Players from across the globe are taking their talents to the NBA. When the draft is held each summer, most fans expect a few things: a trade or two, fans displaying their disapproval of a draft pick, (I’m talking to you, Kristaps Porzingis kid) and teams selecting foreign players that nobody but hardcore fans have heard about. The spectrum of opinions for these prospects is wide; coaches and scouts often seem enamored with the size, talent, and perceived potential of international players. Others tend to shy away from them because of their lack of playing time in America or lackluster stats overseas. For example, Dragan Bender was selected 4th overall in this summer’s draft, but averaged a mere 4.7 points per game in Israel in 2015-16. Kristaps Porzingis averaged fewer than 5 rebounds per game overseas in 2014-15, despite standing at 7’1. Sixteen players were selected directly from overseas in the 2016 NBA Draft, good for over a quarter of all selections. Many foreign players wind up in free agency after a few years, burdening themselves with the label, “bust.” Conversely, there are quite a few overseas players who have cemented themselves as quality NBA players. The following list includes 15 of the latter.
15. Rudy Gobert
Career Stats: 7.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 BPG
–Drafted 27th overall in 2013–
Only three years into his career, the “Stifle Tower” has made a name for himself in the NBA. Gobert has carved out a niche on the Jazz as a rim protector and rebounding threat. He has an absolutely colossal wingspan of 7 feet, 8.5 inches, which helped him record 2.3 blocks per game over the past two seasons. His arms are so long that he’s capable of grabbing a rebound even when his man is boxing him out. Although he’s consistent on defense, he’s unpolished offensively. Outside of second-chance points off an offensive rebound or a dunk, his offensive game is limited. Before coming to the NBA, Gobert played in France, averaging over 13 points per game to go with three blocks per 36 minutes. Initially, Gobert found himself on Utah’s D-league affiliate. Gobert quickly proved he belonged in the NBA after eight games, averaging over 13 points, 11 boards, and three blocks per contest. Gobert turned 24 in June, meaning he has plenty of time to improve.
14. Leandro Barbosa
Career Stats: 11 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.2 APG
–Drafted 28th overall in 2003–
The Spurs originally drafted Barbosa, but traded his rights to the Suns for a first round pick. That pick ended up being David Lee, who had a solid career as a starter with three different teams. With that being said, the Suns were likely happy with the Brazilian Guard’s production. In seven seasons as a Sun, Barbosa averaged 12.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Aside from winning a championship with the Warriors in 2014-15, Barbosa’s greatest NBA accomplishment is winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2006-07, posting career highs in points (18.1) and assists (4). Barbosa was a crucial piece of Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense in the mid-2000’s. He garnered the nickname “Brazilian Blur” because of his insane speed. In his prime, he was known for finishing at the rim while going full speed, something that cannot be done by most NBA players.
13. Boris Diaw
Career Stats: 8.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG
–Drafted 21st overall in 2003–
One of the most versatile journeymen in the NBA, Diaw has consistently produced on championship-caliber teams. He’s also shown he can put up numbers on a losing squad. Like Barbosa, Diaw’s versatility was a large part of what made the run-n-gun Suns so special. In three seasons in Phoenix, he averaged 10 points, five boards and five assists per game. He was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012 after a mere 22 games, but finished among the Bobcats’ top three in points, rebounds and assists per game by the time the season was over. A reserved and typically calm player, Diaw has never complained about playing time or made headlines for off-the-court reasons. He has accepted the role of a starter, as well as one coming off the bench. Diaw’s play with the second unit helped the Spurs make a deep playoff run in 2014 that ended with his Spurs hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
12. Kristaps Porzingis
Career Stats: 14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.9 BPG
–Drafted 4th overall in 2015–
The kid seen crying over a year ago on draft night wearing a Kristaps Porzingis jersey certainly isn’t crying anymore –well, unless he’s a Knicks fan. The 7’3 Latvian had a productive start to his rookie season, averaging 13.9 points, 7.7 boards and 1.2 blocks before the all-star break, all while shooting 35 percent from downtown. Analysts and fans alike had their doubts about Porzingis’ ability to rebound against NBA athletes, but seven boards per game isn’t bad for a stretch four who doesn’t camp underneath the basket. He needs to bulk up if he wants to get better defensively in the post, but he has the length to block shots even after being outmuscled. He has shown flashes of high basketball I.Q. with proper spacing on offense, and seems to know when to cut across the lane or to the basket. He’s quick for someone as tall as Hasheem Thabeet, making him a versatile weapon on high ball screens; he can roll to the basket after setting the pick or he can pop out to the wing and shoot the three. Porzingis is a young player to keep an eye on over the next few seasons.
11. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Career Stats: 12.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.9 APG
–Drafted 15th overall in 2015–
The “Greek Freak” has the most fitting nickname in the NBA. At 21 years of age, Antetokounmpo stands at 6’11 with a ridiculous 7’4 wingspan. His long, lanky body type has raised Kevin Durant comparisons, but those seem a little far-fetched. Durant is a far better ball handler and shooter. With that being said, Antetokounmpo should make steady progress in those areas as his career continues. Antetokounmpo thrives on the fast-break more than most, if not all players in the NBA. With a few strides, he’s able to cross the whole court and finish at the rim thanks to his length, hand size and athleticism. Antetokounmpo showed development all the way across the board last year: He displayed progress in his post moves and averaged career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. He has some work to do on his outside shot, as he hit only a quarter of his threes, but Antetokounmpo is going to be an incredibly special player someday.
Career Stats: 12.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2 APG
–Drafted 7th overall in 2002–
Nene has been a consistent, serviceable big man in the NBA since he was drafted from Brazil with the seventh pick in 2002. Nene spent his first nine seasons in Denver, where he made a name for himself as a solid center who was all but guaranteed to score 12-plus points, grab a few rebounds and shoot at a high percentage. He was explosive in his years with the Nuggets and used his brute strength to score inside. Injuries have plagued his career; he’s missed at least 25 games in five of his 14 seasons in the league. On the positive side, he’s averaged double-digit points in 10 of those seasons. One reason he’s a respected NBA vet is because he’s been a starting center on 10 playoff teams throughout his career. No, he doesn’t have gaudy numbers that jump out when you look at the box score, but he’s been a consistent contributor on a couple handfuls of playoff teams. Even this late in his career, Nene finds himself filling in with Clint Capela for the Dwight Howard-less Rockets, a team that’s made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.
9. Nicolas Batum
Career Stats: 11.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG 3.4 APG
–Drafted 25th overall in 2008–
Batum is coming off a career year in which he averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. Batum played three years in France before making his debut in 2008. He’s known as a do-it-all type of player, as evidenced by his seven statsheet-stuffing years as a Trailblazer. Batum was also a key contributor in France’s run in the 2014 FIBA Basketball Cup, highlighted by a 35-point outburst against silver medalist Serbia. Batum is considered a valuable weapon because of his passing ability from the wing. He excels at entry passes to post players, and also has a nice jumper, though he is a streaky shooter. Batum was one of the first free agents to earn a new contract in 2016, raking in a massive 120 million dollar contract over five years. Batum appears this high on the list because of his consistent production over the past six years or so, and the fact that he’s locked into what looks like a playoff team for the next few years.
8. Ricky Rubio
Career Stats: 10.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.3 APG
–Drafted 5th overall in 2009–
Years before he was drafted, Rubio was known as a 16-year old point guard prodigy from Spain. He caught attention of scouts and fans with his flashy passing and high basketball I.Q. His 6’4 frame helps him generate contact and get to the foul line when driving to the basket. His physical presence also aids his defense; Rubio has finished second in the league in steals in three of the past four seasons. He has averaged at least two steals per game in all but one season of his career. Not many players put up the combination of numbers Rubio does, but he can elevate his reputation by becoming a better shooter and finisher. Rubio has never shot over 40 percent from the field in his career, which is a huge red flag for a starting point guard. Unfortunately for Rubio, the Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn in June’s draft, which likely means his tenure in Minnesota is over, unless Minnesota decides to shop Dunn for Butler. This seems unlikely, however, as those rumors have died down.
7. Goran Dragic
Career Stats: 12.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
–Drafted 45th overall in 2008–
Dragic has had a bit of a rollercoaster career, but has cemented himself as an All-Star-worthy point guard. Dragic benefited from backing up Steve Nash for the first two years of his career in Phoenix. In 2009-10, his second year in the desert, before being traded to Houston, Dragic put up one of the most impressive fourth quarters in recent playoff memory. Up 2-0 in the Western Semis against the Spurs, Dragic and the suns entered the fourth quarter trailing by one point. San Antonio was seeking its first win of the series. Dragic was looking to score. Dragic, who went the entire first half without a point, exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 23 of his 26 points against the team that drafted him. Dragic was traded to Houston the next season, where he played for two years before Phoenix once again traded for him. The Slovenian has gained more recognition recently as an All-Star caliber point guard; he won the NBA’s Most Improved player award in 2013-14 to go along with a spot on the All-NBA third team, posting averages of 20/3/6.
6. Luis Scola
Career Stats: 12.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG
–Drafted 55th overall in 2002–
Of all the names on this list, Scola’s might raise the most eyebrows. Perhaps more well-known for his hair than his play –by this generation’s fans– Scola was a force to be reckoned with in the paint. in 2010-11, Scola averaged a career-high 18.3 points per game, outscoring players like Joe Johnson, Tony Parker, and DeMar DeRozan. Scola made his NBA debut in 2007-08, but played seven seasons in Spain before coming to the U.S. In his first five seasons with the Rockets, Scola averaged 14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and a pair of assists per game. Scola has seen his production drop since leaving Houston, but has remained a quality post player. He started for a Toronto team that made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. When his career is completed, Scola will go down as one of the league’s most underrated players, foreign or not.
