Basketball was once a US-based game others around the world were not privileged to play. Amazingly, individuals have started to embrace the game worldwide, resulting in the NBA being filled with exceptional athletes from different parts of the world. While most of these talents come from Europe, several exceptional talents have African and Asian origins. The NBA has also started to expand, with one of such programs being NBA Africa. The initiative is to expand NBA's reach to every part of the world, one continent at a time.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dikembe Mutombo, and Hakeem Olajuwon are some of the notable international players that have dominated the league in their eras, getting themselves on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although Nowitzki is not yet a member because a player has to be retired for at least four years before they can be considered, he is a lock and will be eligible in 2023.
Jamal Murray is an exceptional athlete that could easily have made this list. However, the Canadian tore his ACL in April 2021 and will be unavailable for the Denver Nuggets until January 2022 at the earliest.
Honorable Mention - Pascal Siakam
2020-21 Season Stats: 21.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 45.5 FG%, 82.7 FT%
The Toronto Raptors are looking to build around Pascal Siakam, which shows how much the Cameroonian is valued. He was selected with the 27th pick by the Raptors in the 2016 NBA Draft and has since plied his trade with the Canadian-based team. Siakam made a statement in the 2018-19 season, solidifying himself as the second scoring option behind Kawhi Leonard in a team that had Kyle Lowry on the roster.
While his 2020-21 performance was not disappointing, Siakam did not perform at the level many expected following his 2019 award and first-ever All-Star appearance during the 2019-20 season.
10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
2020-21 Season Stats: 23.7 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 50.8 FG%, 80.8 FT%
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a Canadian that was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2018 draft and was traded to the LA Clippers that night. Despite making the All-Rookie second team, he was included in a trade package to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 23-year-old had his 2020-21 season disrupted after sustaining a tear in his plantar fascia since March 24. However, he had a breakout season, averaging 23.7 points in only 35 games. He also shot an impressive 41.8% from beyond the arc.
9. Andrew Wiggins
2020-21 Season Stats: 18.6 PPG, 2.4 APG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 47.7 FG%, 71.4 FT%
Andrew Wiggins is another Canadian that is a top talent in the NBA. He will go down as one of the best NBA players from the Great White North considering all he has achieved at twenty-six.
Wiggins' averages dropped compared to his 2019-20 season, but this is one of those cases where the point average does not tell the full story. While his points tally dropped, he was a more efficient shooter as his field goal, three-point, and effective field goal percentages all saw significant increases. He will continue to hold down the fort for the Golden State Warriors pending Klay Thompson's return; big shoes the Canadian has filled on both ends of the court.
8. Domantas Sabonis
2020-21 Season Stats: 20.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 12.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 53.5 FG%, 73.2 FT%
Questions were raised on how Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner will function on the frontcourt, and the Lithuanian has quieted all the doubters. He registered a second consecutive double-double season, recording career-high numbers in points (20.3) and assists (6.7).
Given how Sabonis has improved over the years, making two All-Star appearances dare I say the Indiana Pacers will feature in the postseason for the first time since their first-round loss in the 2020 playoffs.
7. Kristaps Porzingis
2020-21 Season Stats: 20.1 PPG, 1.6 APG, 8.9 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 47.6 FG%, 85.5 FT%
Despite a mediocre performance in the playoffs, Kristaps Porzingis remains an elite talent that can impact a game anytime he is on the court. The Latvian international plays a lot like the Dallas Mavericks legend, Dirk Nowitzki, to the point of mirroring his famed fadeaway jumper.
One cause for worry is his failure to stay healthy. Since his sophomore season, Porzingis has not played up to sixty games each season due to injuries. He missed the 2018-19 season in its entirety after tearing his ACL in February 2018. If the Mavericks big man successfully stays healthy, he could pose serious problems for opposition defenders in the paint.
