The 2016 NBA Draft saw a host of internationally born talents join the greatest basketball league on the planet (including number one overall pick Ben Simmons who hails from Australia) and each of them hope to one day prove that they are indeed worthy of joining not only the ranks of the NBA’s greatest all-time players but the illustrious group of international talent that have helped turn basketball into a truly global game. Players like Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili and Steve Nash have proven that the globe is teeming with international basketball talent capable of forever changing the game.
However, not every foreign NBA player is quite so lucky. Every now and then, the NBA collectively becomes obsessed with a particular piece of foreign talent that seems to be a rare prospect. Though some came up through the college ranks in America, others never set foot in the country a day in their lives much less ever competed against American talent. What all of these players have in common, though, is that they ultimately proved that sometimes the term “international sensation” is just code for “international sensationalism.” They are the 15 worst foreign NBA players of all time.
15 15. Oleksiy Pecherov
Although a player’s looks have no bearing on their actual ability (if they did, then the human toothpick Kevin Durant would probably have been a major bust) and it’s generally inadvisable to harp on someone’s physical appearance unless you’d like them to do the same, it still must be said that Oleksiy Pecherov looks exactly like Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin. Somewhere early in his NBA career, Pecherov was plagued with this comparison and it refused to go away. While Pecherov could have turned the joke around through stellar NBA play, this Ukranian power forward didn’t exactly set the court on fire.
14 14. Uwe Blab
13 13. D.J. Mbenga
D.J. Mbenga’s off the court life is a fascinating story. Born Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, D.J. grew up in the present day Republic of Congo when it was known as Kinshasa. His father worked as a government employee which turned out to be a rather unfortunate position to hold when the new regime took power and imprisoned Mbenga’s entire family. Eventually, D.J. and his family would escape to Belgium where D.J. learned to play basketball. Unfortunately, Mbenga’s on the court career is a significantly less enthralling tale.
12 12. Hasheem Thabeet
11 11. Yaroslav Korolev
When a player earns the “high-risk, high-reward” tag as a prospect, many people take that to mean that you’ve got about a 50/50 shot of them turning into a bust or an all-time great. In reality, that tag more often translates into “Theoretically good, but probably not.” For an example, consider the case of Yaroslav Korolev. Many coaches fell in love with Korolev who was touted as a five-tool player during his days in the European system. Everyone knew the warning signs surrounding this player (too young, no real competition, unproven in an NBA system, etc.) but there were just some coaches that couldn’t help but believe they were the ones that could mold this player into greatness.
10 10. Stojko Vrankovic
When you talk about the full career of Stojko Vrankovic, it’s almost as if you are talking about the career of two different men entirely. Vrankovic’s international work is a spectacular tale of athletic achievement and dazzling moments. Early on in his playing days, this Croation sensation established himself as one of the best shot blockers in the world, period. He not only put up incredible defensive numbers during his EuroBasket days but created a series of moments that will forever be etched into the minds of the fans who witnessed him during this time. The man is a bonafide international hero.
9 8. Jerome Moiso
If you’re scratching your head right now wondering who Jerome Moiso is, then you’ve essentially answered why he is on this list. Once upon a time this power forward/center from France was another in a line of highly-touted international stars that everyone thought was going to be the next big thing. The popular theory was that Moiso was such an athletic talent that it was almost impossible for him to not develop into a capable NBA player. The Boston Celtics felt the same and took Moiso with the 11th pick in the 2000 NBA draft (which was, admittedly, kind of a weak year anyway).
8 8. Maciej Lampe
You have to give the New York Knicks some credit when it comes to Maciej Lampe. Even though that franchise has made some legendary bad picks over the years, they were determined to not let Lampe be one of them. Lampe was touted as a lottery pick kind of talent, but the Knicks held off until the first pick of the second round to get him. Lampe tore apart the summer league season, but the Knicks decided to trade him away in 2004.
7 7. Mouhamed Sene
Do you think that there will ever come a day when NBA scouts stop fawning over tape measure heroes? Will there ever be enough red flags surrounding a really large player to finally convince these professionals talent appraisers that just because someone is large does not mean that they will automatically be in charge? Honestly, it’s highly doubtful that would ever be the case as there will always be players like Mouhamed Sene out there. It didn’t matter that Sene was able to coast in his early career by having an impressive 7-foot plus wingspan; NBA teams still felt that his raw size would apply regardless of the competition. As you may imagine, they were proven wrong.
6 6. Darko Milicic
There are a host of players on this list that you may have, rightfully, forgotten about. Even though they were major sensations at the time, many of these foreign players were just never able to make a name for themselves when it came time to actually take the court. That is not the case with Darko Milicic. We know Darko Milicic not necessarily because of his name, but because of the names Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. These were the players that Milicic was taken ahead of in the legendary 2003 NBA draft. Every one of those players, and many more taken after Milicic, were substantially better than this Serbian wonder.
5 5. Michael Olowokandi
Michael Olowokandi has been branded with a lot of tags over the years. The first was “amazing.” As a 7-foot tall center from Nigerian, Olowokandi blew everyone’s minds collegiate star at the University of the Pacific. The kid was simply unstoppable. This led to his next tag of “can’t miss.” You’d have a hard time finding anyone back then that thought Olowokandi was anything less than a sure thing. He not only had the size and the numbers, but he had proven himself in the NCAA system as a guy that could get it done.
4 4. Sun Yue
Did you know that Sun Yue is the name of a dominant Chinese warlord who rose to power via a military coup that allowed him to exercise his strategic brilliance? If not, then you only associate the name with the basketball player Sun Yue who was anything but a dominant force in the NBA. While many foreign prospects are renowned for their sheer size, Sun Yue was a Chinese star who was praised for his incredible point guard abilities (although the fact he was 6-foot-9 probably didn’t hurt). He looked like the kind of generally good player that could be a bench asset at worst, but Yue’s NBA career would form a different legacy for the man.
3 2. Frederic Weis
2 2. Yi Jianlian
Here’s a good rule when scouting potential NBA talent: if they tell the world that they do not feel they are ready to competitively play in the NBA one year and then reverse their stance the next year despite showing no substantial growth in talent, then perhaps it's best to consider the possibility that they are not, in fact, ready to enter the NBA. Such was the case with Yi Jianlian. After withdrawing from the 2006 NBA draft due to his personal worries that he wasn’t ready, Jianlian reversed his position the very next year. As he was an international star who checked-in at over 7 feet tall, NBA scouts were ready to believe him.
1 1. Nikoloz Tskitishvili
We’ve seen a lot of trends throughout this list when it comes to identifying major foreign busts before they can plague your team, but the number one cause of this problem always seems to be the “fame by association” issue. This is when a foreign prospect gains a lot of attention not necessarily because they enjoyed a career of domination in their respective countries, but because they are easily compared to another major superstar and everyone assumes they’ll be able to fill the same role. Nikoloz Tskitishvili is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Even though everyone recognized that this kid wasn’t ready for the NBA, the Denver Nuggets felt that he compared so favorably to Dirk Nowitzki that they would be fools to possibly pass up on him with the fifth pick in the 2002 NBA draft. The result was a disaster. Tskitishvili averaged 2.9 PPG and 1.8 RPG over four NBA seasons and was once dubbed by Bill Simmons as the “worst-case scenario for any foreign pick.” Ouch.
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