Who are the Best International Players to Ever Play in the NBA?

Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest European basketball player ever recently played his first game in his record breaking 21st season with the Mavs.  Last year’s rookie of the year Ben Simmons hailed from the land Down Under and this year’s runaway ROY favorite Luka Doncic comes from Slovenia, another Ex-Yugoslav republic of just 2 million people that produces a lot more NBA talent then it should.  But who are the best foreign born players in the NBA right now and All Time?

I will be ranking the top 10 international players but I will only be ranking players that are truly international and identify themselves as foreign.  That means no players that are born outside the U.S but have American parents and clearly identify themselves as American such as Tim Duncan, Kyrie Irving  and Dominique Wilkins who all would have made this list. 

There is a question mark over Patrick Ewing who is Jamaican American but moved to America when he was just 7. He clearly grew up as an American and was selected on the original Dream Team so he will not be considered as foreign for this list.  However Hakeem Olajuwon who also represented Team USA in the 1996 Olympics WILL be considered foreign as he only moved the U.S for college and he still clearly identifies himself as Nigerian.  Same goes for Dikembe Mutombo who also has American citizenship but come on it’s Dikembe Mutombo!

So here in reverse order are the 10 best International players of all time.  At the end of the article there will be a bonus list of the Top Ten current international players. 

10 Honourable Mentions Who Just Missed the Cut:

Toni Kukoc, Detlef Schrempf, Marc Gasol, Rik Smits, Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Al Horford, Andrei Kirilenko, Luol Deng.

10. Drazen Petrovic (Croatia / Former Yugoslavia)

Shooting Guard - 4 Years (1989-1993)

Career Averages-

15.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.9 spg

FG% 506, 3P% 437, FT% 841

Best Season 1992-93 (New Jersey Nets) -

22.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg

FG% 518, 3P% 449, FT% 870                      

All NBA 3rd Team (1993)

No International list could start without the pioneer for all the European NBA players, the late great Drazen Petrovic.  Arriving in 1989 after dominating European basketball in the mid 80s, Petrovic was given his opportunity after he was traded to the New Jersey Nets and boy did he take advantage of it. 

Just look at his last season stats 22.3 ppg on 52% shooting, 45% from 3 and 87% from the line, earning him All NBA 3rd team honours.  And it wasn’t just his stats.  He had a fire and an unmatched confidence in his own ability, regularly talking trash and going at the game’s greatest shooting guards including Joe Dumars, Reggie Miller and even Michael Jordan himself.    

There is no doubt that Petrovic was on his way to super stardom and would be ranked much higher on this list if it wasn’t for the unthinkable tragic car accident that would shock the world and claim his life at the young age of 28. 

He is a hero to not just in Croatia but in the whole of Europe where he is credited for opening the doors to all future European players to enter the NBA.  

9. Pedrag Stojakovic (Serbia)

Small Forward - 13 years (1998-2011)

Career Averages -

17 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 spg

FG% 450, 3P% 401, FT% 895

Best Season 2003-04 (Sacramento Kings)

24.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.3 spg

FG% 480, 3P% 433, FT% 927                      

NBA Champion (2011)

3 x NBA All Star

All NBA Second Team (2004) 

The Ex Yugoslavian countries have produced more players than any other region of the world, and the player from there who had the best career was Peja Stojakovic.  Sometimes people forget how good Stojakovic was, but in 2004 he finished 4th in the whole NBA in the MVP voting, just ahead of a prime Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal

He was a lethal shooter and scorer just like his idol Petrovic and he enjoyed a stellar 13 year NBA career culminating with a well deserved NBA championship in his final season with the Dallas Mavericks.         

8. Dikembe Mutombo (Congo)

Center - 18 years (1991-2009)

Career Averages –               

9.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1 apg, 2.8 bpg

FG% 518, FT% 684

Best Season (1991-92) –

16.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 3 bpg

8 x NBA All-Star

1 x All NBA Second Team (2001)

2  x All NBA Third Team (1998, 2002)

4 x NBA Defensive Player of the Year

3 x First Team, 3 x Second Team All NBA Defense

2 x Rebounding Leader, 3 x Blocks Leader

Dikembe Mutombo had a long distinguished career as the defensive anchor for the Nuggets, Hawks and 76ers.   His legendary finger wag was one of the most iconic trademarks of the 90s and early 2000s and players were scared to enter the paint when Mount Mutombo was lurking. 

An 8 Time All Star and 4 time Defensive Player of the Year, Mutombo finished his career 2nd All time in Block shots with only fellow African rival Hakeem Olajuwon ahead of him.

7. Yao Ming (China)

Center 8 Years (2002-2011)

Career Averages –

19 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.9 bpg

FG% 524, FT% 833

Best Season (2006-07) –

25 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2 apg, 2 bpg

8 x NBA All-Star

2 x All NBA Second Team (2007, 2009)

3  x All NBA Third Team (2004, 2006, 2008)

Injuries robbed Yao Ming from having a much longer and more successful career as he only played 7 full seasons in the NBA and retired at just 31.  But his skill level and influence on the game of basketball, especially in the most populous country in the world is undeniable. 