6. Ben Simmons
2020-21 Season Stats: 14.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 55.7 FG%, 61.3 FT%
Ben Simmons was selected with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. It was an absolute peach of a pick, as the Australian is arguably the best defender in the guard position. Sadly, he is one of the worst shooters of the ball in the league. Him passing up an open dunk in the 2021 NBA playoffs semi-finals will sum up his offensive displays for years if he doesn't make adjustments fast.
As things stand, it is unclear where Simmons will play during the 2021-22 season. His relationship with the 76ers' management is strained, and the guard has requested a trade. But the franchise's front office is reluctant to see it through. Regardless, Simmons remains a top talent in the league.
5. Rudy Gobert
2020-21 Season Stats: 14.3 PPG, 1.3 APG, 13.5 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.7 BPG, 67.5 FG%, 62.3 FT%
Rudy "Stifletower" Gobert is a French man that made a name in the NBA for his defensive acumen. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year joined the NBA in 2013 after he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets and was later traded to the Utah Jazz. Although Gobert is not a great two-way player, his effort on defense completely makes up for his average offensive display.
Gobert has averaged a double-double season for the last five years and has made five All-Defensive first teams. The Jazz will continue their quest for an NBA title in the 2021-22 season with the assurance that comes with having an elite rim protector. Offensively, he is a rim rocker as he currently holds the record for the most dunks in a single season (306).
4. Joel Embiid
2020-21 Season Stats: 28.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 10.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 51.3 FG%, 85.9 FT%
Despite missing two seasons after battling a foot injury, Joel Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 games in his unofficial rookie season. The Cameroonian is undoubtedly the most dominant center on both ends of the court since the Shaquille O'Neal era.
Embiid has played only five years in the league but plays with the poise and guile of an experienced athlete. Staying healthy has been challenging for the big man as he has never played all games in a season. Regardless, a fifth All-Star nod is expected during the 2021-22 NBA season as he attempts to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a deep playoff run.
3. Luka Doncic
2020-21 Season Stats: 27.7 PPG, 8.6 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 47.9 FG%, 73.0 FT%
For a player who is just entering his fourth year in the NBA, Luka Doncic has shown that he is next to ascend the throne after King James retires. The Slovenian was the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft class that has intriguing talents like Deandre Ayton, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, etc. Despite being only, Doncic has already made two All-Star appearances and led the Slovenian national team to their first-ever Olympic tournament. If not for injuries, he could have delivered a medal to his national team.
Doncic is not the most efficient scorer, but he knows how to get the job done. He is in the record books as the only player in NBA history with over 20-triple-doubles at age 21 or younger. The youngster will definitely be one to watch in the new season as he is favored to win the MVP award and possibly the scoring title.
2. Nikola Jokic
2020-21 Season Stats: 26.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, 10.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 56.6 FG%, 86.8 FT%
Nikola Jokic played professional basketball in his home country (Serbia) for three years before declaring for the NBA draft. He was selected by the Denver Nuggets with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Jokic has gradually continued to grow his game through the years and has developed into one of the big men with an incredibly high basketball IQ. His understanding of the game is astonishing, especially how he runs the offense.
The Serbian put together an MVP-worthy display in the 2020-21 season and was rightly rewarded for it. Unfortunately, his season ended in a rather anticlimactic manner following his ejection in Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Phoenix Suns. Regardless, the 2021 MVP will be looking to lead the team to another playoff run without the team's second-best scorer, Jamal Murray.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2020-21 Season Stats: 28.1 PPG, 5.9 APG, 11.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 56.9 FG%, 68.5 FT%
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a Greek national born to Nigerian parents. Before declaring for the 2013 NBA draft, he played in Greece and Spain for two years. Even though he has been with the Milwaukee Bucks since 2013, his career took off after he won the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player award.
Since then, he has made four All-Defensive teams, DPOY, 2x MVP, and 2021 NBA Finals MVP. His 50-point title-clinching Game 6 helped the Bucks win their first championship in fifty years. Giannis is arguably the best player in the NBA right now. The Greek Freak is a force on both ends of the court and is the third player in NBA history to win the MVP and DPOY award in the same season.