The International Dozen: NBA's Top 12 Foreign Players Poised to Excel
As basketball around the world keeps growing, the NBA has had the pleasure of welcoming great international talent into the league.
More than ever, international players are taking leadership roles within their teams and becoming perennial All-Star players and franchise pillars. In the coming years, this might be more common than the average basketball fan might expect.
Several players are poised to make a leap into stardom soon in their careers, and this list just highlights the top 12 men that will be hugging headlines all over the media as emerging international basketball players.
Already established veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, among others are not considered in this list since the focus is to highlight those players in the shadows that will emerge into the light this coming season.
12. Darko Milicic
Before I make my case for the former second overall pick of the famous 2003 NBA Draft, I have to make a promise. The list will definitely get better as it goes.
How can Darko Milicic even dream of making a leap in the NBA? He has been given the perfect opportunity. Darko has just signed a lucrative long-term deal with Minnesota. Minnesota also traded their main low post player in Al Jefferson.
What does this mean? It means Darko will most likely be a starter and will be given the opportunity to excel with extended minutes. Coming off the bench most of his time with Minnesota last year, Darko was able to average 8.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in about 25 minutes a night.
With Jefferson gone, Darko should receive more touches on the offensive end, and there will also be more rebounds to grab. Expecting Darko to average close to a double-double per game is not far-fetched.
Life in the NBA is often defined by how players deal with opportunities. Darko has a golden one here and could open some eyes. Although it might not translate to any wins for Minnesota, it will definitely be a personal gain for Darko, and that is just enough to earn him a spot on this list.
11. Rodrigue Beaubois
Often flirting with flashes of brilliance and highlight reel plays, Roddy Beaubois has shown NBA fans everything they want to see in a young NBA guard.
An unfortunate injury right before the FIBA World Championships began knocked him down a few spots on this list. Roddy was not exactly mind blowing during his summer league play. Actually, he was a concern to his coaching staff since he repeatedly showed he is still very immature for the point guard position.
In just about 12 minutes per game, Roddy was able to average over seven points per game. To put it in perspective, that’s over 20 points per game for starter minutes.
A positive for Roddy is that he has the athleticism, shooting touch, and long arms, which are often qualities that cannot be taught. A combination of these abilities and more experience on the court will have him leaping in the NBA hierarchy.
10. Nicolas Batum
Already established as a solid NBA player, Nicolas Batum is just about to take his career to a new level. Experience playing for Team France internationally only helped him grow and showcase his abilities once gain.
Batum seems to be completely healthy from his shoulder injury and as athletic as he has ever looked. With the departure of Martell Webster, some minutes should free up for Batum. In less than 25 minutes per game, Batum was able to average double figure points and often was regarded as the best defender on the court.
It seems like Rudy Fernandez will be traded or sitting out for Portland come season start. Also, Martell Webster’s departure will open up minutes for Batum to do more damage. If it all works out, Batum can start seeing more playing time and perhaps starter minutes that can have him blossom quickly.
9. Rudy Fernandez
Rudy Fernandez has the ability to be a great NBA player. Similar to his teammate Batum, Rudy also has and athletic skills arsenal that is rare. His three-point shooting is among the league’s best.
Rudy’s leap in the NBA will depend on his status as a player when the season starts. In Portland, especially after all the drama he has created, it is hard to believe he will get any more playing time than last year. But if he is traded to a team where he can be the second or third option offensively, that can change.
In a team like the New York Knicks, Fernandez would be a focus on offense and could blossom into the scoring nightmare he has shown flashes of being.
Given the right trade, Rudy could very well be at the top of this list. But specifically because of that condition, he can only claim the ninth spot.
8. Tiago Splitter
It is hard for an international rookie to come into the league and make a strong impact on a team. Big men have even harder times to adapt to the NBA. But Tiago Splitter will have something other European big man have not had coming into the league. He’s got Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess.
Splitter is no young rookie. He has several years of experience playing at a high level in Europe. Although the game is played differently overseas and size and strength are not as dominant as in the NBA, he has developed a set of skills that make him intriguing.
With the coaching of veterans like Duncan and McDyess, Splitter can work on mastering several areas of his game and take a steep leap during just his first season in the NBA. The minutes will be there, the shots will be there, and the tutoring will be there. Let’s hope Tiago is ready to embrace this opportunity.
7. Ersan Ilyasova
Ersan might be a bit of a surprise at No. 7 on this list. Although he had a pretty good year last year averaging 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game, he will have the chance to up his production next season.
Although Ersan was very productive in a number of games last season, consistency was a big issue for the young forward. After great scoring and rebounding one night, he would follow it with a poor effort. With more experience within the system and in the NBA in general, he will be much more consistent and productive.
Although the Milwaukee Bucks added several pieces during the offseason, it should not have an impact on Ersan’s development. On the Bucks' roster, Ersan offers something no other big man can. He is able to stretch the defense to the three-point line and knock them down consistently. That will guarantee him more playing time and more touches offensively.
Ersan Ilyasova might not leap into stardom, but he will leap into a key player for a team that will run in the shadows next season and shock the NBA with an amazing record.
