The NBA may be an American organization, but it takes in players from all over the world. In fact, as time has gone on, more and more international players have entered the league. There are plenty of excellent stars from different countries, and a high number hail from Europe.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the best ones by breaking down their stats and achievements from the latest NBA season. The following players all come from Europe, and they have the skills to show that talent can be born anywhere on Earth.
15. Danilo Gallinari (Atlanta Hawks)
Stats: 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Though he usually flies under the radar, Gallinari played a key role in the Hawks’ recent rise. The Italian player is a truly versatile competitor. He can shoot, score, rebound, and does a solid job on the defensive end.
He may not have the fanfare as some other names on this list, but he is undoubtedly talented.
14. Evan Fournier (New York Knicks)
Stats: 14.2 points, 3 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Evan Fournier is a great European role player who always brings an extra scoring dimension to whatever team he’s on. He’s never going to shake the world, but he’s a solid defender who can get a good amount of points each game.
The French native shined in the most recent Olympics. He continues to show off his skill and talent in the NBA, bringing out his best no matter who he’s going up against.
13. Dennis Schroder (Boston Celtics)
Stats: 14.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists
Though he never got the huge contract he wanted, Dennis Schroder remains one of the best European NBA players. The shifty guard has been a large part of the Celtics success this year.
While he’s not a superstar like others on the team, his well rounded stats show that he shows out each and every night. More than 14 points a game is impressive, but his rebounds and assists makes him a true asset.
12. Ricky Rubio (Indiana Pacers)
Stats: 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists
Ricky Rubio’s career lulled over the past few years, but he came back with a vengeance during this last season. His points are not the most impressive, especially among three shooting guards, but he has truly turned into a great all-around player.
His passing is both flashy and effective, and his court IQ is almost unmatched.
11. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Atlanta Hawks)
Stats: 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists
Not to be confused with Bojan, Bodgan Bogdanovic has been a great asset for the Hawks. Though his stats are a bit down this year, he still offers a great mix of points, rebounds, and assists every night.
While Trae Young is the face of the franchise, there is no doubt that having another shooter on the outside has helped Atlanta grow.
10. Jonas Valanciunas (New Orleans Pelicans)
Stats: 18.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists
Though he’s not as big as some of the other players on this list, Valancius is an excellent big man. He’s incredibly tough to deal with for teams who don’t have a lot of power down low.
He’s a great offensive and defensive rebounding force and is a stout defensive presence. That, mixed with more than 18 points a game, shows that he’s able to do it all.
9. Kristaps Porzingis (Dallas Mavericks)
Stats: 19.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 points
Hailing from Latvia, Kristaps Porzingis is a big man who can make a big impact on any game. His height helps him get inside for rebounding and defense, while his ability to shoot makes him a true outside threat.
He may not be the best Dallas European player, but he’s an essential piece to a well-rounded team.
8. Nikola Vucevic (Chicago Bulls)
Stats: 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists
One of the big parts of the Bull’s resurgence, Nikola Vucevic is another strong European big man with a lot of power. He sucks in rebounds, puts up points, and even manages to grab some assists here and there.
That trifecta makes him an excellent asset. He’s great at being a traditional big, but also has an incredibly high basketball IQ. That court presence is what helps set him apart.
7. Clint Capela (Atlanta Hawks)
Stats: 10.9 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Clint Capela might not shake up the stat sheet every night, but his rebounds sure do. Though his NBA stint started slow, he has emerged as one of the most dominant rebounders ever since going to the Hawks.
His 12.2 a game this year is quite impressive, and even that’s down from his recent campaigns. He also has the ability to score when needed as well.
6. Bojan Bogdanovic (Utah Jazz)
Stats: 17.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Though he’s not as well-rounded as some other European players, Bojan Bogdanovic is a true scoring threat. The Croatian guard can get the ball into the basket in a myriad of different ways, whether it’s driving hard or shooting from deep.
His assists remain low, but his rebounds have steadily increased over time. He also is one of the most accurate shooters in the league, shooting in the mid 40 percentile from three.
5. Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)
Stats: 18.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Sabonis is another excellent European player who often gets recognized for his versatile playstyle. He’s excellent at scoring, a great rebounder, and even manages to find the time to get more than a few assists every now and then.
That trifecta doesn’t just make him a constant triple-double threat, it makes him one of the most well-rounded all-stars around.
4. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Stats: 16.0 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists
Rudy Gobert could well be the best French player ever. The 7-footer has been a dominant force since he entered the league, and he continues to put up large numbers whenever he plays.
He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the best rebounders around. He can score when needed and is able to stop anyone who gets close to the rim.
3. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Stats: 26.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 9.2 assists
Doncic makes this list due to his sheer skill and popularity. The 22-year-old is one of the most famous European players in the NBA and has been that way since he exploded onto the scene a few years ago.
He has elevated the Mavericks with his elite playstyle. His stepback is lethal, and he remains one of the best overall scores in today’s league.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Stats: 29.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists
Hailing from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo remains one of the best European players to ever join the NBA. He’s a force inside the paint but also serves as a versatile point guard who can pass, dribble, and score.
Fresh off a championship year, his stats remain some of the best in the league. That’s why he continues to be one of the biggest superstars on Earth.
1. Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
Stats: 25.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists
While Giannis has the ring, no European player has been better in recent history than Nikola Jokic. The reigning MVP is one of the best passing big men in history, as his nearly 8 rebounds a game shows.
He puts up huge numbers in all relevant categories and is the biggest reason the Nuggets have had such a big resurgence over the past few years.
Other Honorable Mentions
Although these players have retired, they remain to be some of the top European basketball pioneers in NBA history.
It is very hard to argue against Dirk Nowitzki being the best NBA player to ever come out to Europe. Hailing from Germany, Nowitzki was the first-ever European MVP when he won the award in 2007. A few seasons later he led the Mavericks to their first-ever NBA championship as well.
Add to that the 14 times he went to the All-Star game and there is no doubting Nowitzki is one of the best. He was best known for his incredible offensive game, his signature fadeaway jumper, and his 3 point shooting.
While it is now common for 7-footers to have range, this wasn’t the case when Dirk was in his prime. He regularly averaged more than 20 points a game and led his team to the playoffs time and time again. This list wouldn’t be complete without his addition.
Born in Spain, Pau Gasol was one of the best and most versatile big men of the 2000s. Gasol was all you wanted out of a center or power forward as he scored efficiently, got a lot of rebounds, blocked a lot of shots and was an underrated passer.
Gasol won two NBA championships during this career, each with the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition to his team success, Gasol had plenty of individual success, making 6 NBA All Star Games and 4 All NBA teams (two 2nd team and two 3rd team).
He was also one of only three non-American players to win the Rookie of the Year. He was a double-double machine during his prime, and is essentially ambidextrous on the court, which makes defending him a nightmare.
Before coming to the NBA in 1989, Petrovic was already among the best basketball players on the planet. He dominated throughout Europe from the time he was a teenager up to his early 20s.
Once he arrived in the league and found his way to the Nets, he continued to play incredibly well. He was a very efficient scorer and a leader on the court for his team. Unfortunately, once he was starting to reach his prime and be seen as one of the best guards in the NBA, Petrovic passed away in a car accident.
This happened in 1993 when he was only 28 years old. This news devastated basketball fans around the world. Had he not passed away, he would have surely continued to improve his already-impressive 20 points per game average.
While he didn’t play in the NBA as long as many other Europeans, there is no doubting he was one of the best NBA players to come from the continent.
Similar to Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis had an impressive career in Europe before eventually coming to the NBA. He won numerous awards both in Europe and during international competitions.
While he was drafted into the NBA in 1986, he didn’t play his first game in the league until nearly a decade later, due to injury and many other conflicts. Despite not coming into the NBA until past his prime, he still played remarkably well, especially considering his injury history. His numerous injuries hurt his explosiveness and limited his mobility.
Even still, he shot the ball well and was an incredible passer for someone who was 7’3. If Sabonis would have come to the NBA in his early 20s, there are many who think he would’ve been the best European player ever by a mile. Not only that, many think he could’ve been a top 5 center of all time.
His son, Domantas, is now playing in the NBA and is one of the best young bigs in the league.
There have long been many great European players in the NBA’s storied history. Some, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker, are quite well known, while others aren’t as big. Still, they paved the way for so many of the fantastic players on the court today.
Every player in this list has what it takes to thrive in today’s league. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the European leagues or just enjoy watching great basketball, there’s no denying the above list’s overall impact on the modern NBA.