The international presence in the NBA has seen a drastic increase in recent years making the league a true representation of the best basketball players in the world. The 2016 NBA Draft made history with the number of foreign players selected. Out of 60 total players taken, 24 were from outside the United States. For the second time, an Australian was selected with the first overall pick; eight of the fourteen lottery picks were international players; and fourteen of the thirty first-round picks were from outside the States. While Americans are used to dominating basketball, this goes to show that the game’s popularity is on the rise globally.
The more players able to make the cut and play for in the NBA, the more talent and interest continues to spread throughout the world. With the notoriety professional basketball has gained, especially in recent years, there are already more than enough athletes to make something of a global league. Of course, we already see this to a degree with the Olympics, which often feels like a pseudo-NBA league with Americans playing against other countries that are essentially always partially represented by the NBA to some extent. Let’s go back and see what the top 15 international teams look like whose entire starting five has played in the NBA at some point.
PG: Omar Cook, SG: Quincy Douby, SF: Nikola Mirotic, PF: Nikola Pekovic, C: Nikola Vucevic
The first of these fifteen international teams is admittedly pretty sketchy, but there are only so many NBA players that represent foreign countries. Omar Cook and Quincy Douby had short-lived NBA careers, but have both their fair share of success overseas. Douby is a sharp shooter that can pour in buckets no matter how small the window, while Cook is a savvy, defensive minded guard that runs the point with smart play to make up for his lack of size.
Two words: zone defense. That’s really the only way this could work. It goes from essentially two point guards to borderline three centers. Nikola Mirotic gets the short straw and takes small forward, as he’s easily the most qualified being a power forward. Mirotic is a large body to play at the three, but his ability to stretch the floor and drain the three makes him the best candidate for the job. Then we have what would work as two low post players playing a hybrid center/power forward. They’re two both giant, intimidating big men that shouldn’t have much trouble using their physically superior builds to keep anyone from doing anything in the paint.
PG: Alexey Shved, SG: Sergey Karasev, SF: Andrei Kirilenko, PF: Aleksandr Volkov, C: Timofey Mozgov
There are definitely some holes is this Russian lineup, but there is some serious talent to make up for it. Sergey Karasev and Aleksandr Volkov are two guys that couldn’t quite cut it in the NBA. There were some high expectations and a lot of potential seen in Karasev – his game just couldn’t seem to translate to the NBA.
Similarly, Alexey Shved struggled to produce in the NBA like he can overseas, though that won’t fool any opponents. Shved is a smart player with a knack for the game that knows how to get points on the board, whether that means driving himself or finding the open man.
Then there is the defensive presence of Timofey Mozgov and Andrei Kirilenko. The way these two play defense is enough to dismantle any offensive game plan. Mozgov is a scrappy player that can always frustrate his man with physical play. Kirilenko simply knows how to get the job done, earning an NBA All-Star appearance in 2004 and league’s leading blocker in 2005.
PG: Goran Dragic, SG: Beno Udrih, SF: Sasha Vujacic, PF: Bostjan Nachbar, C: Radoslav Nesterovic
Slovenia may not be the most supremely talented international lineup, but they have a core of veteran NBA players that have proven they can play against the best. These guys have managed to stand the test of time and prove themselves every year to have lengthy careers as legitimate contributors in the NBA.
Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih are entering their 13th and ninth years respectively as teammates on the Miami Heat, so you know there’s some great chemistry between the guards. At 6-7, Sasha Vujacic has the height of a small forward though he may struggle to translate that on defense. Either way, whether it’s a guard or forward guarding Vujacic, the nine-year veteran will be draining threes all day long. The 6-9 Bastjan Nachbar may have similar struggles against the larger power forwards, but that’s where the help of the defensive minded twelve-year vet Radoslav Nesterovic comes in.
PG: Sarunas Jasikevicius, SG: Sarunas Marciulionis, SF: Donatas Motiejunas, PF: Jonas Valanciunus, C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Attempting to pronounce all five of these names in a row is enough to put a defender on his back. It’s double trouble in Lithuania’s backcourt with the two Sarunases who are absolute legends in their country and throughout Europe. The numbers of accolades Jasikevicius has achieved over his career looks like more than most star athletes could imagine gathering since childhood. The backcourt would be an odd shake up for the players, but with some adjustments, they could make it work. Essentially, Motiejunas and Valanciunas will have to get bumped down a position and play out of their element, but the physicality that would come with their moves would make for a fierce battle that would make even the most talented athletes frustrated. Then, of course, the giant stature and soft touch of Zydrunas Ilgauskus only makes it that much more of a head scratcher for opposing teams in what they should do with individual matchups.
PG: Ibrahim Kutluay, SG: Hedo Turkoglu, SF: Ersan Ilyasova, PF: Enes Kanter, C: Mehmet Okur
The only thing to really knock this Turkey team for is their point guard position. Ibrahim Kutluay played a long career outside of his lone year with the Supersonics. The real problem is that Kutluay is a shooting guard that would need some serious work to transform him into a legitimate point guard. Ersan Ilyasova would be in for some big adjustments himself moving from the four to the three, but he’s athletic and mobile enough that ability shouldn’t be an issue.