6. Goran Dragic
Slovenia has produced a number of very respected NBA players in the last few years. But there was clearly no better surprise than point guard Goran Dragic. Dragic is truly a perfect example of how a player can grow within one organization and blossom into a contributor by working hard every night.
Goran Dragic averaged 7.9 points and 3.0 assists in just 18 minutes last year. This year, he will play more and have the ball in his hands much more. Alvin Gentry, Suns' head coach, already indicated he will have Steve Nash play off the ball at times to allow newcomer Hedo Turkoglu and Goran Dragic to handle the ball.
With the departure of Amare Stoudemire, there will be plenty of shots available for Dragic to do his damage and to run the offense alongside one of the best point guards in the NBA.
It would not be a surprise to see Dragic’s minutes increase into the high 20's and perhaps 30. With that kind of playing time and added responsibility, his production can sky rocket and have him average about 15 points and seven assists per game.
Depending on Dragic’s production, the passing of the torch from Steve Nash might be a smooth transition rather than a sudden change.
5. Linas Kleiza
Linas Kleiza decided to go overseas to play in Europe last season after a few seasons with the Denver Nuggets. Already known to be a potent scorer and aggressive player, he decided to find a place where he could grow as a leader and as a player. He did just that.
After leading his team in scoring in Europe and demonstrating to be a leader on the court, the Toronto Raptors signed the Lithuanian forward to a multi-year deal. With the Raptors, Kleiza will get exactly what he wanted: a change to be a team leader and force.
With every opportunity comes sacrifice. The Raptors are projected to be at the bottom of the league this year after losing Chris Bosh and failing to sign an impact player other than Kleiza. Even though there won’t be many wins in Toronto, expect Kleiza to fill up the stat sheet night in and night out and contend for Most Improved Player of the Year.
4. Serge Ibaka
Surprised yet again? Have you not heard about the Thunder’s power forward/center Serge Ibaka? You will have no choice but to get very familiar with him this coming season. Serge Ibaka will be a stud.
The rookie big man last year started the season barely seeing any playing time. Through the season, he learned the team’s system and was able to gain the respect of his coach and saw an increased role within the team. By the end of the season, he was averaging over 10 points per game, eight rebounds, and two blocks in just 22 minutes.
Against a front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, Ibaka held his own and had several good games in the playoffs.
With a summer of learning and a year under his belt, it can be expected to see Ibaka slide into the starting lineup or playing an increased role off the bench similar to what he played in the playoffs and the last few games of last season.
Ibaka will be an impact player and will quite possibly make the biggest leap as a player next year than any other player on this list. Not many players have the opportunity of going from unknown to a fan favorite in just a few months.
3. Omri Casspi
It is hard to evaluate Omri Casspi’s rookie campaign. His performance was truly a bell curve through the season. He steadily improved with every game and even made the starting lineup along the way. Then after the New Year started, his production started to decline, and he was back on the bench by season's end.
In Israel, basketball season is not 82 games long. It is easy to explain Omri’s productivity decrease by this statement. With a year of experience, better conditioning, and respect from his coaches, Omri will emerge as one of Sacramento’s bright young players and a team leader.
As a rookie, Omri did not back down from any player, including his teammates. Night in and night out he asked coaches to defend the opposing team’s best player from point guards, to forwards. More often than not, he did a good job when given the opportunity.
The combination of shooting, athleticism, defense, and determination will have Omri Casspi make a leap in the NBA.
2. Marc Gasol
This pick is different than probable every other pick so far on this list. Marc Gasol made his leap last year by averaging 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while playing big minutes every night. That was just his first leap.
Big men take longer to develop in the NBA, and that is the case with Marc Gasol. Although already a great player, it is easy to see that he has a variety of areas of his game that can be further improved upon both defensively and offensively.
With more experience against other big men, Marc will get more touches offensively next year that will enable him and the Grizzlies to become much stronger inside. He will get much more than just nine shots per game.
Defensively, Gasol had trouble staying in games at times with foul trouble. Although he did average 1.6 blocks per game, he will be a much better defender with more experience and up that number.
At the end of the day, experience is the No. 1 factor for a player to make a leap in the NBA. With steady improvement through experience and more responsibility within the team, Gasol will make his way into the NBA’s elite centers next season.
1. Luis Scola
Luis Scola is 30 years old. He is a proven NBA player and internationally as well. He has been a key contributor for his organization, the Houston Rockets, for a number of years. How is he first on this list? Because of the 2010 FIBA World Championships where he is averaged 27.8 points and 7.5 rebounds.
There are many questions about the Rockets' organization with the departure of recently signed Trevor Ariza and the health of Yao Ming. Rockets' management should and probably are looking at Luis Scola as their main guy at the moment.
Luis Scola averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in just 32 minutes per game last season for the Rockets. He was not the first, second, or third option offensively.
The Rockets will need Scola to play at his highest level next season to stay relevant in the Western Conference. They will need him to produce the way he has in the World Championships. They will need him to leap into All-Star status.
Luis Scola is not a youngster. He is a proven professional, and he will answer the call. He will become one of the team’s main core guys and leaders, and he will prove himself (once again) in the NBA. His new role and responsibility make him first on this list.