Foreign Affairs: Analyzing the Impact of International Draftees in the NBA

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Foreign Affairs: Analyzing the Impact of International Draftees in the NBA
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The 2011 NBA Draft was a historic day for the league, the sport, and the world in general. For the first time in the Association’s long history, four out of the first seven draft picks were foreigners: a true testament to the sport’s expanding brand and the world’s increased acknowledgement of the sport. When this historic moment occurred, the majority of people probably didn’t think twice about the anomalous start to the draft.

And why should they?

Foreign ballers have fled to the states at an unusually high rate the last couple of years, causing the draft to transform from a college pickup ceremony to a world basketball expo. This year was a perfect example of how NBA coaches’ respect for high-potential foreigners has been inflated to a level previously unseen in professional basketball. However, as the respect for foreigners continues to go up, history persistently tells us they are taking the wrong approach.

The main attraction of foreign players is that they all have the potential to be the next big thing. This common misunderstanding is what I like to call, the “Dirk Nowitzki Effect.”

Ever since Dirk pleasantly graced the NBA, teams have been determined to take bigger risks on draft day in the hope of finding their franchise player. While NBA teams eagerly toss cash at unproven players, college stars’ stock slowly declines until they are remarkably drafted a half-round after when they should have been. As the majority of foreign phenom’s struggle in the spotlight, it is the old college stars who actually have an impact on their respective teams.

Need proof? Look no further than the history books. In the last seven NBA drafts, there have been 30 foreign players selected in the first round. Out of those 30, only two of them have averaged a double-digit statistic for their career. An incredible 14 of them have averaged under six points per game since arriving in the NBA and six players have yet to make their NBA debut. Surely an NBA GM would probably want a little more production out of their million-dollar selection.

However, those teams who actually receive their draft pick can be considered the lucky ones. Many foreign draftees never actually reach the NBA (See NBA Draft 2003), leaving teams and coaches alike wondering why they ever wasted a chance to grab young talent. With two-thirds of first round international players resulting in utter disaster, it is a wonder why coaches fall for their foreign beauty nearly every single year.

After years of disappointment, it is obvious that lottery teams optimistic view on potential has plagued their franchises and delayed their rise to prominence. Coaches are so extraordinarily eager to find the next Dirk, that they are willing to take unfortunate foreign risks instead of confidently drafting a safer choice.

Only one foreign draft pick since 2002 (Yao Ming) has been selected to an All-Star team. I rest my case.

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