The 50-point game is the samples table at Costco handing out free cheese. It's a pleasant diversion from the reality of buying toilet paper (watching the Bucks play the Warriors), and it's rarely questioned because free cheese (50 points) is free cheese (50 points). All components in the creation of said items -- the missed shots, the cows, the ballhoggery, the coagulation of the milk protein casein -- fall by the wayside.
Deron Williams joined the pantheon of lead guards tossing up 50s this week, forever linking himself with such legends as Tony Delk and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, as his 50 points for Besiktas helped the Turkish side navigate past the German side Gottingen. And while pure-point snobs will look to Williams' one solitary assist, snicker, and make nasty remarks during the annual get-together at Brevin Knight's house, the performance was still remarkably efficient. Williams converted 10 of 13 shots from inside the arc, 7 of 10 from outside, 9 of 11 from the line, committed 2 turnovers, and drew 9 fouls. This wasn't an exercise in stat-padding either, as Williams broke open a tight game late. With his team trailing 82-84 with five minutes left, he proceeded to single-handedly outscore Gottingen 15-10 the rest of the way.
Now look, the Eurofile appreciates the 50 point game as much as the next vaguely-informed-at-best European basketball column (some of the Eurofile's best friends are 50-point games!). But Deron Williams' 50 deserves as much explication as exaltation. Only a really stupid European column would complain about one of the world's best players scoring 50 points in a competitive game while the world's best competitive league lazes idly and makes fart noises with its mouth, but consider the facts.
Besiktas began its European campaign in a qualification round for "EuroCup," a tier below the top-level Euroleague, by virtue of finishing 6th in Turkey's domestic league (16 total teams) last year; Turkey is considered the 6th best domestic league in Europe. After a disastrous pair of games, Besiktas failed to make the EuroCup and was forced to settle for the "EuroChallenge," the third tier of European basketball. The Euroleague, you'll remember, represents a 13 percent drop-off from NBA play, according to Basketball Prospectus. The EuroCup? 25 percent, or almost exactly the same drop off from an average NCAA player to the NBA. Where that puts the EuroChallenge is anyone's (gruesome) guess.
And that's simply Besiktas' side of the story. Deron Williams' opponents, the above mentioned Gottingen, play in the German Bundesliga, which currently comes in as the 11th best basketball league in Europe. In that 11th-ranked league, Gottingen are far and away the worst team; they've been outscored by an average 14.5 points per game, rank 18th of 18 teams, and are a decent bet to get the boot from the Bundesliga entirely and finish in Germany's second division next year.
It's fantastic that Williams is staying in shape during the lockout, and truth be told, his movement off screens, his bombs from the corners, and his general attacking form look impeccable. As viewers, we're being treated to a delightful, off-the-ball version of Deron Williams we usually only get from the U.S. National Team. Can't knock the hustle. But we can knock the fact that this particular 50-point hustle came against the clear-cut worst team from an unequivocally subpar league competing in Europe's third tier tournament (there isn't a fourth tier). To say that Williams has "figured out" Europe (which may or may not be true, we'll just never know) is at least mildly insulting to European basketball.
Conclusion? Don't trip too much over that cheese. Get in, get your fill, and get back to that sixty-pack of toilet paper.
JUAN CARLOS NAVARRO, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
The toilet paper is, of course, the Euroleague, helping clean up the mess caused by hefty turkeys (hardline owners). And the Euroleague, normally cited for its lowered possession counts, saw the achievement of a great milestone this week: FC Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro became the all-time leading Euroleague scorer on Thursday.
NBA fans will be reasonably familiar with Navarro, whose 2007-2008 NBA cameo is one that won't soon be forgotten by League Pass aficionados. Stylistically, JCN brought a flair that few elite American players could emulate; his jump shot was as smooth as they come, and the quick change of direction on the perimeter into the key floater quickly became a staple. It's unfortunate the '08 season was such a mess for the Grizzlies because Navarro could easily have fit long-term. His rookie year in the NBA was below his standards, but even so, the flashes of talent were undeniable.
That Navarro got even a single season in the NBA though is fascinating in itself because of his success immediately prior to and following his time in Memphis. Before his rookie NBA season at age 27, JCN had already won the Spanish League four times, the Euroleague once, the gold medal at the FIBA Worlds 2006, a Spanish MVP, and two All-Euroleague awards. In his first season back in Europe, Navarro claimed his first Euroleague MVP and has made three consecutive All-Euroleague rosters. That's a decade of European dominance, interrupted momentarily for a brief overseas experiment; a similar sporting example is difficult to think of.
