Best Latin American Players in NBA History

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2016

Best Latin American Players in NBA History

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Throughout the month of March, the NBA will celebrate "Noches Enebea" to honor the league's many Latin American fans and players.

    According to NBA.com, the tradition is marking its 10th anniversary with specially designed shooting shirts for all 30 teams, specially designed jerseys for select teams and special telecasts and in-arena activities.

    As the league pays respect to these fans and players, we'll take a moment here at Bleacher Report to recognize the 10 best Latin American players in NBA history.

    In determining who made the cut, time spent in the league, as well as production, were considered. Players in the following slides were able to positively impact a number of teams over extended periods.

    They're also trail blazers, paving paths for young fans in their home countries who dream of following in their footsteps.

10: Eduardo Najera

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    Kerre Randel/Getty Images

    Born: Mexico

    Experience: 12 years

    Numbers: 4.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 48.1 percent from the field

    There's a total of four players in NBA history who were born in Mexico. Eduardo Najera appeared in over three times as many games as the other three combined.

    Najera's longevity was the result of a tireless work ethic that manifested itself every time he took the floor. Whether it was for the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets or any of the other three teams he played for, Najera played a ferocious brand of defense and relentlessly attacked the boards.

    He finished his career averaging 9.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. And for a brief stretch with the Nuggets, he even played a little stretch 4. During the 2007-08 season, Najera hit 36.1 percent of 147 three-point attempts.

9: Andres Nocioni

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    Born: Argentina

    Experience: 8 years

    Numbers: 10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 37.3 percent from three-point range

    With his hustle, determination and ability to hit big shots, Andres Nocioni made an immediate impact in the NBA, averaging 11.7 points and five rebounds in his first five seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

    NBA.com's Conrad Theodore wrote about those attributes in 2008:

    Regardless if Andrés Nocioni is engaged in an NBA playoff game for the Chicago Bulls, an Olympic gold medal Championship contest for Argentina, or a pick-up scrum in a musty gym or at a park, there's only one way he knows how to play—all out. But that's exactly what his teammates love and opponents hate about him. 'I love to play basketball,' Nocioni flatly states. 'It doesn't matter where. It's just always fun.'

    That all-out style carried Nocioni through seven-plus seasons in the NBA. Over his best four-year stretch, from 2005 to 2009, he averaged 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 38.3 percent from downtown.

8: Carlos Delfino

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Born: Argentina

    Experience: 8 years

    Numbers: 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 36.5 percent from three-point range

    It took Carlos Delfino a little time to gain some traction in the NBA, but once he did, he became a prototypical three-and-D guy.

    Over his last five years in the league, Delfino averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 37.2 percent from deep.

    Over that same stretch, Delfino had a Defensive Box Plus-Minus (DBPM) of plus-0.8. That was the 43rd-best DBPM among the 142 players who logged as many minutes during those years.

7: J.J. Barea

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    Victor Baldizon/Getty Images

    Born: Puerto Rico

    Experience: 9 years

    Numbers: 8.3 points, 3.5 assists and 34.7 percent from three-point range

    Generously listed at 6'0", the undrafted J.J. Barea has managed to put together a nine-plus-year NBA career that includes a critical role for the 2010-11 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

    Barea was the emotional bellwether for that Mavericks team, averaging 17.3 points and 6.6 assists during the 2011 playoffs and starting three games during the Finals.

    In the midst of that run, Dallas' Tyson Chandler told ESPN's Jeff Caplan, "He's been our big warrior throughout the entire season...He's been our spark-plug."

    After a three-year detour through Minnesota with the Timberwolves (where he averaged 10.1 points), Barea returned to the Mavs in 2014, where he's still an important role player off head coach Rick Carlisle's bench.

6: Leandro Barbosa

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Born: Brazil

    Experience: 12 years

    Numbers: 11.1 points, 46 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three-point range

    Leandro Barbosa, also known as "The Brazilian Blur," was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2007 and an NBA champion in 2015.

    During his Sixth Man of the Year campaign, Barbosa averaged 18.1 points and four assists, while shooting a blistering 43.4 percent from three.

    Following his award-winning season, Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN):

    "You get really privileged to coach certain [players] and this is one of the good guys in the league. I've really had the privilege of coaching him and watching him mature into a great player. I think this is the first step of a lot that he can do."