After that, it’s smooth sailing for this Turkish squad. The ten-year NBA vet Mehmet Okur would hold the floor against anyone. Switching over to the offensive end, Turkoglu and Kanter are straight buckets. These two may be downshifting a position, but they’re on the floor for their incredible knack for draining shots, not their defensive prowess. This even distribution of defense and offense make for a well balanced team that can dominate the game.
PG: Mike D’Antoni, SG: Marco Belinelli, SF: Danilo Gallinari, PF: Luigi Datome, C: Andrea Bargnani
This Italian team would make for one of the most deadly sharp shooting combinations in all of basketball. Only three of these starters have played a significant portion of their professional career in the NBA, but that doesn’t come close to reflecting this team’s talent. One of the biggest advantages may be the one player who’s by far the least imposing at a glance – Mike D’Antoni. That’s right, the longtime NBA head coach, now with the Rockets, only played a few years in the league before competing in Italy, but it’s his ability to serve as a player/coach that would keep other teams ten steps behind at all times.
Then there’s the rest of the team, aka lights out buckets. Belinelli is known to fire off a shot from anywhere the moment he secures the ball, which makes him no different from his other teammates. Luigi Datome and Andrea Bargnani are a deadly combo of bigs that will shoot over anyone, and Danilo Galinari is an unquestionable star-caliber athlete.
PG: Raul Neto, SG: Leandro Barbosa, SF: Bruno Caboclo, PF: Nene, C: Anderson Varejao
This Brazil squad makes their case to arguably be one of the scrappiest groups of hustle players in all of the international lineups. Raul Neto is a young, scrappy guard that had a solid rookie season and looks to have a long, promising NBA career. Leandro “The Brazilian Blur” Barbosa earned his nickname for good reason. Barbosa earned Sixth Man of the Year back in 2007, but the ageless wonder still manages to burn up and down the floor like he’s in his 20s. Bruno Caboclo, well, Caboclo is the type of hustle player that plays like he’s fighting for a roster spot (you know, because he pretty much has been since joining the Raptors in 2014). Then we have Nene and Varejao. What these two lack in talent in most NBA matchups they more than make up in hustle. These guys simply don’t give up whether fighting for a rebound or when posting up on defense. No matter how outmatched this team is, they’ll fight to the end until the other team is just too worn out to keep going.
PG: Pablo Prigioni, SG: Manu Ginobili, SF: Carlos Delfino, PF: Andres Nocioni, C: Luis Scola
The Argentina lineup consists of a group of NBA veterans that have all been consistent contributors to their team as long as they played. All but Pablo Prigioni were members of Argentina’s 2004 Olympic gold medal team, and even Prigioni was a part of Argentina’s national team that earned a bronze in 2008. Though Prigioni may have been late to the NBA party, not playing in the league until 2012 at the age of 35, his untimely arrival proves what a talent he is to even be signed as a rookie so late in his career.
Led by future HOFer Manu Ginobili, Argentina’s team may work as one of the most selfless, cohesive units across the globe. Prigioni, Delfino, Nocioni, and Scola have matured through their professional tenures, serving as career role players that stick to executing no more than their job asks, which is what makes them so dangerous. Even the star Ginobli understands that he’s just one cog in a bigger machine, as is always the case when playing for the Spurs.
PG: Drazen Petrovic, SG: Mario Hezonja, SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, PF: Toni Kukoc, C: Dragan Bender
This Croatian team could easily be one of the best teams in the world that leaves us wondering with a some gigantic ‘what ifs?’ The first ‘what if’ is the future that some of these young guys will have. Toni Kukoc already solidified his legacy in the NBA with his years as a member of the Bulls in the Jordan Era while Bojan Bogdanovic has quickly made his mark as a legitimate contributor with the Nets. It’s the questions marks of how great Hezonja and Bender will be. The question isn’t whether or not they’ll be good, but how great will these young stars be? Then there’s the ‘what if’ of how legendary could Petrovic have been? Widely regarded as one of the greatest shooters of all time, the sky was the limit for Petrovic who was sadly killed in a car accident when he was still only 28.
PG: Marko Jaric, SG: Sasha Pavlovic, SF: Peja Stojakovic, PF: Darko Milicic, C: Vlade Divac
Believe it or not, Serbia actually has the second highest total of athletes to play in the NBA at 25. That’s pretty impressive for a European country that only has about 7,000,000 people.
Even the “weakest” player on this Serbian team, Mark Jaric, managed an impressive seven-year career in the NBA. Serbia’s other guard, Sasha Pavlovic, had an even longer NBA tenure that lasted a decade.
