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Ranking the Top 10 International NBA Players of All Time

| November 27, 2021 7:01 am PDT

Luka Doncic is already a superstar and one of the top three or four players in basketball. The Slovenian sensation is on pace to be a future Hall of Famer and is in line to end his career as one of the best international NBA players of all time.

We can go ahead and throw Nikola Jokic into that category as well.

Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert are working their way into the conversation while one active player is already firmly entrenched on this list. This list I speak of is the 10 best international players in NBA history.

Start diving in.

10 – Drazen Petrovic

  • Country: Croatia
  • NBA Career: 1989-1993
  • NBA Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets

The epitome of a true lights-out shooter, Drazen Petrovic had a stellar career in Europe and was on his way to becoming an NBA great. Sadly, Drazen was involved in a fatal car crash at age 28 just after completing his most prolific season as a professional.

As a member of the New Jersey Nets in 1992-93, Petrovic poured in 22.3 points per game shooting 44.9% from beyond the arc. Recognized as an All-NBA player, this was the second straight year Drazen averaged more than 20 points and shot over 44% from deep.

If only he had the opportunity to continue building his legacy.

9 – Yao Ming

  • Country: China
  • NBA Career: 2002-2011
  • NBA Team: Houston Rockets

Derailed by a severe foot injury late in his career, Yao Ming was a force to be reckoned with in the mid-to-late-2000s. From ’05-’09, the 7’6” center averaged 21.9 points and 10.1 rebounds on 52.4% shooting. Perhaps most impressive was his soft touch – Yao shot over 85% from the charity stripe during each of his final five seasons.

Ming, the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, made the All-Star team during each of his eight seasons playing in the league (DNP in 2009-10 due to foot injury) and made five ALL-NBA teams.

Hands down the greatest basketball player to come out of China, what most don’t realize is how dedicated Yao was to perfecting his craft. Jeff Van Gundy, Ming’s former head coach in Houston, helped bring this topic to light.

“Yao was unlike anyone I had ever coached. It didn’t matter whether he had played great or poorly, whether we had won or lost. His preparation never changed. Not one day.”

8 – Dikembe Mutombo

  • Country: Congo
  • NBA Career: 1991-2009
  • NBA Team: Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets

Anyone who watched NBA basketball in the 1990s can recall images of Dikembe Mutombo waving his finger at his opponents. For those who missed out, here’s a short clip to bring you up to speed.

A shot-blocking phenomenon like the game had never seen, Dikembe averaged at least 3.0 blocks per game during each of his first six years in the NBA. Through his first 10 seasons split between Denver and Atlanta, Mutombo was averaging 12.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game.

The eight-time All-Star was selected as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times; he’s the only 4x winner of the DPOY in the history of the league.

7 – Manu Ginobili

  • Country: Argentina
  • NBA Career: 2002-2018
  • NBA Team: San Antonio Spurs

He never averaged 20 points per game and was a 6th man for the majority of his NBA career. Nevertheless, Manu Ginobili’s consistent excellence thrust him onto a couple of All-Star and All-NBA teams. Ginobli was deeply admired by all coaches and peers; he ended his illustrious 16-year-career in San Antonio with the following line:

  • 5 ppg
  • 8 apg
  • 5 rpg
  • 3 spg

A four-time NBA champion with the Spurs, the left-handed slasher is one of the best finishers around the basket the game has ever seen. Manu’s wizardry as a ball-handler and passer shouldn’t be underappreciated either.

6 – Pau Gasol

  • Country: Spain
  • NBA Career: 2001-2019
  • NBA Teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks

Think of all the legends who have their jerseys hanging in the rafters at STAPLES. Pau Gasol is on his way to becoming part of that select brotherhood. 

Kobe’s top running mate during the Lakers back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, Pau could always be relied on to contribute on both ends of the court. I dug up some numbers that’ll help portray just how accomplished of a player Gasol is.

