The NBA has evolved into a league that has expanded outside the boundaries of the United States of America. David Stern, who was notorious for being criticized frequently, played a huge role in helping the league become a phenomenon around the world. David Stern said that “together with our friends at FIBA we go all over the world,” and individuals such as Dikembe Mutombo, Yao Ming, and many others continue to help the NBA grow through the basketball without borders program. The first crop of international stars were inspired by The Dream Team, who participated in the 1992 Olympics in Madrid. This team is often times said to be the greatest team ever assembled. The Dream Team was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
The NBA, at the start of the 2015-16 season had as many as 100 international players in the league, who hail from 37 countries and territories. The NBA press release announced, “There are a record 10 African and a record nine Brazilian players on opening night rosters.” This shows that the NBA has grown outside of Europe, where most of the early international NBA players were coming from. The NBA continues to not only grow internationally, but also the international players in today's NBA are more skilled than the international players that the fan has seen in the past. You have your young international stars such as Kristaps Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins representing the new age of international basketball icons. There are also the older foreign stars such as Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol who continue to play at a high level despite being in the league for over 10 years. Here is a list of the top 15 international players in the NBA today, who continue to prove that the NBA more than ever has expanded outside of the United States of America.
15 Tony Parker - San Antonio Spurs
Tony parker is not the player that he once was, but he still means a lot to a Spurs team that has not lost at home all season. He is thirty-three years old, but has proven to be reliable this year by playing in sixty six games so far this season. He is averaging twelve points and five assists per game so far this season. These numbers are down from where they used to be, but Tony Parker always seems to play his best during the playoffs. It is because of his clutch play, that he finds himself still among the top fifteen international players in the NBA today.
14 Nikola Jokic - Denver Nuggets
The rookie from Serbia cracks the list. This kid is turning out to be a steal in the draft for the Denver Nuggets. He is easily a top five rookie in the league this season, and may even be better than the Denver Nuggets first pick Emmanuel Mudiay. He gives the Nuggets a much needed consistent rebounding presence. Jokic also has a decent offensive game, which has improved tremendously from the start of the season till now. Currently Jokic is averaging ten points per game and six and a half rebounds per game. Jokic’s numbers have been steadily improving as he’s been getting more playing time recently.
13 Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs
The big fundamental seems to never slow down. The big man from the U.S. Virgin Islands still plays a vital role in helping the Spurs win on a nightly basis. His scoring is down this year to nine points per game, but the Spurs are still one of the best teams in the NBA. Duncan is also a very reliable defender for a man who is almost 40 years old, and still gets around eight rebounds per game. Although his numbers do not pop out at you, it would be a disservice to leave arguably the best power forward to ever play off this list.
12 Goran Dragic - Miami Heat
Goran Dragic could potentially be much higher on the list. He certainly is paid like someone who should be much higher on this list. He played closes to an all-star level while he was on the Phoenix Suns last year. He was then traded to the Miami heat mid season, but has not played at the level he was playing at for the Phoenix Suns. He is still producing fourteen points and six assists a game, which is very respectable. He is good at facilitating the Miami Heat offense, and he has always had the ability to knock down an outside jump shot when given space.
11 Ricky Rubio - Minnesota Timberwolves
There are nights where Ricky Rubio fills up the stat sheet, but there are also some nights where he is not too involved in the game. Rubio has not had much talent around him during his career in Minnesota. That seems to be changing with all the young talent the Timberwolves are starting to accumulate. Rubio averages nine assists a game, which helps Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns, and Zach Levine consistently score in the Timberwolves offense. Rubio averages ten points per game, which is commendable due to all the scorers that the Timberwolves already have on their team.
10 Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The young man from France has become a defensive stud in the paint. He has an enormous wingspan, which makes blocking shots for him fairly easy. He averages a beastly two blocks per game. He also rebounds the ball with fluidity. He hauls in on average eleven rebounds a game. The only area of his game that can be considered a weakness would be his offensive game. He only averages nine points a game, and the Utah Jazz are not exactly stacked with scoring options. Gobert is playing his second season in the NBA currently, so there is still time for him to improve offensive game.
9 Serge Ibaka - Oklahoma City Thunder
Serge Ibaka is another international player whose stats this season are not as good as in seasons past. He is still a very good stretch four. When Ibaka first came into the league he did not have much of a jump shot, but during his six-year career he has added a nice outside shot. This makes Ibaka much tougher to defend, but with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on his team the Thunder don’t need him to score twenty points a game. He averages thirteen points a game and seven rounds per game this year. Serge has always been a ferocious shot blocker, and has continued to be one this season averaging two blocks a game.
