The 9 Best Non-US Players in the NBA Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2021

The 9 Best Non-US Players in the NBA Since 2000

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    Giannis AntetokounmpoMorry Gash/Associated Press

    While the NBA has often had standout players from outside of the United States, the past two decades have continually brought more international talent to North America.

    Largely, that's a product of basketball being a global game. But the performance of superstars like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol have certainly helped. Improvements in scouting and access also have reshaped how talent is recognized.

    This ranking is subjective because there is no perfect way to judge a player. However, advanced metricssuch as win shares and value over replacement playerare also considered.

    Tim Duncan is not included because he's from from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Likewise, though Kyrie Irving was born in Australia, he's represented Team USA in international competition.

Best of the Rest

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    Al Horford
    Al HorfordMark Duncan/Associated Press

    Retired Players

    • Luol Deng (South Sudan; played for Great Britain internationally)
    • Peja Stojakovic (Croatia)
    • Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)


    Active Players

    • Joel Embiid (Cameroon)
    • Rudy Gobert (France)
    • Al Horford (Dominican Republic)
    • Serge Ibaka (Republic of the Congo)
    • Nikola Jokic (Serbia)

9. Andrei Kirilenko

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    JOHN HARRELL/Associated Press

    Among non-U.S. players, Andrei Kirilenko isn't one of the greatest scorers. Nene and Andrew Wiggins have more points in their careers than Kirilenko, for example.

    Since 2000, however, few players have provided as much versatility as the Russian wing.

    Kirilenko averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals in a 797-game career. Those numbers are legitimately in a league of Kirilenko's own, per Stathead. "AK47" paced the NBA with 3.3 blocks per game in 2004-05.

    Additionally, he earned NBA All-Defensive honors three times and made the 2004 All-Star Game.

8. Yao Ming

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    Matt Sayles/Associated Press

    The No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 draft, Yao Ming accomplished a great deal in a relatively short NBA career.

    Injuries plagued Yao throughout his tenure with the Houston Rockets, limiting him to just 486 games over a nine-season span. Nevertheless, the superstar from China racked up 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per appearance.

    Yao secured five All-NBA selections and made eight All-Star teams before retiring due to foot and ankle injuries. He entered the Basketball Hall of Fame as a part of the 2016 class.

7. Marc Gasol

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Marc Gasol, who entered the NBA in 2008, has put himself in Hall of Fame consideration with a strong 13-year career.

    Along with nine international medals representing Spain, he's collected a slew of awards in the NBA. Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013, secured two All-NBA honors, made three All-Star teams and won a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

    Among non-U.S. players over the past two decades, Gasol has collected top-12 career totals in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, according to Stathead.

    Factor in his accolades and Gasol is a tier above Kirilenko and the rest.

6. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    At his current pace, Giannis Antetokounmpo may retire as the greatest non-U.S. player in NBA history.

    Not even including any 2020-21 honors, he's already earned two league MVPs, five All-Star trips, four All-NBA teams, three All-NBA Defensive nods, the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year trophy and the 2017-18 Most Improved Player award. Antetokounmpo's trophy case is quickly running out of space.

    There's a reasonable argument to have Antetokounmpo higher than Manu Ginobili, but the San Antonio Spurs legend stays higher (for now) because of his contributions to title-winning teams.

    Given that Antetokounmpo is still only 26—he turns 27 in December—there's plenty of time for him to ascend in this ranking.

5. Manu Ginobili

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Although he totaled just 349 starts in his 1,057-game career, Manu Ginobili embraced his role as the sixth man for a dynasty.

    Ginobili built a reputation as one of the most inventive passers in the league. He would find teammates in ways that initially frustrated San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich but ultimately became a memorable part of the franchise's legendary run.

    During his 16 seasons, the Spurs won four NBA titles. Ginobiliwho also guided Argentina to a gold at the 2004 Summer Olympicsmade two All-Star and All-NBA teams. He secured the 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year award, as well.

    Among non-U.S. players since 2000, Ginobili ranks fifth in scoring (14,043 points) and sixth in assists (4,001).

    Ginobili is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022 and may be a first-ballot inductee because of his achievements in the NBA, EuroLeague and international competitions.

4. Pau Gasol

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Like his brother Marc, Pau Gasol has a bunch of international honors. He's earned 11 medals with Spain in the Summer Olympics, FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket competitions.

    Between that catalog of accolades and his NBA production, Gasol is practically a lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Gasol wasted no time becoming a force, winning Rookie of the Year in 2001-02. He thrived in seven-plus seasons with Memphis but acquired most of his awards with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2007-14. Gasol was a six-time All-Star who appeared on four All-NBA teams and won a pair of championships.

    During his 18-year career, Gasol piled up 20,894 points and 11,305 rebounds. Both are top-50 marks in NBA history.

3. Tony Parker

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Alongside star teammates Duncan and Ginobili, Tony Parker served as the engine of that San Antonio dynasty.

    Parker, a smart passer and crafty finisher, is often remembered for his floater and wrong-footed layups. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.6 assists in an 18-year career, helped the Spurs win four championships and took home Finals MVP honors in 2007.

    While collecting six All-Star nods, the Frenchman also appeared on four All-NBA teams. Parker ranks 19th in NBA history with 7,036 career assists and 57th with 19,473 points.

    Parker is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023 and, like Ginobili, should be a first-ballot addition.

2. Steve Nash

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    ERIC GAY/Associated Press

    Born in South Africa, Steve Nash represented Canada on the international stage. He's one of only five Canadians with a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Nash, who averaged 14.3 points and 8.5 assists in an 18-year career, won back-to-back league MVPs with the Phoenix Suns in 2005 and 2006. An eight-time All-Star, he secured seven All-NBA honors and led the league in assists five times.

    "The way he can use space, and more importantly, imagine space, is what makes him such an amazing player," former NBA assistant coach Doug Eberhardt said of Nash in 2012.

    Nash's creativity as a passer made him a superstar and he retired with the third-most assists in NBA history. He also posted a 42.8 three-point percentage, the league's 11th-best clip.

1. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Colin E Braley/Associated Press

    When the followers of a sport are constantly searching for "The Next" iteration of a player, you know that player did something right.

    Dirk Nowitzki is an absolute legend.

    Famous for his near-unblockable, one-footed fadeaway, the 7-footer from Germany put together a sensational career. He spent all 21 seasons on the Mavericks, who acquired Nowitzki in a draft-night trade with the Bucks in 1998.

    Nowitzki landed 14 All-Star nods and 12 All-NBA honors during his storied career. He also won the 2006-07 NBA MVP and 2011 Finals MVP as he propelled Dallas to the first championship in franchise history.

    Thanks to 20.7 points per game during his career, Nowitzki ranks sixth in league history with 31,560 points.

    Perhaps fittingly, Nowitzki and longtime rival Parker should enter the Basketball Hall of Fame together in 2023.