It’s the most wonderful time of the year for NBA fans. As the NBA moves into the postseason, games become more important, players become more disciplined and teams are distinguished from average to great.
The NBA used to be dominated by Americans, where it would be rare to see players from another country be on more than one or two teams in the league. However, as the global community has shrunk and become more integrated, so has the NBA. Rosters now consist of, on average, at least one foreign player on each roster, which demonstrates how far the game has gone.
Much of the appreciation is given to the early global superstars such as Magic, Bird, Jordan, Barkley, and Shaq. These are the characters that brought a new style and face to the NBA, as a marketable enterprise that can go across borders. With their global success, these players introduced a new sport to a generation of young athletes, who would become some of the best players to play on the hardwood.
Despite their contributions, not all the love can be given to players from the US. Players like Detlef Schrempf, Vlade Divac, Manute Bol, Sarunas Marciulionis, and Drazen Petrovic were the pioneers for foreign players wishing to play in the NBA. And what has become the result of these players’ hard work and sacrifice? Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP titles, Dirk Nowitzki won an MVP and is now 10th in all-time scoring, Tony Parker is the point guard on one of the most successful dynasties in sports history, and Yao Ming is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, by name and by stature.
Note: Al Horford doesn’t make this list as he’s currently on the IR. Boozer doesn’t make the list, as although he was born in West Germany, he played on the US National Team.
10. Marcin Gortat, C, Washington Wizards, Poland
On a team that features young all-star John Wall and up-and-comer Bradley Beal as the primary options, Marcin Gortat brings toughness and veteran experience to the team. Starting as the team’s center, Gortat stands at 6’11 in. and is the son of a retired boxer from Poland.
Gortat provides a toughness that the team desperately needed, and encourages young players to take over the games the way he knows they can. He is one of the few players that has extensive playoff experience on the team, along with Trevor Ariza, as the only two who have been to the finals, and understands what it takes to get back there.
9. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors, Lithuania
It’s incredible to believe that this guy is only 21 years old and battles with some of the toughest big men in the league. In a recent interview when asked how he handles Kevin Garnett’s trash talk, JV said that he doesn’t understand English very well, so The Big Ticket’s trash talk has little to no effect on him. This summarizes the big man’s play on the court.
He’s rarely affected by what the defense gives him, and he leaves it all out on the floor every night. Although he makes mistakes that you would expect young players to make (careless turnovers, slow help defense, and having butterfingers), JV has proven to be one of the centerpieces of this Cinderella story team and will continue to be a pivotal piece of their team in the future.
8. Nenê, PF, Washington Wizards, Brazil
Nene, originating from Brazil, has been plagued by injuries for his whole career but maintains his position as one of the best foreign players in the NBA. With wild hair and the biggest smile in the NBA, Nenê’s game relies on power and finesse at the same time.
His contributions to the team cannot be unappreciated. Along with Gortat and Ariza, Nenê provides veteran leadership to a team built around two young stars. He also brings an offensive game full of dazzling post moves, mid-range jumpers and powerful dunks that constantly surprise defenders. If not for his constant injuries, Nenê would be a powerful threat full-time across the league.
7. Nicolas Batum, SF, Portland Trailblazers, France
Batum is one of the most exciting players to watch, even if he gets little recognition for his abilities on the floor. He is a first class perimeter defender, can make some crazy threes and understands how to get his teammates involved on offense and defense.
His skills revolve his ability to get his teammates involved on offense, make the right post-entry feeds and the extra pass to shooters on the perimeter. Although many remember him for his antics during the 2012 Olympics, his game has evolved even more and he is a pivotal piece for the Trailblazers’ success.
6. Andrew Bogut, C, Golden State Warriors, Australia
It’s a strange notion that Golden State has one of the best defenders in the league, but they could not be happier with Andrew Bogut. Often criticized for being injury prone in his earlier years, Bogut has turned it around and been relatively healthy for the Warriors, who often rely on his inside presence.
Despite being currently injured with broken ribs, Bogut’s contribution to the Warriors cannot be overstated as he continually brings them inside toughness and defense. As a fierce competitor from Australia, he has an attitude that leads to incredible game saving blocks and interior toughness.
5. Serge Ibaka, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder, Congo
Although Ibaka plays for Spain during international competitions, he comes from Congo and does so proudly. Who can forget his real free throw line dunk that gave him the nickname Air Congo. Now, Ibaka has expanded his game more than to just rely on his athleticism and is often regarded as one of the best power forwards and defenders in the league.
Playing for one of the two major title contenders in the Western Conference, Ibaka has added some range to his repertoire making him another option for KD and Westbrook. Now known as Iblaka for his ability to block shots, Serge has become a fortified piece of a title contender and contributes on both sides of the floor.
4. Joakim Noah, Center, Chicago Bulls, France
Firstly, it’s important to explain why Noah is eligible for this list. He was born in New York, but grew up in France and plays internationally for them. He had the option to play for Sweden or the U.S., but chose France and is thus considered foreign for the purpose of this list.
Joakim won the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year and has earned his place as one of the top foreign players in the playoffs this year. Joakim has cemented himself as the leader of a Chicago Bulls team that relies on hard-headed defense, a systematic offense, and frankly, running their starters into the ground.
Since injuries have plagued Derrick Rose for the past two years, Joakim has become the face of the historic franchise and brought life to a team that desperately needed it. Noah has presented himself as one of the best centers in the league and truly personifies hustle and effort in the NBA.
3. Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs, France
Tony Parker has 3 NBA Championships, a Finals MVP award, 6 All-Star appearances and was named All-Europeans Player of the Year in 2013. He will be remembered for being the starting point guard in one of the best team runs in NBA history. As the youngest player out of the Big 3 on San Antonio, Parker gets the most pressure to perform on a night-to-night basis for the team.
He’s constantly reminded coach Popovich that he’s only 31 and that he has plenty left in the tank to play big minutes during regular season and playoffs. Now, the Spurs rely on Parker, to be the primary floor general as Tim Duncan gets older by the day. Parker has not disappointed the team as he continues to be a consummate professional on and off the floor, teaching young players how to play the game and commanding respect from the rest of the NBA.
2. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies, Spain
He’s arguably the best center in the league right now, so it makes sense that he sits near the top of our list. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year proved his importance to the Grizzlies earlier this year when he went down with an MRI injury. The team barely played 500-basketball and struggled to get their way into the playoffs with his help.
When he returned, the team caught fire and hasn’t look back. They are the true definition of grit and grind in today’s modern NBA. With Gasol’s help, the Grizzlies were able to get their way into the playoffs as the #7 seed and have one of the biggest teams in the playoffs. As they battle Thunder in the first round, the Grizzlies are among the scariest teams to face in the playoffs, in big part due to Gasol.
1. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks, Germany
Besides Dirk’s awesome ability to entertain, he is still the best foreign player in the playoffs this year. His presence on the team is still well-known, where the Mavericks basically fall apart without Dirk on the floor. His patented one-legged fadeaway jump shot has become a trademark for years and has been compared to Kareem Abdul-Jabber’s skyhook as one of the few moves that simply cannot be stopped.
Now, in his old age, Dirk no longer possesses the same abilities to take over games like he did in his MVP year. But he is still among the best of the best, and to add to his résumé, he is now 10th on all-time scoring records in the NBA. Needless to say, he is one of the best to ever play the game and has done so with some of the coolest hair and best karaoke from any NBA player to ever touch the hardwood.