When an NBA team selects a foreign talent its fanbase is more often than not highly skeptical. For one, fans aren’t as familiar with foreign talents as they are with homegrown American talents. Secondly, foreign talents are more often than not looked at as high risk candidates who don’t possess the capability to excel in the NBA.
In 2015, the New York Knicks spent their lottery selection, the fourth overall pick, on Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis was showered with boos from the Knicks faithful. However, in retrospect, those same fans that wrote Porzingis off before he even stepped foot on the NBA hardwood are likely his biggest supporters today as Porzingis has been one of the Knicks few bright spots since his arrival in “Gotham City” in 2015.
In 2017, the New York Knicks also went the overseas route as they drafted French Point Guard Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick. Like Porzingis, Ntilikina did not receive a warm reception. But unlike Porzingis, the jury is still out on the new floor general for the Knicks as he’s yet to display his talents (or lack that thereof) in the NBA. Foreign talents have both excelled and disappointed in the NBA. Here, we look at eight busts and seven studs from overseas.
15. BUST: Mario Hezonja
Unlike the forenamed Kristaps Porzingis, the foreign talent taken directly after him, Mario Hezonja, has had nowhere near the career that “KP” has had thus far. Looked at as a future cornerstone for the Orlando Magic, Hezonja has been anything but that in his first two seasons in the NBA. Lauded for his ability to shoot from distance, Hezonja shot an uninspiring 34% in his rookie campaign and saw that number dip to 29% in his sophomore season. Hezonja hasn’t established himself as a starter for the Magic and has struggled to find a consistent role for the Magic as he plays behind Evan Fournier. At 22, the Croatian two-guard certainly has youth on his side, but his initial two years haven’t given fans of the Magic much to be excited for.
14. STUD: Manu Ginobili
Selected 57th overall in the 1999 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs really struck gold when they found one of the biggest steals in NBA Draft history with their selection of Argentinian Shooting Guard Manu Ginobili. Along with Tony Parker and Tony Parker, the trio created one of, if not the most successful trios in the NBA in the Y2K area. Ginobili is a four-time NBA Champion having hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014, a two-time NBA All-Star having been selected for the Western Conference All-Stars in 2005 and 2011 and the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2008. Ginobili may have only collected the Sixth Man of the Year award once, but he’s one of the greatest sixth men in NBA history. It isn’t a matter of if the Spurs will retire his number, but when they will retire it.
13. BUST: Jan Vesely
Taken sixth overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2011 NBA Draft, the 7’0” Czech big man Jan Vesely immediately gave Wizards fans something to be excited for when he made the bold proclamation of calling himself the “European Blake Griffin”. Unfortunately for Wizards fans Vesely, was nowhere close to being the player that Griffin was, and wasn’t even close to being a “diet” version of Griffin. Vesely never averaged more than 4.7 PPG and 4.4 PPG which he posted in his rookie season. By February of 2014, the Wizards decided that the Vesely experiment was a failure and they dealt him to Denver. Vesely finished the 2013-2014 season with the Nuggets and that was the conclusion of his NBA career. He’s played for Fenerbahce in Turkey ever since.
12. STUD: Tony Parker
The final pick of the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft (as a result of the Minnesota Timberwolves losing the 29th pick due to a salary cap violation), Tony Parker was selected by the San Antonio Spurs. Born in France, Parker’s been a key cog for the Spurs from the minute he sported the white, silver and black colors of the team. A four-time NBA Champion having collected rings in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014, Parker also boasts six All-Star selections having received the honor in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and having made the All-NBA Second Team in 2013, 2013 and 2014. The Frenchman is bound to see his jersey hanging in the rafters at the AT&T Center alongside the likes of Tim Duncan and David Robinson once he calls it a career.
