The best international player in the history of each franchise

The best international player in the history of each franchise


The best international player in the history of each franchise

The 1992 Dream Team started a revolution in basketball.

The eyes of the world were set on Barcelona as one the greatest teams ever assembled – regardless of sport – dominated their way to taking gold.

Since that fateful summer, the infusion of international basketball talent into the NBA has been astounding. And today, some of the most promising young players the league has to offer are non-domestic products.

Though some franchises have stronger ties with foreign players, almost every organization has had at least one star-level talent from another country bear their colors.

We break down the top international players in each team’s history.

Atlanta Hawks

Al Horford, Dominican Republic

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, Al Horford has lived up to his high draft selection and then some.

The former Florida Gator averaged 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per outing as a member of the Hawks, while helping them earn a postseason berth in all nine seasons he was there.

Horford received All-Star distinction four times while in Atlanta, and was a key cog to their unforgettable 60-22 campaign of 2014-15.

To this day, the Dominican big man is eighth in Hawks history in total rebounds, sixth in blocks and second in field-goal percentage.

Boston Celtics

Al Horford, Dominican Republic

Following a fantastic stint as a member of the Hawks, Horford then joined the Boston Celtics prior to the 2016-17 season on a four-year, $113.3 million deal.

As a Celtic, the 6-foot-10 floor-spacer has averaged 13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists nightly, while earning another All-Star bid, his fifth, this season.

Although Horford has been nothing short of a spectacular signing for Boston, the fact he’s already their best international player ever probably speaks more to the Celtics’ lack of luck with non-domestic players throughout their long history.

Brooklyn Nets

Drazen Petrovic, Croatia

One of the league’s great scorers of the early 1990s, and one of the most talented European players ever, Drazen Petrovic’s prime was unfortunately cut short when a car accident took his life during the summer of 1993.

Over his two-year peak as a member of the then-New Jersey Nets, the Croatian shooting guard averaged 21.4 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals per contest while slashing absurd 51.2/44.6/84.3 shooting splits. Petrovic is currently enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed upon him posthumously in 2002.

Among today’s generation, his legacy has inspired various European-born NBA players, such as first-time All-Star Goran Dragic, who became emotional after receiving Petrovic’s jersey as a gift from the late baller’s mother this past summer.

Charlotte Hornets

Nicolas Batum, France

Although the Nicolas Batum signing hasn’t panned out quite as well as the Charlotte Hornets would have hoped, the 6-foot-8 wing has still put up impressive numbers since joining the team in 2015-16.

As a Hornet, Batum is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest.

The only other players to total at least 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists nightly over the same time frame are James HardenLeBron JamesRussell Westbrook and Ben Simmons.

Not bad company to be in for the French swingman.

Chicago Bulls

Luol Deng, South Sudan

The Chicago Bulls enjoyed some of their best post-Michael Jordan days during Luol Deng’s time with the franchise.

The South Sudanese wing was taken seventh overall out of Duke by the Bulls in the 2004 NBA draft and spent a successful nine-and-a-half year stint with the team.

Chicago missed the playoffs just once while Deng was there, their best campaign coming in 2010-11, when they went 62-20 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Miami Heat.

Deng currently places highly in various career statistics for the Bulls, including points (No. 4), rebounds (No. 9) and steals (No. 5).

Cleveland Cavaliers

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Lithuania

A two-time All-Star and a staple of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball throughout the 2000s, the 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, affectionately known as Big Z, became a fan favorite during his time in northeast Ohio.

Thanks to his soft shooting touch and rim protection, Ilgauskas was an important member of various elite Cavaliers squad, which, obviously, also included LeBron James.

If you take a gander at Cleveland’s record books, you’ll see that the Lithuanian seven-footer ranks second in career points, second in rebounds and first in blocks in Cavaliers history.

You can probably guess who ranks first at the former two stats.

Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki, Germany

Arguably the greatest European-born NBA player of all time, Dirk Nowitzki, a one-time champion, 13-time All-Star and 12-time All-NBA member, is as surefire a first ballot Hall-of-Famer as there is.

Nowitzki is first in just about every important metric for the Mavericks, including games, minutes played, points, three-pointers and rebounds.

Even more impressively, the German big man is sixth in league history in scoring, 11th in triples and 28th in boards.

Not bad for a gawky kid from Wurzburg.

Denver Nuggets

Dikembe Mutombo, Democratic Republic of Congo

One of the fiercest shot-blockers in NBA history, Dikembe Mutombo got his start as a member of the Denver Nuggets.

During his five seasons with Denver, the Georgetown product earned All-Star distinction three times, while winning Defensive Player of the Year once in his second-to-last year with the Mile High franchise.

Despite the relatively short amount of time Mutombo spent with the Nuggets, he still leads the franchise in career blocks while ranking third in rebounds.

