Last month, ESPN.com rolled out its 2017 list of the top 100 players in the NBA — the #NBArank project.
To highlight the global impact on the league (there were 108 players born outside the U.S. on rosters to start the 2017-18 season), we’ve used those rankings to compile a list of the NBA’s 25 top international players.
Without further ado, here is the #NBArank Global Edition (with each player’s overall #NBArank position in parentheses) for the 2017-18 season:
25. (97) Dirk Nowitzki | Germany
Stats & Info: This is Nowitzki’s 20th season in Dallas, and when he steps on the court for the first time, he will tie Kobe Bryant’s NBA record for the most seasons played with a single franchise. Nowitzki also has a shot at climbing into the top five on the all-time scoring list, as he needs 1,160 points to pass Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place. If he plays in 70 games, Nowitzki would need to average 16.6 PPG to move up the list.
24. (96) Dennis Schroder | Germany
Stats & Info: With the departure of Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder is now the leader of a rebuilding Hawks franchise and a prime candidate for catchy yet empty box score stats in 2017-18. In 755 minutes he played without Millsap last season, Schroder averaged just under 22 points and eight assists per 36 minutes. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they were outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions during that time, a number that would have ranked dead last in the NBA.
23. (88) Nikola Mirotic | Montenegro
Bulls | PF | @threekola
Last year’s global rank: 27
Last year’s overall rank: 95
Stats & Info: Consistency eludes Mirotic, who didn’t re-sign with Chicago until just before training camp following another up-and-down season. After averaging just 9 PPG on 30 percent shooting from 3 over the first five months of 2016-17, Mirotic ended on a high note, scoring nearly 16 PPG in March and April while connecting on 43 percent from beyond the arc.
22. (84) Ben Simmons | Australia
76ers | PF | @BenSimmons25
Last year’s global rank: 34
Last year’s overall rank: 120
Stats & Info: Simmons missed all of last season and did not participate in Summer League, so he’s perhaps the league’s biggest mystery entering 2017-18. ESPN.com’s fantasy projections peg him for 14.7 PPG, 6.6 APG and 5.9 RPG, all-around production that is almost unheard of by a rookie. In fact, the only two rookies in NBA history to reach those thresholds are Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
(Number of international players on rosters at the start of each season. Source: NBA)
21. (80) Pau Gasol | Spain
Spurs | C | @paugasol
Last year’s global rank: 15
Last year’s overall rank: 61
Stats & Info: There were 232 players who launched at least 100 triples last season. The player that ranked first among all of them in 3-point FG percentage? Pau Gasol. The gap between Gasol and the second-best was the same as the gap between the second-best and 94th-best. In a league littered with bigs reinventing themselves in the age of pace-and-space, Gasol has transformed into perhaps the game’s most deadly stretch 5.
20. (77) Gorgui Dieng | Senegal
Stats & Info: Dieng was a lone bright spot defensively for a Timberwolves team that finished 26th in defensive efficiency last season. The only players to average at least 25 minutes per game and rank ahead of Dieng in defensive real plus-minus were perennial defensive player of the year candidates Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis. The dependable Dieng is one of three players to appear in all 82 games each of the past two seasons.
19. (72) Tristan Thompson | Canada
Stats & Info: Thompson is the only qualified player to average at least three offensive rebounds per game over each of the past six seasons and is vital to Cleveland’s ability to generate second chances. With Thompson off the floor, the Cavs averaged just 9.2 second-chance points per 48 minutes, which would have ranked dead last in the NBA. With him on the court, that number rose to 12.9, which would have been good for 16th leaguewide.
18. (70) Clint Capela | Switzerland
Stats & Info: Capela made tremendous strides on the offensive end in his third season, developing into one of the NBA’s elite rim runners and ranking third in field goal percentage. Capela was on the receiving end of 103 alley-oops last season, which ranked second in the NBA behind only LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. With Jordan’s former lob partner Chris Paul now throwing them in Houston alongside James Harden, expect Capela to lead the league in alley-oop finishes in 2017-18.
17. (69) Serge Ibaka | Congo
Stats & Info: Although the addition of Ibaka didn’t result in Toronto’s ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference last season, as was the hope when they traded for the shot-blocking floor stretcher, the Raptors did have success when playing him at the 5. In the 231 minutes Ibaka played center during the regular season, the Raptors outscored teams by 14.1 points per 100 possessions, perhaps a sign of things to come with Ibaka now inked for three more seasons.
(International players on rosters at the start of the 2017-18 season. Source: NBA)
16. (67) Patty Mills | Australia
Stats & Info: Last season, the Spurs outscored teams by 11.9 points per 100 possessions with Mills on the floor without Tony Parker, compared to 5.2 points per 100 possessions with Parker on the floor without Mills. With Mills ranking well ahead of Parker in our rankings — Parker failed to crack the overall top 100 — it’s perhaps more clear than ever that it’s time for Mills to take over the primary point guard duties in San Antonio.
15. (66) Nicolas Batum | France
Hornets | SG | @nicolas88batum
Last year’s global rank: 10
Last year’s overall rank: 44
Stats & Info: On a per-possession basis, Batum has filled it up in each of his two seasons in Charlotte, as he’s one of just three players to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per 100 possessions in each of the last two seasons. The others? LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. An area for improvement this season is efficiency, as Batum is coming off a season in which he posted the worst effective field goal percentage of his career.
14. (57) Andrew Wiggins | Canada
Stats & Info: When it comes to projecting ceilings, Wiggins is among the most polarizing cases. On one hand, there’s no denying his ability to score as you can count on two hands the number of perimeter players in NBA history to average more points as a 21-year old. On the other hand, skeptics wonder if the rest of his game will ever catch up as his assists, rebound, block and steal numbers have all plateaued since his rookie season.
