Making it to the NBA is something just a handful of basketball players are capable of doing, as there are just so many hard-nosed competitors that will do whatever it takes to take their talents to the best league in the world.
If making it as an American is hard enough, imagine how difficult it may be for a foreign guy that needs to beat all the odds, the prejudice, the lack of exposure and so many other things en route to the NBA.
Nonetheless, there have been several players that have been talented and disciplined enough to risk it all and pack their bags to the U.S to play ball, and today, we’re going to let you know about the top 10 best international players in NBA history. I will not use players who have played for the USA: Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Dominique Wilkins and Kyrie Irving.
Drazen Petrovic, Croatia
15.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Accomplishments: 3 x Olympic Medalist (Bronze, Silver x2)
It took a while for Drazen Petrovic to get settled down and make the adjustment to the NBA and lifestyle, and that’s one of the main reasons why his tragic passing was such a huge shame back in the day.
After dominating at a FIBA level, the shooting guard struggled with the Blazers, forcing a trade to the Nets. He’d thrive out of the gate at New Jersey, scoring over 22 points a night on 45% from the floor.
10. Toni Kukoc, Croatia
11.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Accomplishments: 3 x NBA Champion, 6th Man of the Year
Toni Kukoc was the ultimate 6th man during his prime, and truth to be told, he could’ve been a bigger factor a starter, and any team’s go-to-guy had he played for another team other than the almighty Chicago Bulls.
Kukoc was a major factor off the bench for Phil Jackson and his Chicago Bulls as their main scorer when Pippen and Jordan were sitting down, not to mention the fact that he was also a crafty defender and a great playmaker. His versatility allowed him to play both guards and forward spots as well.
9. Marc Gasol, Spain
17.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Accomplishments: 3 x All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year
Pau’s younger brother made a huge name for himself and is considered by much to be the best player in Memphis Grizzlies history, even better than Pau himself. He’s been one of the league’s top-tier big men in both ends of the court for years now and isn’t showing signs of slowing down despite his age.
Marc has a sweet scoring touch and is even a reliable shooter from three-point territory, not to mention he’s a way better defender than Pau, even putting his hands on a Defensive Player of the Year award as the “grit and grind” Grizzlies’ defensive anchor.
8. Yao Ming, China
19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.9 BPG
Accomplishments: 8 x All-Star, Hall of Famer
Even though a guy of Yao Ming’s dimensions should’ve been the most dominant center in the history of the game and he clearly wasn’t, he was still an extremely entertaining player to watch when healthy.
He made giants look like ants and even led the Rockets to a couple of successful playoff runs, not to mention he would go on to become an ambassador of the game in Asia for many years to come.
7. Peja Stojakovic, Serbia
17.0 PPG, 4.7 RBP, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Accomplishments: NBA Champion, 3 x All-Star
Peja Stojakovic is one of the fiercest foreign scorers ever, even being the only European player to be the second leading scorer throughout a full NBA season, as well as being the European player with the highest free throw shooting percentage (89.5), and the second highest three-point shooting percentage (40.1%)
The Serbian forward was a scoring machine for most of his career, leading the Kings next to Webber, Bibby, Christie and Divac. Still, it would be as a part of the Mavs when he would be finally able to win the Championship.
6. Dikembe Mutombo, Democratic Republic of Congo
9.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.7 BPG
Accomplishments: 4 x Defensive Player of the Year, 3 x Block Champion, 2 x Rebound Champion, 8 x All-Star, Hall of Famer
Dikembe Mutombo is tied with Ben Wallace with 4th Defensive Player of the Year awards, most ever by any player in the league, as he was one of the most dominant lockdown rim protectors this game has ever seen.
He may have not been much of an offensive factor, but he definitely made his defense feel in the defensive end of the floor, swatting shot after shot and then finger-wagging and letting everybody know that they weren’t going to get any easy buckets against him.
5. Tony Parker, France
15.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Accomplishments: 4 x NBA Champion, 1 Finals MVP, 6 x All-Star
Tony Parker is one of Gregg Popovich’s biggest steals, as he was drafted with the 28th overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft and looked as if he was just going to be yet another subpar backup point guard from overseas.
Parker wasn’t fast, strong or athletic, but he had eyes on the back of his head, had a really versatile offensive repertoire, and his signature unblockable teardrop floater. He’s a walking Hall of Famer and the best European point guard to ever set foot on an NBA hardwood.
4. Pau Gasol, Spain
17.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG
Accomplishments: 2 x NBA Champion, Rookie of the Year, 6 x All-Star
Pau Gasol took the league for assault from day one, even though he was never considered to be as great as he truly is. His offensive skill set was really well round-up for a guy of his physical characteristics, and he’s still an extremely productive player despite his age.
He may not be the best defender in the world, but his presence helped the Lakers go back to Championship contention following the Shaquille O’Neal era, winning a couple of rings in 3 trips to the Finals. Also, he’s the greatest Spanish player ever.
3. Manu Ginobili, Argentina
13.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Accomplishments: 4 x NBA Champion, 2 x All-Star, 6th Man of the Year
Manu Ginobili is simply the best sixth man in the history of the game. He was a true starter that took the back seat in order to help his team off the bench, and the most influential leftie shooting guard of his generation.
His signature Eurostep is something Wade and Harden openly copied, his clutch defense is something he will always be remembered for, his consistent shooting and no-look passes, and the fact that he even dunked the rock at age 40. Manu’s a living legend, and behind Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, the biggest contributor to the Spurs’ culture.
2. Steve Nash, Canada
15.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 8.6 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Accomplishments: 2 x MVP, 8 x All-Star, 5 x Assists Champion, Hall of Famer
Steve Nash was a bit of a late bloomer, but ever since he took flight, there was simply no stopping the Canadian point guard, who became the main responsible for one of the most entertaining offenses in the history of the game.
Nash was never able to put the cherry on top of the sundae by winning an NBA Championship, but he completely changed the way the PG spot was played. Behind Magic Johnson and John Stockton, he may be the best pure point guard ever.
1. Dirk Nowitzki, Germany
21.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Accomplishments: NBA Champion, MVP, 13 x All-Star, Finals MVP
And last but not least, we find the Great Teuton, a guy that has scored over 30 thousand career points and that overcame all adversity by making it in the league despite his lack of athleticism, defensive expertise and hops.
Nowitzki is the greatest player in Mavericks history, an MVP winner that almost single-handedly led this team to their only title, and the best shooting big man this game has ever seen, mostly thanks to his unblockable one-legged fade away.