11. BUST: Andrea Bargnani
The epitome of a defensive liability, Italian big man Andrea Bargnani was selected first overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2006 NBA Draft. To add salt to the wound, LaMarcus Aldridge was selected with the second overall pick; needless to say, this is one the Raptors surely wish they could do over. Bargnani was expected to be the franchise player for the Raptors and while he showed he possessed an ability to score (he averaged a career-high 21.4 PPG in 2010-2011), he was never close to establishing himself as a franchise player for Canada’s lone NBA franchise. Bargnani spent stints with both New York franchises, the Knicks and Nets, after his tenure in Toronto concluded in 2013, but was nothing more than a bench player. Bargnani last played in 2016-2017 in Spain for Saski Baskonia.
10. STUD: Pau Gasol
The 2001 NBA Draft can lay acclaim for arguably being the worst in NBA history when it comes to lottery picks. However, one name that doesn’t fit that criteria is Spanish power forward/center Pau Gasol. Drafted third overall by the Atlanta Hawks, Gasol never actually suited up for the Hawks as he was dealt on draft night for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. No disrespect to Abdur-Rahim, but this is one the Hawks would love to have back as Gasol is a two-time NBA Champion (2009 and 2010), six-time NBA All-Star (2006, 2009-2011, 2015 and 2016) and has made the All-NBA Second Team in 2011 and 2015. Not to mention, Gasol has a realistic shot at at least one of the following: having his number retired by the Memphis Grizzlies, having his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
9. BUST: Yi Jianlian
Fortunately for Yi Jianlian, he isn’t the biggest bust of the 2007 NBA Draft; that dishonor goes to former Ohio State center Greg Oden. Yi, having played previously for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China, was taken 7th-overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and was looked at as one who’d be a vital piece for both the present and future for the team that plays its home games in the state of Wisconsin. Initially, Yi didn’t want to play in Milwaukee due to the city not having a large Asian-American community. In retrospect, the Bucks probably wish they weren’t so high on Yi as he literally only lasted a season with the team before they shipped him off to the then New Jersey Nets. Yi only averaged double figures once in 2009-2010 for the Nets and was out of the NBA by the 2011-2012 season. He’s currently playing for the Southern Tigers, the team he got his start with prior to coming to the NBA.
8. STUD: Marc Gasol
When the Los Angeles Lakers selected Marc Gasol with the 48th overall pick in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft many were expecting him to be nothing more than Pau Gasol’s younger brother. For those who had that thought, the following DJ Khaled catchphrase is appropriate- “congratulations, you played yourself!” A three-time All-Star with selections in 2012, 2015 and 2017, an All-NBA First Team selection in 2015 and being named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 are just some of the impressive accolades on Gasol’s resume. When Pau was traded (ironically for Marc and others) to the Lakers, many thought the Lakers fleeced the Grizzlies. In retrospect, it’s a trade that worked out well for both as the Lakers won two rings with Pau, and Marc has kept the Grizzlies competitive throughout his tenure.
7. BUST: Yaroslav Korolev
Make no mistake, despite the Clippers having found a franchise player with their selection of Blake Griffin with the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, they are simply awful when it comes to drafting. It’s especially alarming considering prior to the Griffin/CP3 era, the team had a slew of lottery picks which they failed to capitalize on. One of those picks was Yaroslav Korolev. The Clips selected the Russian big man 12th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. Korolev ended up playing 34 games for the Clippers…in two seasons! Out of a possible 164 games, Korolev played in just thirty-four! With an average of 1.2 PPG and 0.4 RPG, is anyone surprised by hearing that Korolev only lasted two seasons in the NBA? The Clips waived Korolev in 2007 and he’s played overseas ever since.
6. STUD: Giannis Antetokounmpo
At just 22 years of age, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the leading candidates to win the 2017-2018 NBA MVP award and for good reason. Hailing from Greece and given arguably the greatest nickname in the NBA, “the Greek Freak”, Antetokounmpo has improved rapidly in each of his four years in the NBA. Last season, the Bucks experimented with Antetokounmpo as their starting point guard at times, and the man didn’t disappoint and likely even exceeded the expectations of teammates, management and head coach Jason Kidd. Antetokounmpo put up career highs all across the board with 22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.4 APG,1.6 SPG and 1.9 BPG. Antetokounmpo is a stat sheet stuffer and makes a mark in every major statistical category. The scary part is that he’s just 22 and isn’t even close to hitting his prime. The Bucks hit the jackpot when they selected Antetokounmpo 15th-overall in 2013.
