Evidence: NBA players have plenty of skill

There are a lot of stereotypes out there about European players. They shoot better. They shoot better from long range. They have better coaching. They move the ball. On ESPN the Magazine's Player X blog (Insider), an unnamed NBA veteran recently wrote this:

Let me tell you American basketball's dirty little secret: Our coaches are terrible. And not just in the NBA. Coaches across the whole game stink -- high school, AAU, college. They've grown fat on our natural athletic abilities, and they've gotten lazy. Nobody coaches fundamentals anymore. We might as well rename the NBA the AABA: African-American Basketball Association. (I'm black, by the way.) It's basically a very talented street-ball league. Americans simply can't dribble, pass, work the post or shoot the rock as well as our foreign counterparts, like Dirk Nowitzki. And their coaches get the credit for that.

As it happens, a blog called In the Game just published a whole bunch of stats comparing different international basketball leagues, and the results contradict Player X fairly convincingly.

The NBA was compared with the Euroleague, EuroCup, Greek, Spanish, German league, Israeli, Belgian, French, Adriatic, Italian, Turkish and Eastern-European leagues.

One league is by far the best in the world when it comes to both free-throw percentage and 3-point field goal percentage: The NBA.

Stop right there. We'll talk below about why that 3-point number may be inflated, even though -- at 23'9" -- the NBA has the longest 3-point line in the world. Consider the free throws, which is about as pure a shooting contest as there is.

The NBA also has the fewest turnovers per possession, which would cast doubt on the idea NBA players can't handle the ball.

The NBA has something of a reputation as a one-on-one league -- and yet is third out of all those leagues in terms of the percentage of possessions ending with an assist.

The NBA also features the highest pace, by far, as well as far fewer free throws, per possession, than the average.

The most interesting part of the story, however, would seem to come from the fact that the NBA performs very poorly in terms of effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. The NBA is also tied for last in 2-point shooting percentage.

What's all that about?

My guess is that in Europe they have figured out something we're still learning: Shoot more 3s. Way more. It makes the offense more efficient.

The stats show that NBA teams shoot barely over half the 3s of their overseas counterparts.

It looks like NBA players are shooting 3s when conditions are perfect, but otherwise jacking 2s. That explains the American league's stellar 3-point shooting and pedestrian 2-point shooting.

Playing more aggressively for the long ball, however, might reduce our 3-point shooting percentage, but these numbers certainly suggest they would raise the overall offensive efficiency; the rest of the world is not shooting them nearly as well, but is shooting them far more often, and with greater effective field goal and true shooting percentages.