Drazen Petrovic – A Retrospective

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European players are common on NBA rosters these days, and a lot of them are pretty talented: Nowitzki, Rubio, Parker, Bargnani, Calderon, and the Gasol brothers among them.

Twenty years ago there were only a few. The shining light among them was Drazen Petrovic.

For two years in the early 1990s, Petrovic electrified the NBA with his shooting ability and exuberance.

During the ’91-92 and ’92-93 seasons, the 6’5″ Croation shooting guard averaged 21 PPG on 51% shooting for the New Jersey Nets. He also shot an outstanding 45% from three-point range and 84% from the line.

Petrovic died tragically in a car accident in the summer of ’93 at age 28. Despite only two great seasons in the NBA, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Before he arrived in the U.S. in ’89, Petrovic was a dominant player in Europe at the club level, winning six European Player of the Year awards.

Internationally, he won a gold and a bronze in the FIBA World Championships and two silvers and a bronze in the Olympics (including a game-high 24 pts against the Dream Team in the ’92 gold medal game).

Buried on the bench in Portland behind Clyde Drexler, Petrovic got his break when he was traded to the Nets in ’91. He got 21 minutes a game the second half that year, and broke out in’92.

Nobody in today’s game shares Petro’s shooting acumen. He shot over 50% at the two guard position when defenders were actually allowed to hand check.

In fact, check out the short list of guards in NBA history with multiple 20 PPG / 50% FG seasons:

Michael Jordan – 6

Otis Birdsong – 4

Oscar Robertson – 3

Magic Johnson – 3

Dale Ellis – 3

Petrovic – 2

Kevin Johnson – 2

Rolando Blackmon – 2

Jim Paxson – 2

Pretty good company. Like Bernard King before him, he is incomparable to any of today’s shooting guards. He was in his prime when he died; had he played only five more years, we’re talking about one of the top-10 two-guards ever.

If you haven’t seen ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Once Brothers”, I highly recommend it.

Petrovic and Vlade Divac are the focus of the documentary; their friendship, torn apart by politics, is riveting (you can find it on YouTube broken down into six parts).

In the meantime, enjoy his Nets highlight tape:

Stats and bios courtesy of  basketball-reference.com and nba.com

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