It should be noted I am not including players such as Patrick Ewing and Dominique Wilkins who were born outside of but grew up in the US as eligible. I am also excluding Tim Duncan who was born on a US territory but not in the continental US. Had I included these 3 players, they all would have ranked in my top 10. With their exclusion in mind, here are my picks for the top 10 best International NBA players.
Honorable Mentions: Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kiki Vandeweghe
10. Yao Ming
Born in: China
Stats: 19.0 Points, 9.2 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists, 1.9 Blocks, 0.4 Steals per game
Years Active: 8 (Not including the 2009-2010 Season he missed due to injury)
When Yao Ming made it to the NBA, he quickly became a cultural phenomenon. His immense popularity in China and around the globe allowed him to be selected for the all-star team every year of his career (Even the year he only played 5 games) and his immense 7’6 height astonished everyone who ever watched him play. His biggest issue was his health; unfortunately his giant frame was only able to handle the physical stress endured by an NBA Center for 7 productive years. At his best he was a dominant two way force, named to 5 All-NBA teams in his short career.
9. Detlef Schrempf
Born in: Germany
Stats: 13.9 Points, 6.2 Rebounds, 3.4 Assists, 0.3 Blocks, 0.8 Steals per game
Years Active: 16
When you think of the Seattle Supersonics of the 90’s two names immediately come to mind, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Detlef Schrempf deserves some part of that success as well however, playing most of his best years with the Sonics and the Indiana Pacers. Schrempf became an excellent shooter for the sonics knocking down over 41% of his 3 pointers during his tenure with the team. He also made 3 all star teams and received 2 Sixth Man of the Year awards.
8. Peja Stojakovic
Born in: Croatia
Stats: 17.0 Points, 4.7 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists, 0.1 Blocks, 0.9 Steals per game
Years Active: 13
Stojakovic, Chris Webber and the Serbian Vlade Divac were part of the Sacremento Kings’ dominant frontcourt during Stojakovic’s stay there. The trio achieved regular season success but the playoffs would prove harder, particularly during their duels with Shaq and the Lakers. Stojakovic shot over 40% from 3 for his career and although the Kings never managed to win a championship Stojakovic did win a championship in his final year in the NBA as a bench contributor for the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks. Stojakovic also finished 4th in MVP voting in the 2003-2004 season after he helped maintain the team’s regular season record with Chris Webber succumbing to injury.
7. Dikembe Mutombo
Born in: Democratic Republic of Congo
Stats: 9.8 Points, 10.3 Rebounds, 1.0 Assists, 2.8 Blocks, 0.4 Steals per game
Years Active: 18
Dikembe Mutombo is tied with Ben Wallace for the most Defensive Player of the Year awards with 4. He ranks #2 all time in total blocks with 3289. He was named to 8 NBA All-Star games. His joking personality and signature finger wag have also helped make him a fan favorite. Despite never being known as a huge offensive threat, Motombo’s stellar rebounding and defensive skill have earned him a recent spot in the NBA Hall of Fame.
6. Manu Ginobili
Born in: Argentina
Stats: 14.3 Points, 3.8 Rebounds, 4.0 Assists, 0.3 Blocks, 1.4 Steals per game
Years Active: 13 (currently undecided on whether he will keep playing)
Though he has had stints as a starter (started 349/865 of his games) he has established an identity as the prototypical 6th man in the NBA. He has spent his entire 13 year NBA career with a San Antonio Spurs team that has been a power in the NBA’s Western Conference since before the turn of the century. He has won 4 Championships with the Spurs, and though he has never had quite as much spotlight as teammates Tim Duncan and Tony Parker his fearless scoring and great all around play were a huge part of those Championships. It is also of note that Ginobili started playing professional basketball professionally in Argentina in 1995 and has played multiple years of international basketball in the summer, if this is all combined; he has probably played more professional basketball than anyone in the world in the past 20 years. His play outside the NBA has made him one of only two people to have won the Euroleague, The NBA Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal(When Spain upset the US team in the 2004 Olympics).
