I was a typical “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” type of player and I personally think it lead me to have a long career overseas. Of course, there are other factors. You have to remember I played in an era where the game was different. The offenses were 3 out and 2 in, you had clearly defined roles for each position and there was very little room for Unicorns.
I am 6’8” (204cm) tall and my playing weight was about 210 pounds (95kg) soaking wet. My handles were decent, but I was no Kevin Durant…I was a streaky shooter. If I was hot, then I was Kevin Durant…if I was not, I was DEFINITELY not KD! Ok, just think of me as a VERY poor man’s KD…but this was before KD so I was looking pretty good at my size back then.
I could defend every player on the floor, but the question was for how long haha. Although I was deceptively strong, I had no business trying to defend stronger post players. I had good timing to block shots and my size helped, but not for 40 minutes. I guarded PGs as a pro because of my length and athleticism, but chasing guards around screens sucked big time haha.
Two things I had going for me were athleticism and good instincts. The best thing I had was my ability to fill holes. I am a natural small forward, but I have played every position on the court depending on what a team needed.
This was both a gift and a curse. As a pro, I always felt like I wasn’t good enough at one position because I would be moved around so much. You never saw a PG playing center or a center playing the point. It frustrated me a lot. I had to know the plays at every position because I never knew where I would be playing.
In France, after our big got hurt, I practiced all week in the post, but then played the game at the SF. No reps during the week at my natural position. I hated that with a passion!
Later, as I got older, I realized that exactly what I thought was a curse was my biggest strength and gift and that is what I mean about specializing. Had I been only a tall and athletic dunker, I would not have made it very long overseas.
In the NBA, they look for people to play in particular systems and play a role. It is probably an advantage for you to specialize and be REALLY good at something. Overseas, however, it is different. You need to be an all-rounder to some extent to have a long career.
Here is an example. When I went to watch the Euroleague game between Alba Berlin and Maccabi Tel Aviv, I had the idea for this post. Routinely, Maccabi played with 3 guards…two of them being actual PGs. Sometimes they also played with 3 PGs on the floor at the same time. Their PF would have been a SF, and their C would have been a PF on most teams back in my era.
The game has changed and developed so much that the positions are much more fluid in nature and not so defined. Yes, both teams had traditional centers, but there are very few of them these days, and even then, those players can step outside to guard a pick and roll or shoot the 3 when available.
If one of those guards for Maccabi were to get upset that he does not have the ball exclusively in his hands like most traditional PGs then there would be no room for him on that team. Yes, that PG can probably find a team where he has the ball more, but the European game is moving away from floor generals like Chris Paul.
Another example from my career. I played half the season as my team’s PG because our PG got hurt. The backup PG was not ready to be a starter and one of our bigs also got hurt around that time. There was more need to replace the big than the PG. The coach thought I would do the best job because our SG only wanted to get his shots up so having the ball in his hands would not have been wise. Since I played at the point at various times during the season, he handed me the offense.
This was the first time I would play exclusively at this point in my life and I would be lying if I said I was thrilled about the idea…I was scared I would look like an idiot. I also would not say I was great at it, but I did much better than I expected and it was for sure the best move for the team. We played better with me at the point…and our SG still got his shots up haha.
The point of all of this is to say that in America, I think players are being developed way too early to specialize themselves because everyone wants to make it to the NBA where that is a priority. Those types of players then run into trouble overseas and if they are not able to adapt quickly, they may be going home quickly…even if they are good players. Overseas, I have seen many players get sent home because they were not able to change their game to the European way of moving the ball without taking a million dribbles or shooting every time they touch it.
This is not to say that specializing is all bad. Take Mike James who plays for Monaco and is one of the top Euroleague players today. The dude is just a flat-out great scorer…but…he also knows how to move the ball and not dribble the air out of the ball. When he needs to, he takes over. He also knows how to distribute and get everyone involved. He can adapt, even mid-game, which makes him incredibly valuable.
So basically what I want you to take from this particular post is, to be ready to adapt your game when you come to Europe. If you are a SG, be ready and able to play all three positions on the outside. We all have seen the development that inside players have made over the last 20 years. The game is getting smaller, but that does not mean there is no place for big players anymore…you just have to adapt your skill set.
And lastly, I will leave you with the rest of the Jack of Trades quote and I believe this was written for players like myself.
“A Jack of All Trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a Master of One.”