Though the FIBA World Championships provide refuge for basketball fans during the off-season, they are not the NBA. On a very basic level, basketball is basketball. Yet the differences in talent and style between the World Championships and the NBA are notable enough to significantly affect player performance. The product doesn’t just seem different. It is different.
That discrepancy can, in a sense, create a mirage for NBA GMs to chase. In the never-ending search for more talent, the World Championships would seem to provide a terrific look into how a particular prospect might fare against NBA-level competition. And, if that prospect happens to run into Team USA, how they might fare against NBA-style competition.
In a sense, it does. However, over the years, success in events like the World Championships and the Olympics have not been good indicators of future NBA performance for foreign prospects.
Hamed Haddadi is a fine example. Haddadi, a 7-foot-2 center, averaged 16.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in the 2008 Olympics while leading the games in blocked shots. He posted game totals of 21 and 9 against Lithuania, 21 and 16 against Argentina, and 17 and 15 against Croatia. On the strength of his 2008 Olympic run, Haddadi signed a three-year deal with Memphis, and well, he hasn’t done all that much since.
It’s not entirely fair to blame Haddadi. While he’s the clear-cut star of the Iranian national team, Haddadi has only played a total of 360 minutes (over two seasons) for the Grizz. There’s certainly a question of opportunity inherent in all of this, with utilization being a serious undertone. Maybe Memphis really is using Haddadi incorrectly, and he’s a shot-blocking force just waiting to be unleashed.
Or maybe it’s exactly what it looks like; Haddadi is a big that averages more fouls than rebounds, hasn’t managed to adjust to the NBA in the — albeit limited — time he’s been given, and thus far has yet to really make any significant impact whatsoever in Memphis. There are certainly factors working against him, but Haddadi didn’t exactly walk into the FedEx Forum a double-double machine, either.
Haddadi hasn’t looked good while playing in the faster NBA game. Though Haddadi could still probably have a long and illustrious career as a back-up, back-up center (he’s still a 25 year-old big, after all), he has yet to show any sign that he’ll really figure out the American pro game, or boast even a shade of the defensive impact he’s flashed on the international stage.
So performances like Haddadi’s 27-point and nine-rebound outing against Lithuania? 16 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks against Brazil? We’ve seen this room, we’ve walked this floor. We know what Haddadi is capable of against international competition, but he remains a remarkably unspectacular NBAer, nonetheless.
This happens. It’s part of the game. Darko Milicic looked great against Pau Gasol in the summer of 2006 (18 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks of good, to be exact), but it didn’t mean that Darko was threatening to bust the seams of his NBA role. He was still the same player he always was, just shone in a different hue. One that apparently doesn’t quite register in the States.
The production doesn’t always translate, and though there are plenty of players who have prospered on both stages, there are also many for whom the NBA just isn’t a great fit. It’s too early to say that Haddadi is one such player, but based on his NBA career thus far, it’s fair to question if the disparity may be too much for him.