(International players on rosters at the start of the 2017-18 season. Source: NBA)
13. (54) Danilo Gallinari | Italy
Clippers | SF | @gallinari8888
Last year’s global rank: 18
Last year’s overall rank: 70
Stats & Info: When healthy, Gallinari can get buckets; he averaged more points per play in the half-court than Kevin Durant last season. Gallinari has played 70 games just twice in his nine seasons, making him a risky gamble for a Clippers team also banking on the health of Blake Griffin.
12. (48) Ricky Rubio | Spain
Stats & Info: Given today’s fascination with spacing and the rise of the scoring point guard, it’s easy to see how Rubio can get lost in the shuffle when discussing the game’s best floor generals. Yet despite his limitations, Rubio is a viable tip of the spear on both ends of the floor, as he’s one of just three point guards in NBA history with career averages of eight assists and two steals per game, alongside Chris Paul and John Stockton. Rubio’s heady game should be a perfect fit in Utah.
11. (47) Goran Dragic | Slovenia
Stats & Info: Dragic did not receive a single All-NBA vote despite delivering a season nearly identical to 2013-14 when he was named third-team All-NBA and won Most Improved Player. Dragic remains one of the game’s best at probing the paint, ranking third in the NBA in drives per game last season.
10. (46) Steven Adams | New Zealand
Stats & Info: Adams battled alongside Russell Westbrook more than any player, as 94 percent of his minutes came alongside his MVP teammate. An underrated part of Adams’ game is filling the lane, as he has finished in the 90th percentile in points per play in transition each of the past two seasons, making him an ideal fit next to the tempo-pushing Westbrook.
9. (44) Jusuf Nurkic | Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stats & Info: Nurkic showed flashes that he’s capable of becoming the third cog the Blazers so badly need. An untimely injury and doomed opening-round matchup with the Warriors in the playoffs last season may have delayed enthusiasm, but there’s reason to be optimistic in the Northwest as the Blazers outscored teams by 11.3 points per 100 possessions in more than 400 minutes with Nurkic on the floor alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. That pair was a whopping 15 points per 100 possessions worse when sharing the floor without Nurkic.
8. (40) Al Horford | Dominican Republic
Stats & Info: Horford’s unselfish, high-IQ game proved to be a great fit in Boston as he averaged 5.0 assists per game, which led all centers and nearly doubled his career average with the Hawks. He’s still one of the best one-on-one post defenders as well, ranking second in points per post-up allowed among the 135 players to defend at least 50 of them last season.
7. (32) Joel Embiid | Cameroon
Stats & Info: Like Thomas, Embiid is difficult to project since we simply don’t know if he’ll be able to stay on the floor. Clearly, the tools are there. He shot better from 3-point range than Reggie Miller did as a rookie, finished with a higher block percentage than Hakeem Olajuwon ever did and scored more points per 36 minutes than any rookie in NBA history not named Wilt Chamberlain.
6. (29) Marc Gasol | Spain
Stats & Info: Gasol set career highs last season in scoring, field goal attempts and usage percentage, and could play an even larger role this season as he and Mike Conley are the only Grizzlies players ranked inside our overall top 150. Gasol is King of the High Post, as he averaged over two more elbow touches per game than any other player, averaged more assists from the elbow than any other player and ranked third in points per game from the elbow behind only Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony.
5. (25) Kyrie Irving | Australia
Stats & Info: Close your eyes and imagine Irving dancing with the rock and then scoring on a step back or dazzling finish at the rim. He does it all the time and the stats would agree with the eye test that there might not be a better scorer off the bounce. During the regular season, Irving had the highest effective field goal percentage on shots following seven or more dribbles among the players to take five such attempts per game. During the NBA finals last season, Irving attempted 10 such shots per game, nearly twice as many as any other player, and converted at a more than respectable clip of 49 percent on 2-pointers and 39 percent on 3s. (Note: Although raised in the U.S. since the age of 2, Irving was born in Australia — to American parents — and holds dual citizenship.)
4. (22) Kristaps Porzingis | Latvia
Stats & Info: He protects the rim like Rudy Gobert and shoots 3s like Dirk Nowitzki in his prime. The next step for Porzingis is consistently carrying an offense, as he ranked just third on the Knicks in usage percentage last season behind the departed Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Some evidence that Porzingis still isn’t the “give it to him and get out of the way” offensive threat? He shot just 38 percent last season when he held the ball two or more seconds before shooting.
3. (16) Nikola Jokic | Serbia
Stats & Info: Jokic posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 28.4 after Christmas last season, which ranked third behind 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook and All-NBA and all-defense selection Kawhi Leonard. A brilliant offensive player who essentially plays point-center, the next step in Jokic’s ascension to superstardom is on the defensive end. On the 26 players who started at least 40 games at center, Jokic ranked 24th in block rate.
2. (14) Rudy Gobert | France
Stats & Info: Nobody protects the paint quite like Gobert, who contested a league-high 10.2 shots at the rim per game last season. Though Draymond Green won NBA Defensive Player of the Year, it was Gobert who led the league in defensive real plus-minus, finishing with the best mark by any player over the past three seasons.
1. (9) Giannis Antetokounmpo | Greece
Stats & Info: Antetokounmpo became the youngest player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks last season. We’ve literally never seen anyone quite like him, as Antetokounmpo’s combination of per-possession points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks is unprecedented among NBA players. Now just imagine what he’ll be able to do once he adds an outside shot.
Analysis provided by ESPN Stats & Info’s Micah Adams.