5. BUST: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Drafted fifth overall in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, the seven-foot Georgian big man was an instantaneous disappointment for the “Mile High City” franchise. In his rookie campaign, Tskitishvili posted an uninspiring 3.9 PPG and 2.2 RPG. But, it gets worse as it only goes downhill from there. You see, that was actually the highest average for both points and rebounds per game that Tskitishvili ever posted in the NBA. In the middle of the 2004-2005 campaign, the Nuggets gave up on the big man and he was dealt to the Golden State Warriors. He only played in 12 games for the Dubs where he failed to establish himself as a player the franchise would wish to keep. By the 2005-2006 NBA season Tskitishvili was out of the NBA. Currently 34 years of age, Tskitishvili is still playing basketball, albeit overseas.
4. STUD: Yao Ming
He’s the only NBA Hall of Famer on this list having been enshrined in basketball’s Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts in 2016. However, rest assured Mr. Yao, there are quite a few names on this list that’ll be joining you in Springfield once they hang up their basketball sneakers (most notably a German sharpshooter). From Shanghai, China, Yao Ming was selected with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. Alongside Tracy McGrady, Yao and “T-Mac” were one of the NBA’s most exciting duos in the first decade of the Y2K era. Ming retired an eight-time NBA All-Star, a two-time All-NBA Second Team selection, a three-time All-NBA Third Team selection and has his number 11 hanging high in the rafters of Houston’s Toyota Center. With accolades like that it’s not hard to fathom why he’s the greatest player of Chinese descent to ever step foot in the NBA.
3. BUST: Darko Milicic
When you’re selected directly behind LeBron James and ahead of the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, you’re in the likes of elite company considering each and every one of the forenamed names has double-digit All-Star selections. In 2003, the Detroit Pistons used the second overall pick they obtained from the Memphis Grizzlies to select Serbian big man Darko Milicic. Not only is Milicic the biggest foreign bust of all-time, but he’s arguably the biggest bust of all-time and this mostly has to do with being selected before the likes of Anthony, Bosh and Wade. Milicic never averaged more than 8.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG and had a slew of chances to find an NBA team as he had stints with the Pistons, Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics. How much more can you ask for if you’re Milicic?
2. STUD: Dirk Nowitzki
He’s sixth all-time in NBA points scored behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain with a whopping 30,260 NBA points scored, he spearheaded the first NBA championship in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, he was named the NBA’s MVP in 2007, he’s a 13-time NBA All-Star, a four-time All-NBA First Team selection, a five-time All-NBA Second Team selection and that’s not even the end of it. Quite frankly, Dirk Nowitzki’s resume of accolades is endless as it’s just full of remarkable feats he’s reached in his 19-year (and counting) career. Nowitzki is the greatest Maverick of all-time, and the greatest player from Germany of all-time and the greatest player from overseas in NBA history. Number 41 will soon be hanging in the rafters at American Airlines Center.
1. BUST: Anthony Bennett
The 2013 NBA Draft was one of the few NBA Drafts in recent memory that didn’t feature a consensus number one pick. While a consensus number one pick didn’t exist, it was widely assumed that either Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, Indiana junior Victor Oladipo, or Georgetown freshman Otto Porter would go number one. One name that wasn’t expected to go number one was UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett, by way of Canada. The pick was looked at as a reach by the Cleveland Cavaliers and indeed it was. From 2013-2017, Bennett played for four NBA teams (Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets in that order) and two NBA G-League teams (Raptors 905 and Long Island Nets). Let’s just say it’s no surprise that he currently finds himself out of the NBA and is playing overseas for Fenerbahce.
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