The NBA has always had a distinctly international flavor. From European imports such as Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Dirk Nowitzki, to African superstars Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon, the league has a proud history of international players.
Over the past decade, what was a trickle of international talent has transformed into a flood. On opening night of the 2017/18 season, 108 international players from a record 42 countries and territories suited up and prepared to play NBA ball.
Over the next month, we will count down the top 20 international players in the NBA. This list takes into account previous achievements and current productivity, as well as future potential.
20. Gorgui Dieng (Senegal)
Since entering the league in 2009, having been drafted by the Jazz and traded immediately to the Timberwolves, Dieng has established himself as a reliable and versatile big man. The 6’10” power forward out of Senegal via Louisville has improved year after year in the NBA, culminating in the 2016/17 season where he started all 82 of Minnesota’s games.
Dieng is a gritty forward who has been the Timberwolves' lone defensive standout over the past two seasons. Besides his defensive prowess, Dieng has a varied offensive game with a smooth 18-foot jumper and he has even developed a 3-point threat.
At the start of the 2017/18 season, Dieng was replaced in the Timberwolves' starting lineup by Taj Gibson. However, the Senegalese forward will continue to play a crucial role, providing energy and an improving scoring threat off the bench, as Minnesota look to end their playoff drought.
19. Ben Simmons (Australia)
It feels slightly strange having a player who has played just a handful of NBA games on this list. However, Ben Simmons has quickly established himself as this season's Rookie of the Year favorite and became only the third rookie to record a triple-double in his first four games.
The Australian has shown the athleticism, court vision and passing ability which persuaded the 76ers to take him first overall. His poise on the ball has been hugely impressive and he is already forming a deadly relationship with Sixers' star center Joel Embiid.
There are still concerns. Whilst Simmons has developed a nice elbow jumper he is struggling from beyond the arc. If he can’t improve his outside shot teams will defend him differently, daring Simmons to beat them from outside. His free-throw percentage of just over 55% is also a significant weakness in his game. Regardless, Simmons has looked right at home in his first taste of NBA action and looks to have an outstanding career ahead of him.