At this point, many NBA fans are resigned to the fact that the NBA season will not start on time (if at all). NBA2K12 is out, and you will notice all the rookies are absent from the rosters until that first in-season update. They are off learning how to be professional athletes in their own way.
Many, including top overall pick Kyrie Irving and second round pick Malcolm Lee, returned to school for the summer and fall semesters to take advantage of the free time in between workouts. All these guys know they have to be ready at a moment’s notice to leave campus and report to training camps when the lockout finally ends.
There is a select group who have elected either to forego the NBA entirely for the time being and start their professional careers overseas. There are a few players who have elected to start off in Europe in hopes of jump starting their career and, well, getting to work.
Deron Williams, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are probably the biggest names (at least biggest American names) to elect to spend part of the lockout overseas. In Martin and Smith’s case it will be for at least the entire year with China Basketball Association’s ban on opt-out clauses for this year. Williams is coming back to the NBA when the lockout ends.
However, Williams has not quite been playing up to snuff for Besiktas and the whole Euroleague experiment for the Nets star seems to be blowing up in his face. It certainly feels like the European and international teams were correct to patiently evaluate NBA stars they could potentially sign when they built their rosters. Apparently, NBA stars on their own will not even draw fans.
So how are these green, untested and unproven rookies doing so far?
By some accounts, they seem to be adjusting much quicker than Williams, who has been hardened by a few years in the NBA and its very different style of play.
Justin Harper penned a diary with the help of Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. The first pick from the second round of the draft signed with SIG Strasbourg in France and does have an opt-out clause to return to the NBA when the lockout ends. Of course, the stretch-4 from Richmond does not have the guarantee of making the team (or getting paid) like first round picks.
But for Harper, going to France was major culture shock. Harper is from the Richmond area and went to the University of Richmond to play for the Spiders. Leaving Virginia for the France-Germany border must have been quite a difference.
On the court though, Harper is learning how to conduct himself as a professional and how to integrate on a professional team. It certainly helps that many of his teammates are relatively young too, making integration that much easier.
“I feel pretty good about how I’ve been playing,” Harper wrote. “At first, I was kind of thinking too much about where my spots were in the offense. As the games kept going, I kind of just went out there and started playing ball and just was aggressive. That’s really what I need to do for this team and for myself just to get better. If you keep going out there and play hard, you’ll continue to get better.
“Over here and on the professional level everywhere, it’s not freelancing, but they want you to be aggressive and kind of figure it out by yourself.
“I think this is definitely helping me, because I’ve taken on the mindset of a professional and I’m keeping myself on a regimen with practices, lifting and conditioning. Just having all of that in my routine is going to really help me out when it’s time to resume with the NBA season, whenever that is.”
Harper scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting and added seven rebounds. He did not attempt a 3-point shot in the game.
Other rookies like E’Twaun Moore are preparing to start their professional careers. Moore’s Benneton Treviso opens up its regular season Sunday. Moore averaged 10.8 points per game in five exhibition games for Treviso, including 18 points in his first game against Vanoli Braga Cremona back in early September.
These are just two of several rookies — many of them foreign — starting off on international teams. Many of them took the option because it was a sure way to get a check — both Moore and Harper were second round draft picks. Others because the money was simply better or the comfort was there.
European teams may have liked them because they were young and not corrupted by the NBA’s style of play. Now that the lockout seems to realistically be taking away the regular season, all those European team slots seem to be drying up. They certainly are not as available as before.
But for those rookies that are taking advantage of the opportunity to gain professional experience, they are finding it valuable. They certainly seem to be getting more out of it than Deron Williams and some of the veterans thinking of going over for a quick jaunt.