The NBA has always welcomed basketball players worldwide, but the first decades of the league’s history seem to be dominated by Americans. As the game of basketball rapidly develops globally, more and more international players have displayed their talent on the biggest stage.
From recent years’ NBA drafts to MVP voting, it is obvious that international athletes are taking over. Opening-night rosters around the NBA featured a record 121 international players from 40 countries — the eighth-consecutive season with at least 100 international players across NBA rosters.
A record 26 international players were selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic won the last four years' MVP award, and Luka Doncic is widely predicted to be the MVP next season.
It’s time to take look at the current international talents that are dominating the NBA.
Jamal Murray - Denver Nuggets
Last Season Did Not Play (Injury - ACL)
Jamal Murray will be one of the favorites to make his All-Star debut next season if he and the Denver Nuggets are playing as expected. That’s how talented this 6-foot-3 Canadian point guard is.
The Nuggets selected Murray with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and he has gradually become one of the best players in his class. Murray and Nikola Jokic led the team to Western Conference Finals in the 2019-20 season, where he averaged 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, including two 50-point games against the Utah Jazz.
Coming up next season, the Nuggets are widely considered one of the teams that could possibly challenge the Golden State Warriors. With such high expectations from outside, how Murray and other core players display leadership would be essential.
10. Domantas Sabonis - Sacramento Kings
Last Season’s Stats: 18.9 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Domantas Sabonis is the son of one of the greatest international players and Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis. Sabonis was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic, but he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder to start his career.
Sabonis doesn’t have his father’s height and strength, but he does display some excellent skills like his old man. Averaging 5.2 assists last season, Sabonis is unarguably considered one of the best passing bigs in the NBA.
However, Sabonis can do more than just facilitating, he is also a monster rebounder in the paint. Sabonis grabbed 12.1 rebounds per game, making him top 3 in this category. Next season, he will play for his fourth team, Sacramento Kings, and they are aiming at the playoffs.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Season’s Stats: 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
23-year-old Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued to grow last season, averaging 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game, all career-high. There’s no doubt that Gilgeous-Alexander has become the leader of this young team.
Just like Sabonis, Gilgeous-Alexander was another international player who was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets and was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers that night. Later, the Clippers traded him to the Thunder for Paul George in 2019.
The Thunder is still in their rebuilding process. After drafting four rookies in the 2022 draft, they continue to get even younger. Now with a core of Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, and Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder is turning into one of the most exciting teams next season.
8. Ben Simmons - Brooklyn Nets
Last Season Did Not Play (Holdout/Back Injury)
Ben Simmons would be top 5 on this list before he played his last playoff game. No matter how much criticism Simmons has received due to his negative, offensive desire, he’s still one of the best young prospects in the NBA.
25-year-old Simmons was selected as an All-Star three times, All-Defensive team two times, and All-NBA team one time. Most importantly, when he is healthy, Simmons is one of the best all-around defenders in the NBA.
The Nets are probably one of the most chaotic teams in the NBA now, with many question marks with their big 3 of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Simmons. However, they could easily be atop the East if the problems are fixed.
7. Pascal Siakam - Toronto Raptors
Last Season’s Stats: 22.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The 2021-22 season was Pascal Siakam’s first season playing without Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, which made him the No. 1 option for the Toronto Raptors. Toronto selected Siakam with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft.
With more freedom to handle the ball, Siakam showcased his leadership in multiple aspects of the game. Averaging 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists, Siakam made the All-NBA Third Team and led the Raptors to the playoffs after a terrible start of the season.
Making playoffs with a new roster of rookies and veterans, as well as many injuries during the season, was difficult for anyone. The Raptors are built differently with so many athletic and lengthy wings, which seems to be the future trend of basketball.
6. Rudy Gobert - Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Season’s Stats: 15.6 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.1 BPG
Rudy Gobert was traded from the Utah Jazz to the Minnesota Timberwolves this offseason, which made the new team pay sky-high prices for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner.
Gobert was selected with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets and was later traded to the Utah Jazz. With a 7-foot-1 height and a 7-foot-9 wingspan, he gradually became one of the best rim protectors of all time.
Next season, Gobert is going to play with two other stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. With the price the Timberwolves paid, it would be a disappointing season if they don’t make it to the Western Conference Finals.
5. Andrew Wiggins - Golden State Warriors
Last Season’s Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
First-time NBA All-Star and championship, that was what Andrew Wiggins accomplished last season. 6-foot-7 forward Wiggins just reached his peak with the Golden State Warriors, and it seems like he’s only getting better.
Growing up in a home of professional athletes, Wiggins’ talent is inserted in his DNA. being considered the next LeBron James, he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers after one year of college basketball with the Kansas Jayhawks.
Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year award with the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. After winning the title with the Warriors, Wiggins is expected to sign an extension with the team soon.
4. Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers
Last Season’s Stats: 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 BPG
There have been rumors that Joel Embiid is applying to join the French national team, and he and Gobert will be a huge problem for any other teams by that time.
Embiid had an MVP-level season, averaging 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game, ending in second place in MVP voting and leading the team to the second round of the playoffs.
Though Embiid picked up basketball late, he was still drafted third overall by the 76ers in the 2014 NBA draft because of his talent. He has gradually become a top 5 player in the league. With the addition of PJ Tucker and De'Anthony Melton and resigning of James Harden, the 76ers are full-loaded for next season’s possible championship push.
3. Nikola Jokic - Denver Nuggets
Last Season’s Stats: 27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG
It would be crazy to put the reigning two-time MVP in third place on this list. But it shows how deep the international talents are. The journey for Nikola Jokic is not that simple, considering where he started in 2014.
The Serbian big man was selected in the second round in 2014 by the Denver Nuggets, and he began his NBA career in the second year. Jokic has grown into a four-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA player, one of the best passing centers of all time.
Last season, Jokic single-handedly led the Nuggets into the playoffs without Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray. With the return of star players and the addition of role players, the Nuggets are considered one of the favorites to win it all next season.
2. Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks
Last Season’s Stats: 28.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
One of the most essential reasons that Luka Doncic is over both Jokic and Embiid on this list is that Doncic is only 23-year-old. He has been a record-breaker since his second season by making the First All-NBA team and All-Star team.
6-foot-7 Doncic made his name in the European league where he played for Real Madrid. He was selected with the third overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA draft and was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
Last season, Doncic led the team to take down the No. 1 regular season team Phoenix Suns in the second round of playoffs and made his first Western Conference Finals. Though the team lost Jalen Brunson this offseason, they are still one of the top teams in the West with the addition of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee. And Doncic is also the favorite to win the 2022-23 regular season MVP award.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks
Last Season’s Stats: 29.9 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Giannis Antetokounmpo, known as the Greek Freak, is widely considered the best player in the NBA after last season’s playoffs, where he dominated most of the playoff games. Many believed that if Khris Middleton wasn’t injured, the Milwaukee Bucks would win the title.
Antetokounmpo is a generational talent because he has it all, including his height, strength, skills, athleticism, basketball IQ, etc. He is truly someone who can play five positions on both ends.
Antetokounmpo almost earned everything after nine years, like MVP, championship, Defensive Player of the Year, etc. But the scariest thing is that he always stays humble and hungry, trying to bring out the best of himself.