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 importance in the NBA Draft heralds another moment in the spread of basketball worldwide.
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.
When Nikola Jokic was drafted 9 years ago, his pick was so inconsequential that a Taco Bell spot ran over his pick.
It was so inconsequential to him that he was angry at his brother for waking him up in Serbia.
Now becoming one of the best to ever playpic.twitter.com/lRsrxjjWFa
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 13, 2023
Jokic was famously drafted during a Taco Bell commercial.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks earned the honor of 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
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
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.