With the best foreign NBA players like Luka, Embiid, Giannis, and Joker dominating the league, It’s hard not to notice how international players are influencing the NBA. If you have questions about which of the greats are from overseas and what they’ve managed to accomplish throughout their time in the NBA, you are in the right place. This article will outline who are the best international players in the NBA and what the best international stars have done.
How Many International NBA Players Are There?
So, just how many international NBA players are there? The NBA isn’t merely an American showpiece. A press release from the NBA in October 2022 states that 120 international players from a vast expanse of 40 countries will be on rosters for opening night of the 2022-23 NBA season. This influx of global talent, each with their unique style and essence, has enriched the league in more ways than one.
This story isn’t just about the numbers but about the game’s evolution, the strategies reshaped, and the worldwide influence of basketball. Visionary coaches, from Gregg Popovich’s ability to blend international talents into a cohesive unit to Phil Jackson’s knack for maximizing the potential of diverse players, have proven that the NBA’s heart beats globally.
The Best Retired International NBA Players
Many international greats have graced the NBA with their incredible skillsets, paving the way for the young bucks we enjoy watching today. Some of these guys were more influential than others, but we can’t say that they haven’t collectively left a positive mark on the game we all love.
1. Steve Nash (Canada)
NBA stats: Points: 14.3 PPG, Assists: 8.5 APG, Rebounds: 3.0 RPG.
Major accomplishments: 2-time MVP, 8-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, LA Lakers
Iconic factor: Nash transformed the point guard position. Not just his wizardry with the ball, but his leadership and ability to make those around him better resonated globally. He inspired countless young players, bridging the gap between North American and international basketball with every no-look pass and behind-the-back dribble.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
NBA stats: Points: 21.8 PPG, Rebounds: 11.1 RPG, Blocks: 3.1 BPG.
Major accomplishments: 2-time NBA champion, 12-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors
Iconic factor: Hakeem’s “Dream Shake” is more than a signature move. It’s a testament to finesse over brute strength. He stood as a beacon of what was achievable for international players, from Africa to the NBA’s brightest lights.
3. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
NBA stats: Points: 20.7 PPG, Rebounds: 7.5 RPG, Assists: 2.4 APG.
Major accomplishments: 2011 NBA champion, 14-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Dallas Mavericks
Iconic factor: Dirk’s influence on the game is undeniable. He shifted the paradigm for what a seven-footer could accomplish, introducing a finesse game from the perimeter and forever changing the blueprint for big men in basketball.
4. Manu Ginóbili (Argentina)
NBA stats: Points: 13.3 PPG, Assists: 3.8 APG, Rebounds: 3.5 RPG.
Major accomplishments: 4-time NBA champion, 2-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: San Antonio Spurs
Iconic factor: Ginóbili, with a game imbued with South American zest, brought an electrifying style to the NBA. His unorthodox moves, including the now widely used Eurostep, brought a fresh and unpredictable edge to the Spurs’ offense, making them one of the most dynamic teams of the era.
5. Tony Parker (France)
NBA stats: Points: 15.5 PPG, Assists: 5.6 APG, Rebounds: 2.7 RPG.
Major accomplishments: 4-time NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP (2007), 6-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets
Iconic factor: In the heart of Texas, a Frenchman led the charge of the Spurs dynasty. Parker’s teardrop shots and unparalleled speed made him a nightmare for defenses. Off the court, his journey underscored the merging of European flair with American athleticism, epitomizing the NBA’s global era.
6. Pau Gasol (Spain)
NBA stats: Points: 17.0 PPG, Rebounds: 9.2 RPG, Assists: 3.2 APG.
Major accomplishments: 2-time NBA champion, 6-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Memphis Grizzlies, LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks.
Iconic factor: Pau brought European sophistication to the NBA hardwood. His seamless blend of traditional post-play with an outside game paved the way for the modern NBA’s versatile big men.