It should also be mentioned, Mutombo was a key member of the historic 1993-94 Nuggets squad, who became the first No. 8 seed in league history to knock off a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

The historic image of an exhausted-yet-elated Mutombo clutching the ball above his head as he lies on the hardwood following the decisive Game 5 victory belongs in the pantheon of NBA photography.

Detroit Pistons

Jonas Jerebko, Sweden

Similarly to the Celtics, the Detroit Pistons haven’t had much luck with international players throughout their history.

They had one shot at a potentially great European wearing their colors, but sadly, the Darko Milicic experiment wound up being an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.

Though he arrived to far less fanfare than Milicic, Jonas Jerebko ended up being a decent role player for the Pistons. During his five-plus year stint with Detroit, the Swede forward averaged 7.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest.

Golden State Warriors

Andrew Bogut, Australia

An underrated piece to the Golden State Warriors first championship run since 1975, Andrew Bogut’s floor vision, finishing near the rim and paint protection were vital for a team that needed every bit of his toughness.

Bogut arrived to the Bay as a member of the somewhat controversial trade that saw Golden State choose to roll with Stephen Curry as their franchise cornerstone over the more established Monta Ellis.

Ellis was shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Australian seven-footer came back as part of the transaction.

As a Warrior, Bogut wound up giving the team an added dimension no one else on their roster could. During the Warriors’ 2014-15 title season, Bogut averaged merely 6.3 points per outing, but backed that up with an impressive 8.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 blocks nightly.

Houston Rockets

Hakeem Olajuwon, Nigeria

If not for the German three-point assassin we covered earlier, Hakeem Olajuwon would undoubtedly be known as the best international player ever. As is, Olajuwon makes a great argument in his own right, even despite Nowitzki’s gaudy numbers.

The Nigerian seven-footer won two championships to Nowitzki’s one, is a one-time MVP just like the Mavericks legend, was an excellent offensive weapon despite never becoming a three-point threat (career 21.8 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting) and could be called the best defensive big man in modern league history.

Olajuwon led the NBA in nightly blocks three times, in rebound average twice and won Defensive Player of the Year twice as well.

Just for good measure, we should also add that the athletic specimen of a big man also has the most blocks in NBA history by a fairly wide margin, with 3,830.

All of the aforementioned accolades, of course, came as a member of the Houston Rockets, where Olajuwon spent almost the entirety of his career.

Indiana Pacers

Rik Smits, Netherlands

The always dependable Rik Smits spent his entire 12-year career with the Indiana Pacers.

During that time, Indiana reached the Conference Finals four times and the league Finals once, but were never able to get over that final hump to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Smits made one All-Star appearance throughout his playing days and averaged 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for his career.

To this day, he’s second in Indiana franchise history in points and first in blocks.

Los Angeles Clippers

Swen Nater, Netherlands

A two-time All-Star, Swen Nater enjoyed quite the career in both the ABA and NBA.

The Dutch seven-footer spent five seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers towards the tail end of his prime, and prior to the final campaign, put up impressive averages of 13.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest. One of those years, he led the league in rebounding with 15 per game.

Nater sits sixth in Clippers history in total rebounds with 4,168, ahead of the underrated Randy Smith and the legendary Chris Kaman.

Los Angeles Lakers

Pau Gasol, Spain

Though Pau Gasol probably isn’t on the same tier as Nowitzki or Olajuwon as far as best international players are concerned, one could easily make the argument he belongs in the stratum right after theirs.

A two-time champion with the Lakers, a six-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA performer, both Gasol’s peak and longevity help him stand out among the top non-domestic players in league history.

The seven-footer’s impact on the Lakers cannot be overstated.

Once Gasol joined Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles squad, he helped propel them from the mediocrity they had been mired in since Shaquille O’Neal’s departure, back to basketball royalty.

And one day, his jersey will hang up in the rafters along with all of the other Laker legends of yesteryear.

For anyone who disagrees with that notion, just listen to Bryant’s thoughts on the matter:

Convinced now? Thought so.

Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol, Spain

Part of the package the Memphis Grizzlies received in the trade that sent Pau to the Lakers were the draft rights to his brother Marc Gasol, who Los Angeles had drafted the year prior.

Despite the fact no one expected the younger Gasol to even approach the heights his elder sibling did, Marc Gasol ended up becoming quite the player in his own right.

The younger Gasol has spent all 10 years of his career with Memphis. He has made three All-Star games in that span, two All-NBA teams and was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13.

The big Spaniard also leads all players in Grizzlies history in total points, field goals and blocks, and is second in rebounds.

Impressive marks for the player who was expected to be in his big brother’s shadow for the entirety of his career.

Miami Heat

Goran Dragic, Slovenia

The Heat’s most consistently great player of the post-LeBron era, Dragic finally got his first All-Star bid in 2017-18.