At his best he was unstoppable offensively with a big size advantage and with polished post moves and impeccable footwork.  He also had such a soft touch and feel for the game as evidenced by his 833% career free throw percentage, an unheard of number for a man of his size.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, Yao Ming is by far the greatest ever player to hail from Asia.

6. Tony Parker (France)

Point Guard 18 Years (2001-Present)

Career Averages –

15.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.7 apg, 0.9 spg

FG% 492, 3P% 326 FT% 752

Best Season (2012-13) –

20.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 7.7 apg,

FG% 522, FT% 845

4 x NBA Champion (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

1 x NBA Finals MVP (2007)

6 x NBA All-Star

3 x All NBA Second Team (2012-14)

1 x All NBA Third Team (2009)

The most successful international player ever with 4 championships and a Finals MVP, Tony Parker was the engine that ran the Spurs offense since the turn of the century.  The perfect compliment to Tim Duncan, Parker was one of the quickest guards of all time

He routinely lead the league in points in the paint for a guard, with floaters, teardrops and twisty layups his specialty.  He made 6 All Star Games, 3 All NBA second teams in a row and even a Finals MVP in 2007.  Undoubtedly the greatest player ever from France, Parker is a lock to make the Hall of Fame.

5. Manu Ginobili (Argentina)

Shooting Guard 16 Years (2002-2018)

Career Averages –

13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg

FG 447%, 3P% 369, FT 827%

Best Season (2007-08) –

19.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 stl,

FG% 460, 3P% 401, FT% 860

4 x NBA Champion (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

2 x NBA All-Star

2 x All NBA Third Team (2008, 2011)

NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2008

Many people will argue that Tony Parker was the Spurs number 2 guy and had better stats than Ginobili.  But I still believe Manu Ginobil was more important for the Spurs and the better overall player

Manu was the Spurs’s closer and always made the important plays and the big buckets when they needed them the most.  He would ignite the crowd with his ferocious competitiveness and undeniable flair.  He invented the Euro Step and was able to contort his body and finish seemingly impossible plays. 

His sheer unselfishness and team first attitude allowed him to accept being the third guy and even a sixth man role for much of his career.  If he was given the chance to lead his own team, he would have put up superstar numbers and be regarded as one of the best players in the whole league.  He was that good.

 4. Pau Gasol (Spain)

Power Forward 18 Years (2001-Present)

Career Averages –

17.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.6 bpg

FG% 508, 3P% 366, FT% 754

Best Season (2009-10) –

18.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.7 blk,

FG% 536, FT% 790

2 x NBA Champion (2009, 2010)

6 x NBA All-Star

2 x All NBA Second Team (2011, 2015)

2 x All NBA Third Team (2008, 2011)

NBA Rookie of the Year (2002) 

Pau Gasol was an extremely skilled big man with post moves, shooting ability, elite rebounding and was one of the best passing bigs in the league.  Entering the league the same year as Tony Parker, Gasol like Parker is still going strong playing in his 18th year in the league.  Unlike Parker, Pau Gasol was an instant star winning Rookie of the Year Honours for the Memphis Grizzlies averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds right out of the gate.  

After 7 productive years with the Grizzlies he would famously get traded to the Lakers (for his brother Marc!) and form a dynamic duo with All time great Kobe Bryant.  He would then become a multiple All Star and multiple champion and Kobe should thank him for adding to his legacy as the Lakers wouldn’t have won those two chips without him.

3. Steve Nash (Canada)

Point Guard 18 Years (1996-2014)

Career Averages –

14.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 8.5 apg, 0.7 spg

FG% 490, 3P% 428, FT% 904

Best Season (2005-06 MVP) –

18.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 10.5 apg, 0.8 stl

FG% 512, 3P% 439, FT% 921

2 x NBA Most Valuable Player (2005, 2006)

8 x NBA All-Star

3 x All NBA First Team (2005-07)

2 x All NBA Second Team (2008, 2010)

2 x All NBA Third Team (2002, 2003)

5 x Assists Leader

I detailed Steve Nash in depth in my blog last month and he came out as the 7th best point guard of all time.  A two time MVP, Nash is quite simply one of the greatest passers AND shooters of all time.  A member of the 50/40/90 club a record breaking 4 times, Nash's only blemish was that he didn’t shoot more.  A lack of playoff success hurts his resume, but there is no denying that he won 2 MVP’s, a remarkable feat only surpassed by Kareem (6), Jordan (5), Russell (5), Wilt (4), Lebron (4), Magic (3), Bird (3) and Moses Malone (3).  That’s it.  Look at the list above him. That’s it.

2. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)

Power Forward 21 Years (1998-Present)

Career Averages –

21.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.9 bpg

FG% 472, 3P% 383, FT% 879

Best Season (2006-07 MVP) –

24.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.8 stl

FG% 502, 3P% 416, FT% 904

NBA Most Valuable Player (2007)

13 x NBA All-Star

4 x All NBA First Team (2005-07, 2009)

5 x All NBA Second Team (2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011)

3 x All NBA Third Team (2001, 2004, 2012)

NBA Champion (2011)

NBA Finals MVP (2011)

The greatest European player ever and the second greatest international player is Mr. Swish himself Dirk Nowitzki.  When this skinny kid came out of Germany over 20 years ago, nobody could predict the kind of career that would follow.  Having just played his first few games this season last week, Dirk just broke a tie with Kobe Bryant for the most seasons played for one franchise - a remarkable 21 seasons. 

