldn’t be able to do the things they do in the NBA regularly in Europe. Sure they would make it work based on their natural gift, but I agree with Rađa that they wouldn’t be a part of a winning team.
Everyone has their own preference. Many fans love the scoring inflation, no defense being played, and attractive highlights on a nightly basis. It is hard not to love it. But the pure basketball romantics know that basketball is only right when there is a balance, unselfishness, and toughness aspect involved that makes the game competitive and interesting. To each its own. After all, it’s a beautiful game no matter what.