8 Kristaps Porzingis - New York Knicks
At the beginning of the 2015-16 NBA season, not many would have thought Kristaps Porzingis would already be a top ten international player in the NBA. Porzingis has exceeded the expectations of many. He has given Knicks fans something to be excited about for the future, and can be considered one of the best rookies the NBA has produced this season. He averages fourteen points a game, which is the most surprising considering many had doubts about whether Porzingis would be able to reliably score in the NBA. He has also averaged seven rebounds and two blocks per game.
Porzingis is fun to watch. One moment he’s knocking down a three pointer, next he is blocking shots at the other end of the floor, and later on he is grabbing an offensive rebound and slamming it back in bringing fans at Madison Square Garden to their feet.
7 Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
He may be a seasoned veteran, but the big man from Germany has still got game. Dirk Nowitzki was one of the first seven footers that could hit an outside jump shot with ease. Picture a man seven feet tall fading away from the basket from twenty feet away, and the shot goes up and swishes in. It is near impossible to defend Dirk, and at his age he is still putting up points. He is averaging close to nineteen points per game. That is actually an improvement from last season when he averaged seventeen points per game. He grabs almost seven rebounds a game, and at thirty eight can still get a block from time to time.
6 Nicolas Batum - Charlotte Hornets
Nicolas Batum has been having a great year in his first year in Charlotte. The small forward from France has played a large role in the Hornets playoff push this season, and the Hornets may be a sleeper to win a round in the playoffs. Batum can contribute in a variety of ways, whether it is scoring rebounding, or assisting. Defensively Batum has length that can keep teams opposing wings off balance. It is fair to say that the Hornets are very pleased with the 15 points per game that Batum averages, and also appreciative of the six rebounds and six assists he contributes per game.
5 Andrew Wiggins - Minnesota Timberwolves
Andrew Wiggins was the coveted player of the 2014 NBA draft, and was selected number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Canadian was then traded to the Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. Wiggins has proven to be a scorer in this league. Many thought he was passive while playing at Kansas, but Wiggins now looks determined to score as much as he can to help his team win. In his second season he is already averaging twenty-one points per game. He can aggressively drive to the basket, and he can knockdown a mid range jump shot gracefully. Do not be surprised if Wiggins moves up this list in the near future.
4 Al Horford - Atlanta Hawks
Early in his career, Al Horford seemed to be injury plagued, but the past two seasons have been good for the big man from the Dominican Republic. He has a nice mid range game, but can also score inside. Horford has played a big role in the Hawks being a dominant team in the eastern conference the last two seasons. He is averaging 15 points per game and seven rebounds per game so far this season. He has also been named an all star four times including this year. Al Horford will play a big role in whether the Hawks can make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year.
3 Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol sadly is out for the rest of the season this year, but last year he was arguably an MVP candidate. Early on in his career there were a lot of doubt about whether or not he could become a star like his brother Pau had. Marc now is one of the top big men in the game. He works very well with his back to the basket, but is very capable of hitting a mid range jump shot. Before his injury, Marc was averaging almost 17 points per game, seven rebounds per game, and four assists per game.
2 Pau Gasol - Chicago Bulls
Pau Gasol has been the NBA for 14 years now, and he still puts up monster numbers. The Chicago Bulls as a team have struggled mightily. Pau Gasol certainly has not been the reason why. Pau is averaging almost eighteen points per game this season, and can score on the inside and from the outside. He also is a big time rebounder averaging eleven rebounds per game. The part of Pau Gasol’s game that often goes unnoticed is his ability to defend. Pau plays the role of rim protector for the Bulls by averaging two blocks per game this season. Hopefully the play of the Chicago Bulls do not bring down the production of Pau Gasol.
1 Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak has been turning many heads so far this season. He has even been playing the point guard position a little this year. Giannis is lengthy and quick, making him an excellent on the ball defender. He average close to seventeen points a game for a Bucks team that does not scare many teams offensively. He also averages close to seven rebounds a game and four assists per game. If he continues to play the point his assist total will most likely go up.
Giannis is extremely athletic making driving to the basket simple, and he can also knock down a jump shot if given space. He has only been in the league for two years, but the future is very bright for him.