    Barbosa has been something of a journeyman since his eight years with the Suns, but he seems to have found another stable home with the Golden State Warriors.

    Since arriving in Golden State in 2014, Barbosa is averaging 16.4 points and 3.4 assists per 36 minutes as an important reserve guard.

5: Luis Scola

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Born: Argentina

    Experience: 8 years

    Numbers: 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 49.4 percent from the field

    It wasn't long after his 2007 arrival in Houston before Luis Scola became a fixture in the Rockets' frontcourt. The crafty Scola used a variety of flip, scoop and set shots to average 14.5 points in Houston. In 2010-11, he averaged 18.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

    Scola's game looks like something from a bygone era, where pump fakes, footwork and intelligence often trumped athleticism. On March 13, 2010, Scola put all of the above to work in a 44-point performance against the New Jersey Nets.

4: Anderson Varejao

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Born: Brazil

    Experience: 11 years

    Numbers: 7.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 51.1 percent from the field

    Anderson Varejao's lunchpail game has served him well throughout his career, especially as a rebounder on both ends of the floor.

    Among the 111 active players with as many career minutes as the Brazilian big man, Varejao's rebounding percentage of 17.4 ranks 11th. Before an injury cut his season short, he was averaging 14.4 rebounds per game in 2012-13.

    That tenacity on the boards is surely part of why the defending champion Warriors signed Varejao for the stretch run of this season. With backup big Festus Ezeli dealing with a knee injury, Varejao should have plenty of opportunities to crash the glass.

3: Nene

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Born: Brazil

    Experience: 13 years

    Numbers: 12.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 54.3 percent from the field

    For nearly a decade and a half, Nene has been a steady presence in the paint, first for the Denver Nuggets and currently for the Washington Wizards.

    He's generally known for his offense (and rightfully so), but Nene's been a solid defensive presence as well. Out of the 279 players in NBA history who've played as many minutes as Nene, his DBPM of 2.0 ranks 36th.

    He isn't a stellar shot-blocker, but Nene's size and strength allow him to clog the paint and make it difficult for opposing players to find driving lanes.

2: Al Horford

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    Born: Dominican Republic

    Experience: 8 years

    Numbers: 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 53.6 percent from the field

    Al Horford is among the quietest stars in the NBA, putting teamwork and winning above any individual acclaim or attention.

    For nearly a decade, the four-time All-Star has been the quiet, steady leader behind an Atlanta Hawks team that's made the playoffs in all but one of his seasons in the league.

    ESPN's Zach Lowe, formerly of Grantland, wrote about Horford's unassuming versatility in January 2015:

    When he's healthy, Horford is a legitimate NBA superstar — a chameleon who is good at everything, great at some things, and always flying beneath the radar. He doesn't pile up insane numbers, hog the ball, or appear in national TV commercials. He is concerned only with winning, even if the path there involves sacrificing shots to focus on passing, setting good picks, and battling 7-footers under the basket.

    A year later, the Hawks are nowhere near as prolific, but Horford continues to bring all of the above (and then some) to his team.

    This season, the big man has added the three to his repertoire, taking three shots per game from downtown and hitting them at a 33.9 percent clip.

1: Manu Ginobili

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Born: Argentina

    Experience: 13 years

    Numbers: 14.1 points, four assists, 1.4 steals and 36.8 percent from thee-point range

    Manu Ginobili is the quintessential sixth man, a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-Star and a likely Hall of Famer.

    Over the course of his career, Ginobili averaged 19.3 points, 5.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 36.8 percent from three-point range. Larry Bird is the only other player in NBA history who matches all those marks.

    Ginobili has been so good and so unique that he's become something of an outlier among the Spurs. As Grantland's Jared Dubin put it:

    Manu operates under an entirely different set of rules than the rest of the Spurs, at the intersection of singular talent and team-oriented system. Before Kawhi Leonard came along, Ginobili was the only player on the team who could get away with gambling out of scheme for steals. He's still pretty much the only player who can get away with breaking the offense and not having Gregg Popovich look like he wants to murder somebody. His wild drives and outrageous passes are otherwise anathema for the Spurs, whose offensive system is an acutely constructed machine that runs with Peyton Manning–esque precision — except when Manu decides to pursue something that seems beyond possibility until the moment it actually happens.

    As Ginobili pursues more of those moments this season, be sure to carefully watch and enjoy every one. At 38 years old, he may not have many left.

    Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

    Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.