Five Best International NBA Draft Years
The five best years to shop overseas for NBA talent.
This isn’t exactly the best time of year to be writing about the NBA Draft — the 2011 edition is still over nine months away. The FIBA World Championships are over. None of the European leagues are underway. NCAA players haven’t even started official practices yet.
But, alas, check out the name of this blog: Draft 365. So, really, we have no choice in this matter — there is no offseason for us. So what have we come up with for this edition of the column? How about the all-time best NBA Draft years for international prospects. Plus, this idea isn’t as random as it seems — consider it a tribute to the just completed World Championships, where international basketball was on full display; plus a nod to the 2011 Draft, where there should be a strong international showing. See how we tie everything together?! A thing of beauty!
(For the purpose of this rankings, “international” means any player not born and raised in the United States. As well, only drafts with multiple international players taken are included — sorry Hakeem.)
5) 2002 — Yao Ming, Nene, Nenad Krstic, Luis Scola, Juan Carlos Navarro
2002 was a real big year for international players in the Draft, with 10 of them being selected. While some didn’t pan out (hi, Nikoloz) as you can see from the names above, enough did. Of course the list is led by the first overall pick that year, Yao Ming, who has had quite the snake-bitten career. But even if Yao doesn’t ever play another NBA minute, there’s a good chance he’ll find his way into the Hall of Fame. And don’t overlook the third-to-last name called the night of the Draft in 2002, Luis Scola, who, in Yao’s absence, has become Houston’s best player.
4) 1998 — Dirk Nowitzki, Rasho Nesterovic, Michael Olowokandi
1998 was the draft year that helped ruin the NBA a little bit. After Dirk Nowitzki’s became a smash sensation, NBA GMs went a little crazy on drafting skilled European 7-footers searching for “the next Dirk” (Hi again, Nikoloz). This draft also had one of the all-time great first overall draft busts in Michael Olowokandi. But it also includes Rasho Nesterovic, who played over 800 games in the NBA, and, of course, Dirk, one of the game’s all-time greats and a former MVP.
3) 1997 — Tim Duncan, Adonal Foyle, Predrag Drobnjak
Yes, Tim Duncan qualifies as an international player since he is from the Virgin Islands and not one of the US’s 50 states. But, other than Timmie, this draft was a little light on impact international players, although Adonal Foyle did have a solid NBA career, and is the all-time blocked shots leader for the Warriors. But the presence of the best power forward and a top 10 all-time player (no, we’re not referring to Predrag Drodnjak) makes this a great draft for international players.
2) 2001 — Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Mehmet Okur, Samuel Dalembert, Vladimir Radmanovic
Just a stellar, stellar year for shopping for NBA talent overseas. Pau Gasol and Tony Parker already have multiple NBA Championship rings on their fingers (with Parker owing a Finals MVP trophy) and are on the fast track to the Hall of Fame. Mehmet Okur is also an NBA champion as well as an NBA All-Star. Samuel Dalembert and Vladimir Radmanovic have had long, serviceable NBA careers. And with Pau just turning 30 and Parker still only 28, the best could still be yet to come.
1) 1996 — Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Vitaly Potapenko
1996 is one of the best (if not THE best) NBA Drafts of all time, and that is in no small part due to the international players selected that year. Three non-Americans from the 1996 NBA Draft have played in multiple All-Star Games, led by the South African-born, Canadian-raised Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, one of the greatest point guards of all time as well as THE greatest shooting point guard ever. In the early to mid 2000s Peja Stojakovic was one of the NBA’s best players and helped make Sacramento a perennial title contender. And Zydrunas Ilgauskas is one of the Cleveland Cavaliers best players of all time, not to mention one of its most beloved (insert LeBron joke/insult here).