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.

Photo: IMAGN

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 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

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

1.Tim DuncanU.S.V.I.1997-201632.824.4206.417.3280.7
2.Dirk NowitzkiGermany1998-201430.622.2206.219.1278.2
3.Hakeem OlajuwonNigeria1984-200235.423.6162.821.8243.6
4.Pau GasolSpain2002-1929.421.4144.114208.9
5.Patrick EwingJamaica1985-200232.721126.414.8194.9
6.Steve NashCanada1996-201425.820129.714.5190
7.Nikola JokicSerbia2015-2340.327.794.524.5187
8.Giannis AntetokounmpoGreece2013-2336.924.996.121.4179.3
9.Tony ParkerBelgium2001-1923.818.3111.311.6169
10.Dikembe MutomboCongo1991-200921.117.21179.9117
11.Al HorfordDR2007-2324.818.2106.612161.6
12.Detlef SchrempfGermany1985-200123.517.2109.58.9159.1
13.Manu GinobiliArgentina2002-1820.620.2106.410.7157.9
14.Rudy GobertFrance2013-2326.321.894.413.8156.3
15.Kyrie IrvingAustralia2011-233322.479.413.8151.7
16.Vlade DivacYugoslavia1989-200523.117.796.410.2147.4
17.Joel EmbiidCameroon2016-2341.827.95617.8143.5
18.Marc GasolSpain2008-2124.81885.311.7139.8
19.Yao MingChina2002-1029.82365.914.3133
20.Peja StojakovicYugoslavia1991-201123.52365.914.3132.8
21.Luka DoncicSlovenia2018-2344.

(KeyPRA (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’s dominance and his team’s success for parts of three decades. Antetokounmpo is roughly on the same pace.

Photo: IMAGN

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