With the Olympics coming to a close, and the Redeem Team finally claiming their gold medal, I was inspired to write on the top ten foreign players in the NBA,
Players who attended college in the U.S. are not up for consideration. When you don't see Steve Nash, Andrew Bogut, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Samuel Dalembert, and others on this list, now you know why.
As with other top-ten lists, this of course will come with much debate, but I ask that you simply argue your point for a player that you want on the list, and not insult my intelligence.
10. Leandro Barbosa (Phoenix Suns/Brazil)
Leandro Barbosa is only twenty-five years old, and shows a huge amount of upside. He serves as a back-up point guard to All-Star and former-MVP Steve Nash.
Despite this, Barbosa managed to average 18 points per game in 2006-07 and 15 in 2007-08.
Barbosa is the kind of guy that could be starting for many teams in the league. Once he becomes a full-time starter, he could be a league leader in scoring.
9. Mehmet Okur (Utah Jazz/Turkey)
Mehmet Okur is an international player from Turkey. He has somewhat of an inside game, but his strength is his mid-range jump shot, which he can extend beyond the arc whenever he pleases.
Okur is 6'11", and can play both the center and power-forward positions. For a big man, he is a good free-throw shooter with a career average of 79 percent.
Okur is a one-time NBA All-Star. However, he barely makes the cut because for some reason, he has been non-existent in the playoffs.
8. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland Cavaliers/Lithuania)
If not for being injury plagued for the first few seasons of his career, Big Z might have one or two more All-Star appearances.
One good thing about Z is that he is consistent. He always puts up about fourteen or more points for the Cleveland Cavaliers on a nightly basis.
Ilgauskas' only weakness, in my opinion, is that despite being 7'3", he doesn't get many rebounds, with a career average of 7.9 RPG. Despite this, he is the Cavaliers all-time leading offensive rebounder.
Even though he and Ben Wallace are well into their thirties, I think they make a good defensive duo that could give Cleveland a shot to win the east—especially with the amount of uncertainty in the conference. Big Z could also make another All-Star appearance before everything is all said and done.
7. Peja Stojakovic (New Orleans Hornets/Serbia)
Peja is past his days as a star player in Sacramento—however, that doesn't mean he isn't a great second option for the New Orleans Hornets.
Peja could still be a first option on many teams in the NBA. His numbers have gotten considerably lower since his days in Sacramento (only 16.4 PPG last year), but with his outside shooting presence, Peja is a nice asset for Chris Paul and the Hornets when he is healthy.
The 6'10" forward is not much of a passer, but he can snatch down his fair share of rebounds, and he has made 90 percent of the free throws that he has taken in his career.
6. Hedo Turkoglu (Orlando Magic/Turkey)
Hedo Turkoglu has always been a good role player for the teams he has played for. Last year, Hedo had his breakout season.
It was no surprise when he was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. He played and started all 82 games last year, and his scoring average was just under 20 PPG. It was a shame that he was snubbed from the All-Star Game last year.
Although he is nearing thirty years of age, don't expect Hedo to slow down anytime soon. If Orlando makes a run in the east, he will surely be instrumental, along with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson.
5. Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs/France) Anybody who can win an NBA Finals MVP award over Tim Duncan is definitely a great player in my book. While he may not average the most assists, Parker can get his share of rebounds as a point guard, and also consistently averages somewhere just under 20 points per game. He also maintains a high field-goal percentage for a guard. In the playoffs, Parker's numbers always get better. Along with Ginobili and Tim Duncan, he has also played a key role in delivering three out of four of San Antonio's NBA Championships. Look for Parker to be a candidate for his third All-Star game this year.
5. Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs/France)
Anybody who can win an NBA Finals MVP award over Tim Duncan is definitely a great player in my book.
While he may not average the most assists, Parker can get his share of rebounds as a point guard, and also consistently averages somewhere just under 20 points per game. He also maintains a high field-goal percentage for a guard.
In the playoffs, Parker's numbers always get better. Along with Ginobili and Tim Duncan, he has also played a key role in delivering three out of four of San Antonio's NBA Championships.
Look for Parker to be a candidate for his third All-Star game this year.
4. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks/Germany)
By all means, Dirk should really be number one on this list. However, despite being the best player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, Dallas is one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA.
Dallas has been a mainstay in the playoffs for the last eight years, and they have one Western Conference title and no rings to show for it. They usually end up with one of the best win totals in the league, and yet they are consistently sent out in the first round or the Western Finals.
Dirk is one of the best-shooting big men in NBA history. It is not surprising that he totals 100 blocks and 100 three-pointers in the same season, all while averaging 23 points and eight rebounds.
Dirk's high scoring average, along with other stats, tends to stay the same during the playoffs—yet somehow, he is virtually invisible. He also seems to lack confidence in his teammates.
Dirk was the first foreign-born player in the NBA to win the MVP award, in 2007. The seven-footer accepted the award after the 67-win Mavericks lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
3. Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs/Argentina)
Manu Ginobili is one of the best international players to ever set foot on an NBA court. Not many people who are chosen second-to-last in the NBA Draft (57th overall in 1999) become an NBA All-Star.
Ginobili managed to make the All-NBA Third Team last year while averaging 19.5 PPG. He did all this while coming off the bench. It's no surprise that he was named Sixth Man of the Year last season.
Manu has been an important key to San Anotino's championship runs during this decade, and it looks as if it will remain that way until he decides to retire from basketball.
2. Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers/Spain)
The best thing the Lakers could ever have done was get rid of the biggest flop in NBA history. They gave away a sub-par player in Kwame Brown for perennial All-Star Gasol.
A former NBA Rookie of the Year, Pau played an important part in the Lakers' run to the NBA Finals last year, although they were beaten by Boston.
Gasol is a good compliment to Kobe Bryant. He can score, get rebounds, and block the ball—and he has a high field-goal percentage. With Andrew Bynum returning, Gasol, Kobe, and the Lakers should make another deep run in the playoffs next year.
1. Yao Ming (Houston Rockets/China)
Yao Ming has been named an All-Star every year that he has been in the league, but has only played in five out of six years, due to injury.
For the first few years of Yao's career, Charles Barkley said his selection was simply the high population of the Chinese voting him as a starter year after year. I agreed with that statement at first. However, as the years have passed, Yao has become a better player, and now deserves his All-Star accolades.
Yao's only weakness is his lanky body for his height. Yao often gets pushed around by other centers, and doesn't get nearly the numbers that a 7'5" NBA center should get.
Yao is the the most valuable player for the Rockets, and I'm sure that the Rockets would have made it past the first round last year if he was not injured. With a healthy Yao, look for Tracy McGrady to finally make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Honorable Mentions: Andrei Kirilenko, Luis Scola, Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Fabricio Oberto, Nene, Yi Jianlian, Andres Nocioni