Many international players left a mark on the NBA as we know it today. We look back at some of the greatest international players who have played in the league. Who comes out on top?
Honorable Mention — Drazen Petrovic (Croatia)
Petro left us early, way too early at the age of 28. Drazen would have easily made the top 10. He is still regarded by many as the best international player of all-time. One of the best shooters of all time, he shot 43.7% from behind the arc, good enough for 4th all-time in league history. Reggie Miller said many times that to him, Drazen is the best shooter of all-time.
Petrovic averaged over 20 points in this final two seasons with the Nets — one can only wonder what he’d become in the years to come. Rest in peace Petro.
#10 Detlef Schrempf (Germany)
Detlef Schrempf is perhaps one of the most underrated players of all-time. He was a versatile role player, could rebound and pass the ball well. He was a great shooter as well, averaging 51.4% from the 3 point line in 1994-95.
In the 1992-93 season, Schrempf was the only player in the league in the top 25 in Points (19.1), Rebounds (9.5), and Assists (6) further displaying his versatility. Schrempf reached the NBA Finals once with the Sonics in ’96 but lost in 6 games to MJ’s Bulls.
#9 Marc Gasol (Spain)
Marc, known as the younger brother of Pau Gasol, has always been in his shadow but has without a doubt earned a spot on the top 10. Marc was initially drafted by the Lakers in 2007 but was traded away to the Grizzlies in what at the time looked like an incredibly one-sided deal in favor of the Lakers.
The Lakers traded Marc and a few other fringe players for his brother Pau. In retrospect, however, it seems the deal sort of evened out as Marc ended up becoming one of the cornerstones of the Memphis franchise.
#8 Yao Ming (China)
Injuries prevented Yao Ming from being higher up the list, for when he was healthy, he was one of the best big men in the NBA. Yao combined great rim protection with the ability to hit mid-range jump shots, which was rare for a man of his height.
In the 2006-07 season, Yao averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds, showing his potential to become one of the all-time great centers. Unfortunately, his body was breaking down. He played less than 50 games that season. It was a shame considering it looked like Yao and Tracy McGrady could become one of the greatest duos ever.
#7 Dikembe Mutombo (Congo)
Dikembe Mutombo is was of the best defensive forces in NBA history. An elite shot-blocker, he ranks 2nd in NBA history, ahead of the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Mutombo was famous for his finger-wagging which he performed after blocking a shot.
His four Defensive Player of the Year awards are tied for most in league history along with Ben Wallace. A double-double machine for most of his career. He led the league in rebounds twice and blocks three times. His only NBA Finals appearance came in 2001 when the 76ers lost in five games to the Lakers.
#6 Pau Gasol (Spain)
The older Gasol comes in higher than his brother. Pau began his career in Memphis but struggled from a team perspective as the Grizzlies weren’t able to provide him with adequate supporting pieces. He was eventually traded to the lakers. He and Kobe Bryant won back to back NBA championships, in 2009 and 2010. Pau’s greatness is further shown by the fact that he became just the 4th player in League history to tally over 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists, and 1,500 blocks.
#5 Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
Manu ‘The Magician’ Ginobili has for years been one of the key players in the Spurs machine. Ever reliable and the knack for coming up big in crunch time in the Playoffs earn Ginobili a high rank on the list. His numbers may not seem great but he often came off the bench to provide a spark in critical moments for the Spurs.
Ginobili is arguably the biggest draft steal in NBA history as he was selected with the 57th pick by the Spurs in 1999.
#4 Tony Parker (France)
Parker has been another big reason why the Spurs have been so successful for the past two decades. While struggling with his shot selection in his initial years, he has now transformed into one of the better mid-range shooters in the league.
Parker was perhaps at his best in the 2007 NBA Finals when he won Finals MVP by averaging a series-high 24.5 points along with shooting 57% from behind the Arc. Parker also played a key role in the last title the Spurs won, in 2014, as he led the team in scoring in the finals. Like Manu, he is also considered a big draft steal having been picked 28th in the 2001 Draft.
#3 Steve Nash (Canada)
Steve Nash is among the greatest Point Guards in NBA history, ranking 3rd all-time in Assists. A spectacular passer, he led the league in assists five times in his career. Nash won back to back MVPs in 2005 and 2006, transforming a Suns franchise which had won 29 games in 2004 to a league-leading 62 in 2005.
An excellent shooter, Nash recorded four seasons in the 50-40-90 club which is field goal, 3 pointers, and free throw % respectively; no one else has more than two. He is also the all-time leader in terms of Free Throw % at 90.43%.
Nash was a part of one of the more successful eras for the Suns, reaching the western conference finals three times with Phoenix. He additionally made another western conference finals appearance with Dallas.
#2 Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest scorers in League history. Last season, he became just the 6th player to tally over 30,000 points in the regular season. A terrific shooter for a man his size, this has helped him develop a nearly unstoppable fadeaway jump-shot, which is difficult to contest because of his height.
Dirk won his only MVP in 2007, averaging over 24 points along with 8.9 rebounds and in the process, put up his only 50-40-90 season.
His finest achievement, however, is winning the 2011 NBA Championship against a heavily favored Miami side boasting Lebron, Wade, and Bosh, in six games. Dirk outplayed Lebron and Wade in the clutch moments as Dallas pulled off an extremely unlikely upset.
#1 Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
There can hardly be any debate as to who is first on this list, as Olajuwon was that damn good. Nicknamed ‘The Dream’, Hakeem had a rare combination of size, skill, and agility which made him one of the best scorers in the post. These skills helped him perfect the iconic Dream Shake wherein he used to fake one way then spin the other and score before the defender could properly contest.
Hakeem was also a dominant defensive presence and is the all-time leader in Blocked shots with 3,830 (almost 600 blocks clear of Mutombo in 2nd). There are some top young international players coming up in the NBA now, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, and Rudy Gobert who could potentially make the list if they continue their growth.