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Top 10 International Players in the NBA: Foreign NBA Athletes

Publish Date: 30.05.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

The NBA is a multi-national league. While it has a strong foothold in America, basketball as a sport only continues to grow in popularity all over the world. Part of that is due to its fun nature, part is the result of expanding media, and part is due to the rise of foreign athletes.

Where most of the high-end superstars were once all American, there has been a distinct shift over the past decade. When asking what percentage of NBA players are foreign, the number is much higher than it used to be.

Many of the top NBA players now hail from overseas. The league has much more diversity in that way, which in turn has created more talent and interesting storylines. It’s not just the best in America, it truly is the best players on Earth.

1. Josh Giddey

While many of the biggest foreign NBA athletes come from Europe, Oklahoma City Thunder star Josh Giddey is one of the few Australian players to make a name for himself. He’s a strong sharpshooter with an athletic build, strong drive, and great basketball IQ.

Giddey is not particularly flashy, nor does he often take over a game. Even so, he makes this list due to the fact that he’s one of the best role players in the league. The Thunder have built a strong team, and he’s a key piece of that due to his strong scoring ability and unmatched hustle.

2. Pascal Siakam

Hailing from Cameroon, Pascal Siakam is a tried and true international player who’s spent a lot of his career as one of the most versatile big men in the league. While he has the ability to score and shoot, he can also get big and is an incredible defender at all levels.

He’s primarily known for his offense. It’s a big reason why he helped bring a ring to the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and why he’s helped revitalize the Pacers. He’s not just a lengthy forward, he’s a lengthy forward who excels at all facets of the game.

3. Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen is one of the strongest young international players in the NBA. While the Jazz aren’t quite as good as they once were, the Finnish superstar has excelled on the roster. He puts up 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, making him an offensive force.

Markkanen has been a solid starter since he entered the league and continues to put up impressive numbers through the last season. There’s no telling where his ceiling might be, but at just 26 he has a lot more to achieve during his time in the league.

4. Kristaps Porzingis

There are a few foreign big men changing the current NBA landscape, but one of the first was Kristaps Porzingis. The 7’2’’ Latvian star has made a big impact just about anywhere he’s gone in the NBA, putting up almost 20 points a game and 8 rebounds.

Backing up those stats is strong defense and great hustle play. Porzingis isn’t just tall, he’s a tall, solid body with a lethal outside shot, strong basketball IQ, and a good passing ability. That’s more common than it used to be, but he was the first to bring that package together.

5. Rudy Gobert

France has long had one of the strongest direct pipelines to the NBA, and that trend continues to this day with Rudy Gobert. The four time defensive player of the year is one of the most stalwart defenders the league has ever seen due to his length and play-making ability.

The center continues to dominate in the lane and, while his scoring has improved, makes this list largely due to his ability to block shots and keep people out of the paint. He’s a great rebounder, strong at-the-rim finisher, and one of the best foreign NBA athletes of all time.

6. Victor Wembanyama

Despite only playing for one season, there’s no doubt that French superstar Victor Wembanyama is truly special. The 7’4’’ phenom was highly touted coming into the NBA due to his versatility, and he’s more than lived up to the hype.

Where many players take some time to get going, Wembanyama had an extremely successful rookie season. That’s because, despite his large size, he moves extremely well. He’s fluid and is a great shooter. He put up over 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first year. That’s almost unheard of for a rookie.

7. Luka Doncic

Wembanyama is undoubtedly a great player, but he still has a lot to prove. The same is not true of Mavericks all-star guard Luka Doncic. Originally from Slovenia, the sharpshooter first exploded onto the pro scene at sixteen years old, and never looked back.

Doncic is an unmatched offensive force. In his short time, he’s already been a scoring champion, made five all-star teams, and took home rookie of the year. He’s quite possibly the best pure scorer in the NBA, and will likely take home an MVP or two in the near future.

8. Joel Embiid

Like Siakam, Joel Embiid is another Cameroonian pro who’s known for his large inside presence. However, what makes him one of the best international players in the NBA is his ability to score outside. He’s large, but can also shoot when he needs to.

That’s why the center averages a staggering 27.9 points per game for his career. Add on 11.2 rebounds and almost 4 assists, and it quickly becomes clear why he has an MVP (2023), seven all-star games, and an All-NBA First Team under his belt.

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo

There are many great foreign players, but few of them had as much fanfare or promise as Greek all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks center is tall, lengthy, and powerful. That’s why he’s averaged more than 30 points and 11 rebounds the past few seasons.

The strong center has two MVP awards, a championship (2021), as well as a finals MVP. That, backed up by 8 all-star games and 5 All-NBA First Teams, and it’s clear that Giannis is above almost every other player, foreign or otherwise, in the league.

10. Nikola Jokic

Currently, no NBA foreign player can touch Nikola Jokic. The Serbian center is an absolute force of nature who, through excellent passing, strong shooting, and an extremely high basketball IQ, has taken over the league.

Jokic isn’t just good, he’s averaged over 26 points, 11 rebounds, and more than 8 assists in the past four seasons. He also has three MVP awards, six all-star appearances, as well as a championship and Finals MVP. When it comes to foreign stars, he’s the top of the mountain.

Impact of International Players

All professional sports try to branch out and increase their international foothold as much as possible. The NBA has a big jump in that regard due to the sheer amount of international superstars currently excelling in the league.

Looking at what percentage of NBA players are foreign, that number currently sits at 25.7 percent. Though that number goes up and down slightly each year, it’s a good indicator of recent trends.

Fans from foreign countries are more likely to watch a sport if it features a player from their country. That means, the more influx of foreign players the NBA gets, the bigger the league will grow as time goes on.

On top of that, international players tend to bring a unique playstyle or add an extra dimension to the league. Jokic is the best passing center of all time, while Doncic is a truly different blend of passing and long range shooting.

Giannis and Embiid are both big men who can play around the perimeter, while Wembyanma moves unlike any other 7 foot player in history. Such examples show how foreign NBA athletes aren’t just rising in popularity, they’re truly bringing something different to the table.

Conclusion

The NBA is an ever-shifting league that goes through large trends. Lately, that trend is moving towards foreign players. The international market is only growing, and

Making it to the league is not easy, especially for those coming from America. The routes are much more difficult, but the rise in such stars shows that the path is more streamlined than it used to be.

There’s no telling what the future may hold, but it’s likely that more and more foreign players will pop up over time. Americans will always have a majority in the NBA, but there’s a lot of undiscovered talent out there as well.

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