5. Tony Parker
Born in: Belgium (Grew up in France)
Stats: 16.9 Points, 2.9 Rebounds, 5.9 Assists, 0.1 Blocks, 0.9 Steals per game
Years Active: 14 (so far)
It is difficult to separate Parker and Ginobili, as their success has been so interdependent as they have been teammates for 13 years and won 4 championships together along with NBA Great Tim Duncan. Parker, however, started playing in the US at a younger age and though he has had some injury history has been able to stay a little healthier being younger and joining the NBA a year earlier. Though Manu has accomplished more internationally but this is a list about NBA players. Despite Duncan being their best player, emotional leader, primary scorer and defensive anchor for most of the trio’s career’s Parker has been the premier floor general on offense, for most of his career he has been considered one of the best point guards in the league and his offensive leadership has lead him to a Finals MVP award.
4. Pau Gasol
Born in: Spain
Stats: 18.3 Points, 9.4 Rebounds, 3.2 Assists, 1.7 Blocks, 0.5 Steals per game
Years Active: 14 (so far)
Pau Gasol may be best known as the sidekick to Kobe Bryant during his stay with the Lakers from 2008-2014 but it should be noted that before Gasol joined the team, they hadn’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since Shaquille O’Neal was on the team. Once Gasol did join the team, they immediately became a contender, appearing in 3 straight finals, winning 2. Though Kobe won both Final’s MVP awards, Gasol was very important to the teams’ success. Gasol has not won many individual awards, but Gasol has been a consistently great player for his entire career only averaging under 17 points per game once. Pau, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, has been three of the best Power Forwards in the game since pau joined the league in 2001 and age doesn’t seem to be slowing any of the three down. Pau’s brother Marc Gasol arguably could currently be the league’s best international player today, though he has not played quite long enough to crack this list yet.
3. Steve Nash
Born in: South Africa (Grew up in Vancouver, Canada)
Stats: 14.3 Points, 3.0 Rebounds, 8.5 Assists, 0.1 Blocks, 0.7 Steals per game
Years Active: 18
Steve Nash is the only player on this list to have 2 Regular Season MVP awards. He is 1 of only 11 players to ever win back to back MVP awards. His spectacular passing has leaded him to 10335 career assists for #3 all time. As well as being one of the best passers in NBA history he is one of the most accurate shooters in NBA history. Players who have shot 50%, 40% from 3 point range and 90% from the free throw line in a season are included in a statistic known as the “50-40-90 club”. There have only been 10 50-40-90 seasons in NBA history, Steve Nash has 4 of those seasons. Unfortunately, despite his individual accolades and regular season success he did not manage to win an NBA Championship in his 18 years in the league.
2. Dirk Nowitzki
Born in: Germany
Stats: 22.2 Points, 7.9 Rebounds, 2.6 Assists, 0.9 Blocks, 0.9 Steals per game
Years Active: 17 (So Far)
Dirk Nowitzki along with Tim Duncan have been models of consistency for nearly 2 decades in the nba. Like Steve Nash, he is a member of the 50-40-90 Club. Nowitzski has had an identity as a shooter, though stretch 4s are getting more and more common as time progresses, the idea of a 7 footer being the best shooter in the league is still amazing. Among active players he is only being Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in career free throw percentage (Also Ray Allen as he is still on the Active Player list as of when this article is being written). His signature fadeaway jumper makes him the ultimate mismatch for any defender. He is #9 all time with 28119 points and has achieved both a Regular Season MVP and a Finals MVP.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
Born in: Nigeria
Stats: 21.8 Points, 11.1 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 3.1 Blocks, 1.7 Steals per game
Years Active: 18
Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the best NBA players of all time whether American or International. His 3830 Blocks is #1 all time, his 2162 Steals is #9. His role as a defensive anchor for a dominant Rockets team earned him 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards and wide consideration as one of the greatest defenders in NBA history. Despite having a number of defensive responsibilities for his team he was also a great player on the offensive end, he had a bevy of moves in the post and great range and free throw shooting for a true center and currently is placed #12 on the all time scoring list. He has 1 league MVP and 2 Finals MVP’s for his 2 Championships with the Houston Rockets. His career numbers are amazing if achieved for 1 season and he maintained them for 18 seasons. Hakeem is the best international player of all time.
Statistical Information was all found using www.Basketball-Reference.com and is up to date as of the end of the 2014-2015 NBA Regular Season.