5. Serge Ibaka
Career Stats: 11.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG
–Drafted 24th overall in 2008–
One of the most surprising things about shot-blocking specialist Serge Ibaka is the fact that he’s only 26. Ibaka quickly developed a reputation as an elite rim protector, finishing in the NBA’s top three in blocks per game for five of the past six seasons. Ibaka has increased his offensive repertoire since coming into the league, adding an offensive game that includes an outside jumper. Ibaka’s newfound stroke helped OKC make a deep run in the 2016 playoffs, shooting a scorching 45 percent from outside in 18 games. Ibaka will have to adjust to new surroundings in 2016-17, as he was included on a draft day trade that sent him to Orlando for Victor Oladipo. Ibaka will join newly signed Bismack Biyombo along with talented scorer Nikola Vucevic in the front court. As mentioned previously, Ibaka is only 26, so there’s a good chance his best years are ahead of him. Look for Ibaka to be a crucial component of the Magic’s rebuilding process.
4. Marc Gasol
Career Stats: 14.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.1 APG
–Drafted 48th overall in 2007–
Gasol experienced a meteoric rise to stardom in his first few years in the NBA, granting him the opportunity to start in an All-Star game against his older brother Pau in 2015. Gasol has spent his entire career in Memphis and has been the defensive anchor of their “Grit-n-Grind” motto that has propelled them into the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. Gasol was credited for his defensive abilities in 2012-2013 with the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Outside of blocking shots and being a good communicator on defense, Gasol excels at scoring in the paint. When Gasol has the ball in the post, defenders have to key up on him, which opens up opportunities for other players. One of Gasol’s best skills is his passing ability; he averaged 3.8 assists per game from 2012-2016, a remarkable figure for any post player, let alone a 7’1 center. Pair that with his high free throw percentage of 76 and you have a center with a unique combination of skills. Gasol has been successful playing for Spain in the Olympic Games as well, garnering a silver medal in each of the past two.
3. Yao Ming
Career Stats: 19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG
–Drafted 1st overall in 2002–
Ming was the most popular player in the NBA during his eight-year career and to this day has countless fans in China. Ming started his professional basketball career as a member of the Shanghai Sharks before the Rockets drafted him first overall in 2001. Ming’s extraordinary height of 7’6 made him a can’t-miss talent. Standing at 7’7 each, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan are the only players taller than Ming to played in the NBA. In this league, the amount of championships you win largely dictates your legacy. Ming never won a championship with the Rockets, but he had a spectacular NBA career, though it was a relatively short one. Ming had an absolutely dominant stretch of 160 games spanning from 2005-08, averaging an eye-popping 23 points, 11 boards and 2 blocks. Not to be forgotten, Ming was an outstanding free throw shooter, putting the ball in the hole from the charity stripe at an 83 percent clip throughout his career, a figure that is unprecedented for a player of his size. Foot and ankle injuries shortened the eight-time all-star’s career, which leaves us to wonder how many more seasons of productive play Ming had left. While we’ll never know the answer, we do know that Ming was an unforgettable player who vastly expanded the NBA’s fandom.
2. Pau Gasol
Career Stats: 18.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.3 APG
–Drafted 3rd overall in 2001–
The older Gasol brother finds himself ranked higher than his brother for two reasons: 15 years of play at a high level, and of course, championships. In 15 years in the NBA, Gasol has failed to average 15/7 once. Gasol is one of the few standout players from the 2001 draft class and won rookie of the year in his first season in Memphis, averaging 17 points, 9 boards and 2 blocks per game. Gasol’s passing and shooting ability will likely extend his career a season or two; a center who can do more than score in the paint and grab rebounds is incredibly valuable. Gasol was sent to the Lakers as part of a blockbuster trade in 2008 that sent Kwame Brown, a couple of future draft picks and the rights to Marc Gasol to Memphis. The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals in each of Gasol’s first three seasons with the team, ending the season as champions in 2009 and 2010. Gasol signed a two year, 30 million dollar deal with the Spurs in July, giving him a solid chance to add a third ring to his collection this upcoming season. It will be hard to trounce the newly bolstered Warriors in the Western Conference, but if we’ve learned anything about the Spurs the past few seasons, we know not to count them out.
1. Tony Parker
Career Stats: 16.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.9 APG
–Drafted 28th overall in 2001–
What more can you ask of a starting point guard? Parker has been one of the league’s unsung heroes since he came into the league from France in 2001. Known for his crafty passing and finishing, Parker has remained a valuable component of the Spurs’ continuous success. He has made the playoffs every year of his career and reached the NBA finals five times, walking away with four championships and a Finals MVP award for his efforts against the Lebron-led Cavaliers in 2006-07. Shooting the long ball was one of Parker’s weaknesses over his first decade in the league, shooting 31 percent from three over that span. Parker has improved upon that aspect of his game, shooting 39 percent from deep in four seasons since. When it’s all said and done, the Spurs’ big three of Parker, Duncan and Ginobli will go down as one of the best of all-time. We seem to take the Spurs’ winning ways for granted, but the NBA might have one less dynasty if San Antonio didn’t have Parker running the point.
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