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
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.
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
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.