A 13 time Star and 12 time All NBA selection, Dirk Nowitzki was an unstoppable scorer and the best shooting big man in NBA History.  His patented one legged fade away was impossible to defend and many players have tried to imitate it since.  Recently passing Wilt Chamberlain, Dirk Nowtizki has scored an astonishing 31,000 points in his decorated career and now sits at 6th place on the All time list. 

Add in a finals MVP and a famous championship victory over Lebron James and the Miami Heat in 2011, and Dirk Nowitzki’s is undoubtedly the greatest ever player from overseas, except for………..

1. Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)

Center 18 Years (1984-2002)

Career Averages –

21.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.7stl, 3.1 bpg

FG% 512, FT% 712

Best Season (1993-94 MVP) –

27.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.6 stl, 3.7 blk

FG% 528, FT% 716

2 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1994, 1995)

12 x NBA All-Star

6 x All NBA First Team (1987-89, 1993, 1994, 1997)

3 x All NBA Second Team (1986, 1990, 1996)

3 x All NBA Third Team (1991, 1995, 1999)

2 x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1993,1994)

5 x First Team, 4 x Second Team All NBA Defense

2 x Rebounding Leader, 2 x Blocks Leader

2 x NBA Champion (1994, 1995)

2 x NBA Finals MVP (1994, 1995) 

The most skilled big man to ever play the game, The ‘Dream’ could do anything on the basketball court.  His moves were silky smooth and the only thing possibly greater than his unstoppable post game was his defense and rim protecting ability with 9 All NBA Defensive selections and 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards.

He is the runaway leader all time for blocks with 3,830, a number that may never be surpassed.  In the playoffs when it mattered most, he dominated all the great Centers of his time including David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and a young Shaquille O’Neal in the 95 NBA Finals.  He is still the only player to this day who has won the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Championship and Finals MVP in the same year, doing it in 1994 on his way to the first of back to back titles.  A Multiple MVP Winner, Multiple DPOY Winner and Multiple Champion, Hakeem the Dream Olajuwon is our clear winner for top spot on this list. 

So that’s the top 10 International Players of All Time, but what about the Top 10 International Players playing in the NBA right now?

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece)


Close Call between the Greek Freak and The Process but Giannis has been better all around and lead his Bucks to a better record without any All Star teammates.

2. Joel Embiid (Cameroon)

The best Center in the East, we have not seen these kinds of skills, post moves and footwork in a big man since the greatest ever International and African player Hakeem Olajuwon.

3. Nikola Jokic (Serbia)

Jokic has been tearing it up leading the surprising Nuggets to 1st place in the tough as nut Western Conference.  He is averaging  an astonishing 7.4 assists per game at the Center position, with numerous triple doubles and records not seen since the likes of the Great Wilt Chamberlain.

4. Ben Simmons (Australia)

The 2018 Rookie of the Year has been solid if not spectacular in his sophomore campaign.  His immense natural talent makes him a nightly triple double threat, but the big question is: Can he have confidence to take and make jump shots to expand his game? Or at least improve his free throw shooting so he can attack the basket late in games?    

5. Luka Doncic (Slovenia)

The unanimous favorite for the 2019 Rookie of the Year is the 19 year old wonder kid Luka Doncic.  Playing with a maturity, confidence and swagger well beyond his years, this once in a generation talent could go on to become one of the all time greats.

6. Rudy Gobert (France)

Last Year's Defensive Player of the Year The Stifle Tower has been rebounding and protecting the rim at a high level again this year, but he needs to be more assertive on the offensive end if the Utah Jazz are going to get back into the playoff picture.

7. Marc Gasol (Spain)

Early front runner for Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol has brought the grit and grind back into Memphis this year. After a depressing year in 2018, The Grizzlies are now back in the playoff hunt in the crowded Western Conference.

8. Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro)

Vucevic has been a beast this year averaging 21 and 12 and showing off an array of post moves and passing ability.  His shooting numbers (40% 3P and 84%FT) are off the chart for a big man and he is a strong bet to make the first All Star game of his career.

9. Clint Capela (Switzerland)

Averaging career highs across the board, Clint Capela’s development into a borderline All Star has been one of the lone bright spots in a frustrating season so far for the Houston Rockets. 

10. Steven Adams (New Zealand)

Rounding out our Top Ten is man mountain Steven Adams.  Also averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals; the toughest guy in the league has showed this season that he’s got some serious game too. 

Injured: Kristaps Porzingis (Definite Top 4)

Next Ten: Al Horford, Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Mirotic, Deandre Ayton, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Ricky Rubio, Buddy Hield, Lauri Markkanen.

And Ten More: Andrew Wiggins, Goran Dragic, Jonas Valanciunas, Jusuf Nurkic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Bojan Bogdanovic, Tristan Thompson, Joe Ingles, Dario Saric, Enes Kanter.

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