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International Players Breaking Out in the NBA

   International Players Breaking Out in the NBA

November 26, 2021

luka doncic

International players are making a bigger impact than ever before in the NBA and their influence continues to grow with each passing year. The league has funded NBA Africa which seeks to expand the game on the continent while also setting up shop in Europe and beyond to scout players with NBA potential. Below we look at some of the league’s best international players and how they have contributed to a more diverse and better quality of basketball at the highest level.

Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks – 2018 NBA Draft 1st round - #3 overall)

The Atlanta Hawks drafted Doncic with the third overall pick in the draft but subsequently traded the Slovenian sharpshooter to Dallas for the rights to Tre Young and a protected first-round pick. The trade has worked out spectacularly for both teams but as good as Trae Young is, he is six inches shorter than the 6’7” Doncic and is not mentioned in the same MVP conversations.

We should note that Sacramento, with the second overall pick in that draft, made the biggest gaffe by choosing Marvin Bagley III ahead of both Doncic and Young. Bagley is coming off the bench for the Kings and has not been extended a contract after this year.

As far as Doncic goes, he has been electric since entering the league after a stellar three-year career at Real Madrid that began when he was only 16 years old. By the time he called it a wrap in Spain and planned on entering the NBA Draft, he was the EuroLeague MVP and was named to the EuroLeague 2010–20 All-Decade Team. This year he was once again performing magic on the court, averaging 25 points per game, 8.0 assists, and 8.4 boards per game.

The Mavericks are 10-7 thus far and the preseason NBA championship odds at the best offshore sportsbooks revealed the Mavs at +3000 to win the title this season, making them a Top 10 team in the league according to the oddsmakers. But Dallas would not be the betting favorite in nearly as many games if it weren’t for the 22-year-old phenom from Ljubljana, Slovenia.

giannis antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks – 2013 NBA Draft 1st round - #15 overall)

Affectionately known as the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, hailing from Athens, Greece, has accomplished more in his nine-year career than most players could ever dream. Still only 26-years-old, Antetokounmpo boasts a jaw-dropping resume that includes being named a 5x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA Most Valuable Player, and last season became an NBA champion for the first time in his career when the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns.

This year Milwaukee has struggled slightly in the early going, registering an 11-8 record but Giannis’s productivity has not wavered as evidenced by his 27.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 11.7 rebounds per game. If the Bucks are to repeat as world champs, then the Greek Freak will have to be at his level best. The way things are going, it looks like he is once again up to the task.

Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets – 2014 NBA Draft 2nd round - #41 overall)

Including the previous two mentioned, Nikola Jokic is the first, second, or third piece of the NBA’s holy trinity of international players depending on your perspective. For Nuggets fans he is numero uno and the reason Denver has the most competitive club they have assembled in years since he arrived in the Mile High City.

The Joker is a 3x NBA All-Star and last season’s Most Valuable Player. He stands 6’11”, was born in Sombor, Serbia, and was an absolute steal midway through the second round in the 2014 NBA Draft for the Nuggets. This season Jokic is in the midst of another MVP caliber season averaging 26.4 points, 6 assists, 9.9 rebounds, and nearly a block per game.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers – 2014 NBA Draft 1st round - #3 overall)

If we are having a conversation about the best international players currently plying their trade in the NBA then Joel Embiid is at or near the top of the list. Hailing from Yaoundé, Cameroon, the 27-year-old has been a force of nature since entering the league but polishing the nuances of his game has elevated him to an even higher level.

Last season, Embiid was the league’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 28.5 points per game and a half click ahead of fellow international superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was fifth with 28.1 points per game. This year Embiid has participated in only nine of the 76ers’ 19 games due to testing positive for COVID-19.

His absence has been much lengthier than originally thought but his return to action is looming and will give a boost to the team’s middling 10-9 record. Embiid is averaging 21.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocked shots over his nine appearances thus far but those numbers will surely rise once his seven-foot towering presence gets back to the hardcourt.

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