7. Dražen Petrović (Croatia)
NBA stats: Points: 15.4 PPG, Assists: 2.4 APG, Rebounds: 2.3 RPG.
Major accomplishments: Named to the All-NBA Third Team in 1993.
Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets.
Iconic factor: Before his untimely demise, Petrović was lighting up the NBA, serving as a beacon for European guards. His tenacity and raw scoring ability showcased the European potential on the global stage.
8. Yao Ming (China)
NBA stats: Points: 19.0 PPG, Rebounds: 9.2 RPG, Blocks: 1.9 BPG.
Major accomplishments: 8-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Houston Rockets.
Iconic factor: Beyond his on-court skills, Yao’s influence in making basketball a global phenomenon, especially in Asia, is immeasurable. He brought the NBA to China and vice versa, forever intertwining the two basketball cultures.
9. Patrick Ewing (Jamaica)
NBA stats: Points: 21.0 PPG, Rebounds: 9.8 RPG, Blocks: 2.4 BPG.
Major accomplishments: 11-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics, Orlando Magic.
Iconic factor: Ewing’s relentless work ethic and dominance in the paint made him iconic in the NBA. While championships eluded him, his influence as a premier center of his era remains steadfast.
10. Peja Stojaković (Serbia)
NBA stats: Points: 17.0 PPG, Rebounds: 4.7 RPG, Assists: 1.8 APG.
Major accomplishments: 3-time NBA All-Star, NBA champion in 2011.
Teams: Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks.
Iconic factor: Stojaković was more than just a sharpshooter; he was a trailblazer. His prowess from beyond the arc made teams rethink defensive schemes, marking the beginning of the league’s shift towards valuing the three-pointer.
11. Detlef Schrempf (Germany)
NBA stats: Points: 13.9 PPG, Rebounds: 6.2 RPG, Assists: 3.4 APG.
Major accomplishments: 3-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers.
Iconic factor: In a time when international players were still trying to carve a niche in the NBA, Schrempf was already a mainstay. His versatility made him invaluable, and his success laid the groundwork for future European NBA stars.
12. Vlade Divac (Serbia)
NBA stats: Points: 11.8 PPG, Rebounds: 8.2 RPG, Assists: 3.1 APG.
Major accomplishments: NBA All-Star in 2001.
Teams: LA Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings.
Iconic factor: Divac was not just a player but a maestro in the post. His passing abilities were unparalleled for a player of his size, and his basketball IQ was off the charts. Vlade represented the quintessential European big man: skilled, smart, and always team-first.
13. Toni Kukoč (Croatia)
NBA stats: Points: 11.6 PPG, Rebounds: 4.2 RPG, Assists: 3.7 APG.
Major accomplishments: 3-time NBA champion.
Teams: Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks.
Iconic factor: Toni’s flexibility on the court made him the perfect sixth man during the Bulls’ dominance in the ’90s. His clutch performances and ability to adapt made him an integral part of the Bulls’ second three-peat.
14. Andrei Kirilenko (Russia)
NBA stats: Points: 11.8 PPG, Rebounds: 5.5 RPG, Blocks: 1.8 BPG.
Major accomplishments: NBA All-Star in 2004.
Teams: Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets.
Iconic factor: “AK-47” was a dynamic two-way player known for his shot-blocking and defensive prowess. Kirilenko showcased the rise of versatile international talents who could defend multiple positions and contribute offensively.
15. Dikembe Mutombo (D.R. Congo)
NBA stats: Points: 9.8 PPG, Rebounds: 10.3 RPG, Blocks: 2.8 BPG.
Major accomplishments: 4-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 8-time NBA All-Star.
Teams: Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets.
Iconic factor: Mutombo’s finger wag after a block is the stuff of legends. Beyond his defensive acumen, Dikembe’s humanitarian endeavors off the court further etched his global legacy.
