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2023 NBA Draft: Top All-Time International Players Ranked

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 6 mins

2023 NBA Draft: Top All-Time International Players Ranked

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With 7-foot-4 Victor Wembanyama of France certain to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Bookies.com created an algorithm to rank the top 21 international NBA players of all-time. 

Wembanyama has been billed as the “Next Big Thing” in the NBA, if not the world of basketball. Just 19, he will have ample opportunity to earn that moniker with the San Antonio Spurs. He’s the third No. 1 pick in team history, behind David Robinson and Tim Duncan

Wembanyama’s projected primacy in the NBA Draft heralds another moment in the spread of basketball around the world.

The first international player chosen with the No. 1 overall pick was Mychal Thompson (Bahamas) in 1976. A dozen have followed, including Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) in 1984, Patrick Ewing (Jamaica) in 1985, Yao Ming (China) in 2002, and Kyrie Irving (Australia) in 2011. Ewing held dual Jamaican-US citizenship when he was born and was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Duncan was taken No. 1 by the Spurs in 1997. The NBA considers him an “international” player even though he was born a U.S. citizen in the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Beyond the draft, international players continue to earn prominent roles during the regular season and beyond. Just this month, Serbia’s Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets to their first-ever NBA title. The NBA champs won 16 of their 20 postseason games and never faced elimination. Jokic earned NBA Finals MVP for his efforts. 

Jokic was famously drafted during a Taco Bell commercial.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks earned the honors for being the top player in the 2021 NBA Finals. Antetokounmpo hails from Greece. 

This season’s MVP Joel Embiid is a native of Cameroon.  Last year’s No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero was born in the United States but has deep Italian roots. 

Top 21 International NBA Players Of All Time 

Here is our list of the best international NBA players of all time using our Bookies.com NBA Ranking Scale (with the help of basketball-reference.com). It weighs both regular-season and playoff statistics. Players are listed with their nation of birth and years played in the NBA. 

The Bookies.Com NBA Ratings Scale

NO.PLAYER COUNTRY NBA YEARS PRA PER WS GS TOTAL
1. Tim Duncan U.S.V.I. 1997-2016 32.8 24.4 206.4 17.3 280.7
2. Dirk Nowitzki Germany 1998-2014 30.6 22.2 206.2 19.1 278.2
3. Hakeem Olajuwon Nigeria 1984-2002 35.4 23.6 162.8 21.8 243.6
4. Pau Gasol Spain 2002-19 29.4 21.4 144.1 14 208.9
5. Patrick Ewing Jamaica 1985-2002 32.721 126.4 14.8 194.9
6. Steve Nash Canada 1996-2014 25.8 20129.7 14.5 190
7. Nikola Jokic Serbia 2015-23 40.3 27.794.5 24.5 187
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo Greece 2013-23 36.9 24.9 96.1 21.4 179.3
9. Tony Parker Belgium 2001-19 23.8 18.3 111.3 11.6 169
10. Dikembe Mutombo Congo 1991-2009 21.1 17.2 117 9.9 117
11. Al Horford DR 2007-23 24.8 18.2 106.6 12 161.6
12. Detlef Schrempf Germany 1985-2001 23.5 17.2 109.5 8.9 159.1
13. Manu Ginobili Argentina 2002-18 20.6 20.2 106.4 10.7 157.9
14. Rudy Gobert France 2013-23 26.321.8 94.4 13.8 156.3
15. Kyrie Irving Australia 2011-23 33 22.4 79.4 13.8 151.7
16. Vlade Divac Yugoslavia 1989-2005 23.1 17.7 96.4 10.2 147.4
17. Joel Embiid Cameroon 2016-23 41.8 27.9 56 17.8 143.5
18. Marc Gasol Spain 2008-21 24.8 18 85.3 11.7 139.8
19. Yao Ming China 2002-10 29.8 23 65.9 14.3 133
20. Peja Stojakovic Yugoslavia 1991-2011 23.523 65.9 14.3 132.8
21. Luka Doncic Slovenia 2018-23 44.2 25.2 39.2 24.1 132.7

(Key: PRA (regular-season combined average of points, rebounds, and assists); PER (Player Efficiency Rating); WS (Win Share); GS (Postseason Game Score. 10 is considered average)

Breaking Down The Numbers 

The Win Share category awards longevity as a player’s Win Share never decreases and only rises with time. It’s also a nod to the player’s ability to help his team. 

Antetokounmpo and Jokic are part of a long and distinguished line of international NBA players who have both led their teams to championships and rank among the best current stars in the league. 

But where do they stand among the best foreign-born NBA players of all time?

Both Antetokounmpo and Jokic are currently on a pace to eventually end up atop this list. It would require them to maintain their current pace of individual production and Win Share over the next decade. 

That’s a big ask, but also a nod to Duncan dominance and his team’s success for parts of three decades. Antetokounmpo is roughly on the same pace. 

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About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.