The fact that almost 80% of NBA players are American, is no big surprise. The sport was invented in the US in 1892, with its position as a predominantly college sport in the early days creating an exceptional infrastructure for bringing homegrown talent. Many of the most famous ballers of all time, such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan, started in US colleges, but it’s not the only route to success.
Several international stars have graced the NBA since its inaugural match in 1946. Hank Biassati was the first, playing in the debut season with mixed Italian-Canadian heritage. Despite a few early frontrunners, international players weren’t common until the early 1990s. The US Dream Team’s swashbuckling display in the 1992 Olympics was the primary catalyst, causing global basketball hysteria and considering upping the number of NBA players from other countries.
2022 was a vintage year for international superstars, with Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic as just a few examples. Keep reading for a rundown of the top ten.
Canadians have always been the most abundant international NBA players, although basketball only recently became a notable sport in the country. Andrew Wiggins was only the second Canadian to be selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, going on to be an NBA Champion and NBA All-Star this year.
Much has been made of the “Northern Uprising” in the NBA. Will Njoku was one of the first Canadians to reach fame in the 1990s, and, in an exclusive Betway Insider interview, he tipped Bennedict Mathurin to be wrestling with Andrew Wiggins for the title of Best Canadian. Mathurin is in contention to win Rookie of the Year this season, with a string of top-tier performances for the Indiana Pacers.
Yet another Canadian on the rise in the NBA, Gilgeous-Alexander has asserted himself as an integral part of the Oklahoma City Thunder since 2019. The young shooting guard recently entered the Canadian national team setup, and he’s set to shine ever brighter in the next few years.
Nikola Jokic is staking a claim to be one of the all-time NBA greats, and the Serbian is only 27. At the top of various NBA 2022-2023 statistics, the 6 ft 11 in center is known for his incredible flair and unrivaled playmaking abilities. Although he is yet to win an NBA Championship with the Denver Nuggets, Jokic won back-to-back MVP awards in 2021 and 2022. He could easily do this again this season, such is his ball-playing prowess.
The Australian Ben Simmons is undeniably one of the best point guards in the NBA at the moment. The three-time NBA All-Star spent six years at the Philadelphia 76ers before moving to the Brooklyn Nets in February 2022. Simmons had an illustrious college career, listed as the No. 1 player in America in 2015.
Joel Embiid had to come back from a nasty foot injury and missed his first seasons, finally getting to play for the 76ers in 2016. The Cameroonian is one of only a handful of African players to ever play in the NBA. His landmark 2021-2022 season was incredibly impressive, as Embeiid became the first center since 1982 to average over 30 points a game.
Few NBA players have made as much of an impact as Luka Doncic in his first few years. The Slovenian started his career at Real Madrid, winning multiple MVP awards across La Liga and the EuroLeague. Currently playing for the Dallas Mavericks, he has been an NBA All-Star for the last three seasons and isn’t showing any signs of stopping soon.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is often called the “Greek Freak” because of his supernatural ball-handling skills, speed, and strength. The 7 ft power-forward was MVP in 2019 and 2020, before winning the NBA Championship in 2021 with the Milwaukee Bucks.
One of the best rim protectors in the NBA, Rudy Gobert has received the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award three times in his decade-long career. Originally hailing from France, he started out at the Cholet junior team before signing for the Utah Jazz in 2013.
Turkish big man Alperen Sengun is one of the most successful players in international basketball, playing a key role in the highly successful Turkish national team. Amazingly, he’s still too young, combining his astute game intelligence with an aggressive defense.