The Best Current NBA International Players
There hasn’t been a drop off of international tallet to carry on the baton from those that came before them. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the complete opposite. A tremendous number of international stars are currently doing damage in the league. The leaders of this international force include superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Karl Anthony Towns, and Nikola Jokić. They aren’t the only international greats that lace ‘em up every night, though.
Let’s look at some of the best international stars in the NBA.
16. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Greek
NBA stats: Points: 22.6 Rebounds: 9.6 Assists: 4.7
Major accomplishments: 2021 NBA champion, 2021 NBA Finals MVP, two times NBA MVP, seven times NBA All-Star, five times All-NBA First Team, 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks
Iconic factor: Giannis isn’t nicknamed The Greek Freak for nothing. Giannis’ athleticism has made him a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. He is amazing at protecting the rim, and on the opposite end, he can score at the rim at will. Teams must adopt a “build a wall” strategy to keep him at bay.
17. Rudy Gobert – French
NBA stats: Points: 12.5 Rebounds: 11.6 Blocks: 2.1
Major accomplishments: 3 times NBA All-Star, three times NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2022 NBA rebounding leader, 2017 NBA blocks leader
Teams: Utah Jaz, Minnesota Timberwolves
Iconic factor: The Stifel Tower made his name as a shot-swatting big man. He hasn’t been able to carve out a name for himself on the offensive end, but he is still playing, so who knows what the future holds.
18. Luka Dončić – Slovenian
NBA stats: Points: 27.6 Rebounds: 8.6 Assists: 8
Major accomplishments: 4 times NBA All-Star, 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year
Teams: Dallas Mavericks
Iconic factor: When he entered the league, you couldn’t tell his age just by looking at his play. Luka was skilled way beyond his years when he came over from Europe, where he played with older, more mature players for years. Luka is a walking bucket, an offensive mastermind even.
19. Nikola Jokić – Serbian
NBA stats: Points: 20.2 Rebounds: 10.5 Assists: 6.6
Major accomplishments: 2023 NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, two times NBA MVP, five times NBA All-Star
Teams: Denver Nuggets
Iconic factor: The Joker silenced all the doubters when he won his first NBA title and the first one for the Denver Nuggets. Nikola is a prototype big, slowly revolutionizing the game with his point guard play from the center position. The Denver offense runs through the Joker. This man is a walking triple-double who seems to be able to do it all. He can score from the block, the mid-range, and the three.
20. Joel Embiid – Cameroonian
NBA stats: Points: 27.2 Rebounds: 11.2 Assists: 3.4
Major accomplishments: 2023 NBA Most Valuable Player, six times NBA All-Star, two times NBA scoring champion
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers
Iconic factor: Joel is one of the few big men that are bringing back the traditional center role but adding his own flare to the equation. He can bang on the block with the rest of them but also step out and make jumpers.
21. Karl-Anthony Towns – Dominican
NBA stats: Points: Rebounds: Assists:
Major accomplishments: 3 times NBA All-Star, 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2022 NBA Three-Point Contest champion
Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves
Iconic factor: KAT has been working meticulously to make himself known as one of, if not the best, shooting big in the league. With made shot after made shot, he has been writing his story in this way. He won the 2022 NBA three-point contest, making him the first true center to do this.
22. Serge Ibaka – Congolese
NBA stats: Points: Rebounds: Assists:
Major accomplishments: 2019 NBA champion, two times NBA blocks leader
Teams: OKC, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, L.A. Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks
Iconic factor: Serge Iblack-ya is one of the best shot blockers in the history of the game. His defense anchored one of the best OKC teams.
Other notable international players include 23. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Canadian, 24. Danilo Gallinari – Italian, and 25. Marc Gasol – Spanish.
Wrapping Things Up: The 25 Best International Players in the NBA
Overseas NBA players have not only increased in numbers, but they’ve also significantly increased the influence of international stars on fans around the world. With so many players from so many countries playing in the NBA, the game is getting easier to spread in hard-to-reach places. A lot of work still needs to be done to make the game a truly global sport, but many steps are being taken in the right direction.
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