The Slovenian floor general has averaged 17.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per contest as a member of the south Florida franchise, while helping guide them to a postseason berth twice.

Without their point guard, the Heat could have hit a serious lull as a franchise, bottoming out in a way very unbecoming of a Pat Riley-led organization.

Instead, Dragic has helped them maintain respectability in a major way.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece

If any current player can pretend to approach the Nowtizki-Olajuwon tier for international players, it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Still just 23 years old, the player affectionately known as the Greek Freak already has two All-Star berths under his belt, as well as one All-NBA appearance.

This year, Antetokounmpo has taken his game to another level.

The 6-foot-11 wing is presently averaging an obscene 27.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. If you look up the other players in league history to put up at least 27/10/4 for an entire season, you’ll find names like Kareem Abdul-JabbarWilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson littering the list.

Health provided, if the Bucks forward maintains his current trajectory, he could wind up a multiple-time MVP winner, and one of the best non-domestic players of all time.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio, Spain

During the six years Ricky Rubio spent with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the flashy Spaniard was ninth in total assists league-wide, and sixth in steals.

He may have never lived up to the vast expectations he had coming into the NBA, but he’s been a more-than-serviceable floor general, and the Wolves were, more often than not, more effective when he was in the game.

In Minnesota’s franchise history, Rubio places second in both assists and second, behind only the incomparable Kevin Garnett.

New Orleans Pelicans

Predrag Stojakovic, Serbia

One of the best shooters ever, Predrag Stojakovic (more commonly known as Peja) spent the latter portion of his prime as a member of the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Despite his advanced age during his time with New Orleans, Stojakovic still put up 14.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per night.

More importantly, he maintained his status as one of the league’s premiere shooters by knocking down 40.3 percent of his attempts from deep while with the club.

The Pelicans made the playoffs twice during Stojakovic’s tenure there.

New York Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia

Along with Antetokounmpo, another current player with the potential to eventually reach the Nowitzki/Olajuwon stratosphere – provided he returns to form following the torn ACL that ended his 2017-18 campaign – is New York Knicks freakazoid Kristaps Porzingis.

Standing tall at 7-foot-3, the Latvian big man can not only protect the rim with the best of them, he can also knock down three-pointers like a shooting guard.

Porzingis is the only player in NBA history to average at least 2.0 blocks and 1.5 triples for their career, and it’s hard to envision anyone else who could eventually join him in the exclusive club.

There’s a reason people call him the Unicorn.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Detlef Schrempf, Germany

The second big German on our list, Detlef Schrempf was a smooth scorer, a decent rebounder and a plus distributor during his time with the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder).

Throughout his six campaigns with Seattle, Schrempf averaged 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest, while earning two All-Star nods.

In 1995-96, with the 6-foot-9 German starting at the 4, the Sonics had one of their best campaigns in franchise history. They went 64-18 in the regular season and ultimately pushed the Bulls to six games in the NBA Finals before finally succumbing to Jordan and Co.

Schrempf may have been the third fiddle on that team, behind Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t vital to their success.

Orlando Magic

Hidayet Turkoglu, Turkey

Turkish swingman Hidayet Turkoglu (better known as Hedo) spent the peak of his interesting career with the Orlando Magic.

During his time in central Florida, Turkoglu was a 15.8-point-per-game scorer, while chipping in 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists nightly. He was 2007-08’s Most Improved Player, and helped guide the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Although Orlando was ultimately tossed aside by the Lakers in just five games, Turkoglu performed well in the championship series, averaging 18.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.

Today, the Turk ranks sixth in career rebounds for the Magic, and sixth in assists.

Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid, Cameroon

Despite years of poor luck health-wise early in his career, Joel Embiid is well on his way to living up to the expectations he had coming into the league.

Over the past two seasons with the Philadephia 76ers, Embiid is averaging 22.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 blocks per outing.

Though he’s not quite on Porzingis’ level as a shooter, the Sixers big man can space the floor from three while protecting the rim. He’s also a monster in isolation and in the low post.

If he continues on his current path, Embiid will go down as one of the best Philadelphia (and international) players ever.

Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash, Canada

One of the top international stars the league has ever seen, Steve Nash helped redefine modern basketball as we know it.

Under Mike D’Antoni’s tutelage, the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Phoenix Suns helped take the sport as we know it from slow, plodding and mid-range-oriented into the beautiful, swift, pace-and-space product we know today.

Nash, one of the most gifted passers in league history, spent seven very successful campaigns in Phoenix. In that time, he won two MVP trophies, made five All-Star appearances and received All-NBA 1st Team distinction three separate times.

As a Sun, the Canadian floor general averaged 16.7 points and 11.0 assists nightly while slashing truly absurd shooting splits of 50.8/44.0/91.3.