Pau scored 20,894 career points, that’s more than David Robinson. Gasol’s career PER (player efficiency rating) is 21.4, that’s just below John Stockton (21.8) and well ahead of Scottie Pippen (18.6).

Make no mistake, Gasol will go down as one of the most talented seven-footers in NBA history.

5 – Tony Parker

  • Country: France
  • NBA Career: 2001-2019
  • NBA Teams: San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets

The 2007 NBA Finals NBA MVP acted as Gregg Popovich’s court general for the bulk of San Antonio’s dynasty. Parker commanded the Spurs to four NBA championships and was always the guy hitting the key jump shots down the stretch of big games.

The Frenchman made six All-Star teams and four All-NBA teams during his NBA run. During the 12-year stretch between 2002-2014, Tony averaged 17.8 points and 6.1 assists per game.

Parker’s scoring peaked in 2009 when he averaged 22 points per game, not to mention, he’s one of 19 players in NBA history who have registered at least 7,000 assists.

4 – Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Country: Greece
  • NBA Career: 2013-Present
  • NBA Team: Milwaukee Bucks

He’s strapped with a couple of MVPs, a Finals MVP, and a DPOY award. All of this by the age of age 26. In other words, the Greek Freak has lots of time to continue padding his stats and yet he’s already cemented as one of the best international players in NBA history.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Stats (2017-2021)
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks FG %
28.0 11.7 5.5 1.2 1.3 .556

Should he continue this torrid pace for another five years and potentially tack on another title, Giannis could wind up in a stratosphere all by himself. Simply put, the 6’11” athletic specimen is among the most dominant offensive and defensive players in today’s game.  

3 – Steve Nash

  • Country: Canada
  • NBA Career: 1996-2015
  • NBA Teams: Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers

Drafted 15th overall out of unheralded Santa Clara, Steve Nash exceeded all expectations during his 18-year playing career. Among his laundry list of accolades, Nash won consecutive NBA MVPs (2005, 2006) and made a three-time ALL-NBA First-Team selection. Steve’s uncanny ability to be flashy but also efficient is what really sticks out.

Here’s a tidbit that’ll help shine a light on how competent of a player Nash was.

Just nine men have turned in an NBA season shooting over 50% from the floor, over 40% from downtown, and over 90% from the line. Seven achieved this feat once, Larry Bird accomplished this twice.

Steve Nash joined the 50-40-90 club on four separate occasions.

Worth noting, Nash shot 89.9% from the free-throw line in 2006-07. One more made free throw that year and we’d be talking about five 50-40-90 seasons in a row.

2 – Dirk Nowitzki

  • Country: Germany
  • NBA Career: 1998-2019
  • NBA Team: Dallas Mavericks

Sandwiched between Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, Dirk Nowitzki sits 6th on the NBA’s career points list. Famous for his patented one-footed fadeaway jumper, Nowitzki had a supernatural skill set for a guy who stood 7’. 

Dirk’s shining moment came in the 2011 NBA Finals when he led the Mavericks to their first World Championship in franchise history. Nowitzki was named the Finals MVP after averaging 26/10 on 45.7% shooting from three.

When the dust had settled on his 21-year tenure with the Mavs, Dirk had a 22.4 PER and 206.3 win shares. For perspective, only eight NBA players can claim over 200 win shares in their career. 

1 – Hakeem Olajuwon

  • Country: Nigeria
  • NBA Career: 1984-2002
  • NBA Teams: Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors

Topping my list of the best international NBA players of all time is Hakeem Olajuwon. Squarely in the conversation of the best centers to ever grace the hardwood, Hakeem averaged north of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game during each of his first 12 seasons.

“The Dream” won two titles, two NBA Finals MVPs (1994, 1995) and a regular-season MVP (1994). The 12x All-Star made 12 All-NBA teams – six times being honored as a First-Team selection.

To help sum up Olajuwon’s impeccable time in Houston, I’ll leave you with a full list of NBA players who averaged 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 3+ blocks for their career.

Hakeem Olajuwon.

The end.

Michael Wynn

As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.

Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.

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