The only reason Darko Milicic is pushed over to PF is to make way for the legend himself, Vlade Divac. Divac is one of only four European players to have his number retired by an NBA team (Kings). No big deal, but another one of those players to have their number retired also happens to be fellow Serbian teammate Peja Stojakovic (also with the Kings). Not only does Serbia have two lethal game changers in Peja and Vlade, they have two teammates that already have a history of running the court together.
PG: Patty Mills, SG: Matthew Dellavedova, SF: Joe Ingles, PF: Ben Simmons, C: Andrew Bogut
Australia has bragging rights alone in the fact that they have two first overall NBA Draft picks in Ben Simmons and Andrew Bogut. Australia’s presence in the NBA has exploded in recent years and the talent level has only gone up. Patty Mills of the Spurs and Matthew Dellavedova of the Cavaliers may both serve as backup guards, but their contributions have been enormous. They have played on two of the three NBA championship teams in the last three years. The other team that won a championship in the past three years? That was the Golden State Warriors, and they have their 7-0 Aussie to thank for helping bring home the hardware. That’s right; team Australia has three players that won the last three NBA championships as part of their starting five. The addition of 2016’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, who’s considered to be the future face of the NBA makes for a formidable foe.
PG: Dennis Schroder, SG: Niels Giffey, SF: Detlef Schrempf PF: Dirk Nowitzki, C: Shawn Bradley
For the sake of making an eye-popping team, Germany is the headliner. Nothing could make a person feel insecure about their height faster than stepping up to play this team of giants.
Detlef Schrempf, Dirk Nowitzki, and Shawn Bradley? Good luck trying to make a bucket that doesn’t end up getting swatted back in your face. That’s 6-10, 7-0, and 7-6. The other team may as well be running around the court and shooting from their knees playing against that. Either that or fight fire with fire and buy a set of stilts for the team.
The guards will likely have a lot of running to do in order to make up for the other long legs, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Dennis Schroder looks more impressive each year he plays, able to do a bit of everything on both ends of the ball. Then there’s Niels Giffey. The former UConn star (adding even more height at 6-7) may have only played in the summer league for the Grizzlies and Jazz, but the two-time NCAA National Champion is the type of player that does all the dirty work off the ball that sets others up for success.
PG: Steve Nash, SG: Andrew Wiggins, SF: Rick Fox, PF: Tristan Thompson, C: Jamaal Magloire
The United States’ nearby neighbor has is fittingly one of the top teams that would give the U.S. a run for their money. Canada has the most foreign players of all time in the NBA by a long shot at 32. There were a few positions up for grabs, but the final starting five makes for one very legitimate NBA caliber team.
Steve Nash is, without a doubt, one of the most talented point guards of all time to play the game. Andrew Wiggins is quickly rising in prominence. Though he plays SF for the Timberwolves, his versatile skill set would make the transition to SG seamless. Rick Fox brings the experience of a three-time NBA champion while the Tristan Thompson’s dominant rebounding skills just helped LeBron James bring Cleveland its first championship ever. The center position was a tough choice with Kelly Olynyk and Samuel Dalembert just missing the cut, but a healthy Jamaal Magloire is too good to pass up.
PG: Tony Parker SG: Evan Fournier, SF: Nicolas Batum, PF: Boris Diaw, C: Joakim Noah
France has the third most players to have ever competed in the NBA. As would be expected, with greater numbers come greater skills. The French squad has some supreme pro level talent that would make for a killer NBA starting lineup. One thing’s for sure, these guys would put on a clinic in what great team basketball looks like.
This team would gel together with ease. Six-time All-Star Tony Parker is as lethal getting to the rim as he is dropping dimes to teammates. There would be plenty of dimes dropped to the three-point line where sharpshooter Evan Fournier would be waiting. If the team needs a playmaker, then they can turn to Nicolas Batum who can square up and score against the best of them. Then come the other two that make up the front court – Boris Diaw and Joakim Noah. These two are lauded as some of the best teammates a player could ask for in the league. 2014 proved the value each of these players has, as Diaw earned a championship with the Spurs and Noah earned Defensive Player of the Year with the Bulls.
PG: Ricky Rubio, SG: Rudy Fernandez, SF: Serge Ibaka, PF: Pau Gasol, C: Marc Gasol
Good luck stepping on the same court as this Spanish team. Spain would have to go through some interesting adjustments to make the positions work, but with a team dripping with talent like they are… they’ll make it work.
This Spain team would have an equally unique backcourt. Ricky Rubio would be dishing out assists at a record pace with the options he has. The high-flying Rudy Fernandez may not have had a long NBA career, but his stellar play overseas has been enough to make the 76ers try to coax him back to the U.S. for another NBA stint.
This front court looks something like what the Tune Squad must have felt like going up against the Monstars. These guys are gigantic and talented. The Gasol brothers holding down the four and five is enough reason alone to never want to attempt a bucket in the paint. Put Serge Ibaka at the three and he’ll find his athleticism translate in no time. Who needs to shoot from behind the arc when everything in front is already a lock?