In the NBA, Navarro was that unique scorer who could slot into an offense without taking it over; the "high-volume scorer" has been a much lauded player for quite some time now, but the "low-volume scorer" -- the player who can consistently put up points without requiring possession after possession after possession to be funneled through him -- is quite underrated. Navarro didn't exactly have a great year in the NBA, but the quality of his off-ball play and ability to drag defenders and create space for other attackers were always apparent. If he'd been allowed the chance to further acclimate, Navarro was almost a lock to become that rarest of players -- the scoring glue-guy. Alas, it wasn't to be.
In Europe, Navarro is a scorer in the more traditional mold we generally think of; he's the best player on his team, and he shoots and makes a ton of shots. On Thursday, he helped Barcelona remain undefeated (Barca and Andrei Kirilenko's Moscow are the only remaining undefeated teams through six games) as his team absolutely hammered Union Olimpija 72-46. For American basketball, Navarro was the one that got away. But for Europe, there are no such qualms.
A NON-NBA PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Weeks 1 through 5 of the Euroleague season saw NBA (role-)players take home Player of the Week honors, but Caja Laboral small forward Fernando San Emeterio -- all-Euroleague a season ago -- finally snapped the streak. San Emeterio came off the Spanish side's bench to score 25 points on 12 field goal attempts (10 from two, 9 from three, 6 from the line), collect 8 rebounds (4 offensive) and register 2 assists and a steal. Caja Laboral's win over Thabo Sefalosha's Fenerbahce puts them top of Group A with 4 wins out of 6.
Highlights from his game:
THE NBA, ABROAD
Euroleague newcomer, Indiana's T.J. Ford, joined KK Zagreb and led Week 6 in assists with 10 off the bench in just 13 minutes of play.
Houston's Donatas Motiejunas (Asseco) played a strong game with 22 points on 12 shots, but struggled from the foul line, including two huge misses in the final 15 seconds that cost his team a shot at overtime.
In the same game, Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia (Galatasaray) scored 19 points in 19 minutes, took down 10 rebounds, drew a game high 10 fouls, and sealed the game from the line at the end, despite missing plenty of his own free throws.
Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (Moscow) was sidelined with injury but Moscow won anyways to improve to 6-0.
Denver's Ty Lawson (Kaunas) continued his atrocious European campaign, finishing with 2 points on 3 shots in 16 minutes, 0 assists, and a turnover. Lawson has already clashed with his coach and openly mocked the team on Twitter, and one wonders how much longer he'll stick around in Lithuania.
Lawson's teammate, Toronto's Sonny Weems, turned in a fine game on the other hand, scoring 22 points in 28 minutes.
In the same game, Boston's Nenad Krstic (Moscow) was player of the game with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and a blocked shot.
Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic (Partizan) struggled with 3 points on 1 of 8 shooting and fouled out against Turkish side Anadolu Efes.
His teammate, Acie Law (Partizan), played slightly better with 10 points in 39 minutes.
New Jersey's Sasha Vujacic (Anadolu Efes) was player of the game with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in the win over Partizan.
His teammate, Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova (Anadolu Efes) also started, but scored just 2 points on 4 shots in 14 minutes.
Denver's Danilo Gallinari (Milan) came off the bench for a third straight week, but rebounded from a poor showing last game, scoring 24 points on 12 shots and drawing a game high 11 fouls.
However, New Jersey's Jordan Farmar (Maccabi) held off Gallinari's Milan; Farmar had 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists to help offset his 6 turnover night.
Washington's Kevin Seraphin (Caja Laboral) had 6 points and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes in Caja Laboral's win.
In the same game, Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefalosha (Fenerbahce) scored 13 points, and had 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and 1 block.
Portland's Nicolas Batum (Nancy) had another highly subdued performance. After scoring 9 points with 3 turnovers last week, Batum put up 4 points and 5 turnovers in 34 minutes of play yesterday. Nancy still pulled out the 1 point win to avoid the Group A cellar.
Finally, Dallas' Rudy Fernandez (Real Madrid) struggled in 15 minutes of play before picking up a knee injury in the final minutes. He'll be monitored over the next week, and the injury is currently being called a hematoma of the left knee.
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (Real Madrid) led Week 6 with six blocks and also had 12 points and 9 rebounds (5 offensive) off the bench.