Unfortunately, the Nash’s Suns’ peak came at the same time as Bryant and the Lakers second dynastic period in the late 2000s, as well as the San Antonio Spurs’ era of dominance. Thus, Phoenix was never able to reach the NBA Finals with the legendary Canadian at the helm.

Regardless, the long-haired dime-disher will go down as one of the best non-domestic players ever, as well as the greatest Phoenix Sun of all time. (Sorry, Charles Barkley.)

Portland Trail Blazers

Arvydas Sabonis, Lithuania

It’s unfortunate that we never got to see an in-prime Arvydas Sabonis in the NBA. You know, the 7-foot-3, 280-plus-pound behemoth who helped the Soviet Union win gold at the 1988 Olympics.

Sadly, injuries coupled with the political climate between the USSR and the United States didn’t allow Sabonis to make his way to the NBA until the 1995-96 season, when he was already 31 years old.

Even so, with his knees basically shot after playing so many minutes for both his clubs and countries, Sabonis still enjoyed a respectable career in the league. Over his first three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, the seven-footer averaged 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while making the All-Rookie Team in his first campaign.

During Sabonis’ time in Portland, the club made the playoffs every single year, and got as far as the Western Conference Finals twice.

We never got to see him at his peak, but the flashes Sabonis occasionally threw at us made it clear the greatness he once possessed.

Sacramento Kings

Predrag Stojakovic, Serbia

Stojakovic was a solid role player as a member of the Hornets/Pelicans. For the Sacramento Kings, on the other hand, he was a star – a three-time All-Star to be exact, to go with one All-NBA distinction in 2003-04.

Throughout his time the Kings, the Serbian sharpshooter put up 18.5 points per game, to go with 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals. What’s more, not counting his rookie campaign, Stojakovic converted over 40 percent of his triples with Sacramento, and was a huge part of the team’s success in the early 2000s.

The Kings made the playoffs every season Stojakovic was there, and got within one game of reaching the 2002 NBA Finals before the Lakers were able to pull the series out in seven. The three-point assassin hurt his ankle during the series against Dallas a few weeks prior to the showdown with Los Angeles, and wasn’t able to return until Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Once he did return, he clearly wasn’t himself, as he went just 1-for-10 from deep over the final three contests.

Who knows? Perhaps a healthy Stojakovic changes Sacramento’s fortunes in that now-infamous series.

Today, the Serbian wing leads the Kings franchise in three-pointers made, while placing seventh in points scored.

San Antonio Spurs

Tony Parker, France

Six All-Star appearances, four-time All-NBA-Team member, four titles and one NBA Finals MVP trophy, there’s little Tony Parker hasn’t accomplished with the San Antonio Spurs.

The French point guard has played multiple roles under Gregg Popovich: that of focal point, that of role player, that of mentor and, always, that of floor general.

Parker has spent his entire 17-year career with San Antonio. He ranks first in assists in Spurs history, fifth in free throws made and fourth in points.

Of course, San Antonio has more than one all-time great international player in their history. We would be remiss not to mention the legendary Argentinian, Manu Ginobili, as well.

Like Parker, Ginobili has spent his entire career with the Spurs. Multiple championships, All-Star Games and All-NBA appearances also adorn his resume, and without the crafty lefty, the Spurs may not have reached the vast heights they did.

Toronto Raptors

Jose Calderon, Spain

The Toronto Raptors’ franchise leader in total assistsJose Calderon has carved out a nice career since entering the league in 2005-06.

As a member of the Raptors, the Spaniard averaged 9.9 points and 7.2 assists per contest.

Calderon’s tenure with Toronto may not be the most memorable, but he provided stability to a franchise that had been a revolving door for years, and was the bridge that connected the Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan eras.

Utah Jazz

Andrei Kirilenko, Russia

Russian swingman Andrei Kirilenko was a player ahead of his time.

Thanks to his size (6-foot-9) and length (7-foot wingspan) on the perimeter, the Utah Jazz legend dominated on the less glamorous side of the ball throughout his heyday.

Had Kirilenko been around today, he would be the prototypical small-ball center, with the ability to space the floor relatively well while causing terror on the defensive end with his instincts and impressive physical attributes.

His career marks with Utah included 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks per contest. Kirilenko led the NBA in rejections during 2004-05, made an All-Star appearance and three All-Defensive teams while with the Jazz.

To this day, he’s second in Utah history in blocks, fourth in steals, sixth in points and seventh in rebounds.

Washington Wizards

Marcin Gortat, Poland

The seven-footer known as the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat has been the Washington Wizards’ best big man during their recent resurgence as a franchise.

One of the top screen-setters in the league and an excellent finisher on dives to the basket, Gortat has been able to form a solid partnership with his point guard, John Wall, since joining the team. (At least on the basketball court.)

Gortat already ranks Top 10 in both blocks and rebounds in Wizards history, despite only having been there for five seasons.

You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa and Jorge Sierra contributed to this article.

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