After scoring 1333 points, his highest total in four seasons, O’Neal is now #5 on the all-time list having surpassed Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Oscar Robertson, and international player Hakeem Olajuwon.
What of International Players’ Impact?
Shaq’s ascension past Hakeem got us thinking here at Interbasket, where do international players fit in on this list and who are the NBA’s current scoring leaders (total career points) amongst the foreign-born?
We decided to create that list.
Once you get to the list, you’ll notice that the international players are there because of their longevity in their league, and not because they were legendary NBA players and/or big-time scorers.
That’s because international players are a relatively recent phenomenon. Just twenty years ago, during the 1988-89 season, you could count the amount of international players on one hand.
Ten years later, in the 1998-99 season, you could add a hand and a few fingers, but international players were still an unknown commodity.
Today, for most teams, international players are an integral piece of the league’s makeup; there were 77 NBA players from different countries last season.
International players are not only playing large roles for their teams, but are the unquestioned leaders; Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash have both been named NBA MVP. Unschooled foreign-born players have been drafted with the #1 overall pick (Yao Ming in 2003 and Andrea Bargnani in 2007), something unheard of just ten year’s previous.
And with each passing NBA season, the globalization of basketball continues. And that is no more apparent than in the current composition of the NBA.
With international players now common on NBA rosters and not just relegated to role players – the true era of international players can be measured in the next 20 years.
Come 2030, the list below will have more big name scorers, recognizable all-stars, than the journeymen, role players, and semi-stars that currently fill up the top-30.
The list is a study of the impact of international NBA players, but more so, it reflects the recent struggle of international players, players from the early-1980s until roughly 2004-05, trying to find a way, a niche, an opportunity.
Here are the top-30 international scorers at the beginning of the 2009-10 NBA season.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon, Nigeria (26,946 points)
1238 games, career 21.8 ppg – Far and away, Hakeem Olajuwon is the leader in points scored amongst international players in NBA history. The 6-10 center from Nigeria is not only #1 on this list, but he’s #8 on the all-time list, and The Dream, whoretired in 2001-02, will remain number one for at least a few more seasons…
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Germany (19,084 points)
839 games, 22.7 ppg – No surprise that the 7-0 German is #2 on the international list. At age 30, Dirk has a few more peak years to pad his totals and is on the edge of perhaps overtaking Olajuwon by the end of his career. Either way, from a of quick glance at the rest of the list, it doesn’t look as if Dirk will be relinquishing either spot anytime soon.
3. Detlef Schrempf, Germany (15,761 points)
1136 games, 13.9 ppg (00-01) – Two Germans in a row. Who knew? Detlef was under the radar, but the 6-9 forward who was an excellent sixth man, spent 16 seasons with four NBA teams, enough to put him third on the list with nearly 16,000 points before retiring in 2000-01.
4. Steve Nash, Canada (13,438 points)
934 games, 14.4ppg – It’s too bad that the now 35-year old Nash spent his first four seasons finding a right fit. Nash had the bad luck of starting out his career playing behind Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. Still, the two-time MVP took the #4 spot last season; Nash may catch Detlef, but the 6-3 Canadian is 5,000 points, and five years behind a younger Nowitzki.
5. Vlade Divac, Former Yugoslavia (13,398 points)
1134 games, 11.8ppg – Divac was never a scorer, so his position at #5 on this list is a bit surprising. It’s more the fact that he came over as a younger player when Europeans weren’t common as they are today. It speaks to Vlade’s longevity in the league. Divac never torched the nets, but did average 11.8 points per game in 16 NBA seasons before retiring after the 2004-05 season.
6. Rik Smits, The Netherlands (12,871 points)
749 games, 14.8 points (1999-00) – The Dunkin’ Dutchman played his entire 12-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers. With midrange jumpshots, one-handed dunks, and nice stroke from the free-throw line (77.3 career FT%) the 7-4 center averaged nearly 15 points per game as the interior presence to Reggie Miller’s outside shooting. Smits would retire after the 1999-2000 season.
7. Peja Stojaković, Serbia (12,583 points)
709 games, 17.7ppg Right behind Divac is his fellow countryman, Peja Stojakovic. The 6-9 sharpshooter has made a career making threes and moving without the ball. Peja is no longer hitting for 18 points a game, but the 32-year old has at least a couple more productive seasons left, and with a healthy 2009-10 campaign, he’ll surpass Smits and Divac.
8. Dikembe Mutombo, Congo (11729 points)
1196 games, 9.8ppg – At 42 years old, Mutombo crumbled into retirement last season. In his last season with the Houston Rockets, Mount Mutombo scored just 16 total points all season. However, when you couple his 9.8 points per game with 18 seasons in the NBA, the finger-wagging Mutombo cracks the top ten of this list with solid consistency.
9. Pau Gasol, Spain (11,002 points)
584 games, 18.8ppg – The 28-year old Gasol has been amazingly consistent throughout his career. In eight seasons, Gasol has never averaged less than 17.6 points per game, and no more than 20.8 points; a point span of just 3.2 points. By the end of his career, Gasol should be pushing 20,000 career points and will likely end up behind only Olajuwon Nowitzki, and probably…
10. Tony Parker, France (10219 points),
612 games, 16.7ppg – With the decline of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, keep an eye on Tony Parker’s numbers. At only 26-years old, the 6-2 French PG has just hit his prime, averaging a career-high 22 points per game this past season. Two years younger than Gasol, Parker will certainly be top-five at the end of his career and will likely overtake Pau Gasol somewhere in the top four.
11. Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, Lithuania (10,142 points),
707 games, 14.3ppg – After a couple years dealing with injuries at the start of his career, the 7-3 center from Lithuania has been toiling in Cleveland through the ups (this year) and downs (pre-LeBron). Through that, Big Z has put 14.3 points a game in all 707 games he has played. Ilgauaskas will be 34 this season, backing up the newly acquired Shaquille O’Neal, so Z’s minutes will be going down, but even with his normal 29 minutes a game, the big guy won’t be catching up with Gasol or Parker anytime soon.
12. Rony Seikaly, Lebanon (9,991 points)
678 games, 14.7ppg (98-99) – Rony Seikaly is one of those forgotten international players that played in the 1990s without much notice. The Lebanese center played 11 seasons with some really bad teams in the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets and Golden State Warriors, averaging 14.7 points, and retiring 1998-99.
13. Toni Kukoč, Croatia (9,810 points)
846 games, 11.6ppg – Kukoc came over with much fanfare, but played a tertiary role with the successful Chicago Bulls of the early 1990s. The Waiter not only served up nice passes but also 11.6 points a game with the Bulls, New Jersey Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks. The Croatian point forward retired recently in the 2005-06 season after 13 seasons in the NBA.
14. Yao Ming, China (9,196 points)
481 games, 19.1ppg – The 28-year old big man from China should be hitting his prime. With over 9000 points after this season, look for Yao to continue his 20 ppg pace for the another half-decade, after sitting out this next season, of course. And barring injuries.
15. Rick Fox, Canada (8,966 points)
930 games, 9.6ppg (03-04) – Yep. Rick Fox. The 6-7 forward best known for his playoff tactics played 13 seasons, averaging 9.6 points per game with the Celtics and the Lakers. Born in Toronto, Ulrich Fox’s final season was in 2003-04 after winning three NBA championship rings with the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers.
16. Hedo Türkoğlu, Turkey (8,355 points)
678 games, 12.3ppg – After several seasons as a reserve with the Sacremento Kings, Hedo Türkoğlu found himself in Orlando, averaging career highs and having a breakout season leading the Magic to the NBA Finals. The 30-year old Turk is entering his tenth NBA season with his third NBA team, the Toronto Raptors.
17. Mehmet Okur, Turkey (7,379 points)
531 games, 13.9ppg – The 30-year old Memo Okur started out in Detroit and won an NBA Championship. Over his seven-year NBA career, Okur has kept relatively injury-free, playing no less than 71 games a season while putting up 13.9 points per game over 531 games. The last four years of his career, Okur has hit roughly one three-pointer a game, and usually during crunchtime. Okur should crack the 10,000 point mark in the next 2-3 seasons.
18. Manu Ginóbili, Argentina (7,044 points)
478 games, 14.7ppg: Wow, this had to be one of the biggest shockers when I was coming up with this list. Seems as Manu Ginobili has been around for so many years, collecting championships and Olympic medals, hitting big shots that seeing him this far down the list is somewhat unbelievable, but there he is. Even more unreal is that the 32-year old Ginobili may not make it to 10,000 NBA career points, but I guess three NBA championships in seven seasons will make up for that.
19. Andrei Kirilenko, Russia (6,973 points)
559 games, 12.5ppg – The 28-year old Kirilenko isn’t known for his scoring, but the last three NBA seasons have been particularly offensively-unproductive for the 6-9 defensive player after several run-ins with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. Still, Kirilenko was an NBA All-Star and is now in his prime. Ak-47’s progress on this list depends on whether he is getting along with Jerry Sloan.
20. Swen Nater, The Netherlands (5,943 points)
489 games, 12.2 ppg – The 6-11 big man from Den Helder, the Netherlands, lasted eight NBA seasons (and many more ABA seasons) shooting hook shots and averaged 12.2 points for his NBA career.
21. Arvydas Sabonis, Lithuania (5,629 points)
470 games, 12 ppg – It’s been chronicled much that Sabonis came over as a shell of his former great self. Back in 1995-96, at age 31, 10 years after he was drafted, Sabas was working with two surgically repaired knees. Still, Sabonis managed 7 seasons in the NBA and 5629 points before retiring after the 2002-03. Sadly, Sabonis will fall out of the top-25 by the end of the season.
22. Leandro Barbosa, Brazil (5,456), 422 gms, 12.9
23. Rasho Nesterović, Slovenia (5,356), 769 gms, 7.0
24. Luol Deng, Great Britain (5,123) 333 gms, 15.4
25. Vladimir Radmanovic, Serbia (4,996), 548 gms, 9.1
26. Jamaal Magloire, Canada (4,764), 592 gms, 8.0
27. Šarūnas Marčiulionis, Lithuania (4,631), 363 gms, 12.8
28. Dražen Petrović, Croatia (4,461) 290 gms, 15.4
29. Andrés Nocioni, Argentina (4,436), 374 gms, 11.9
30. Nenê, Brazil (4,266) 370 gms, 11.5
THE BEST OF THE REST: Boris Diaw, France (4,242 459 gms, 9.2ppg), Michael Olowokandi, Nigeria (4,135, 500 gms, 8.3ppg), Luc Longley, Australia (4,090, 567 gms, 7.2ppg), Vitaly Potapenko, Ukraine (3,995, 610 gms, 6.5ppg), Dino Radja, Croatia (3,733, 224 gms, 16.7ppg), Gordon Giricek, Croatia (3670, 384 gms, 9.6ppg) Bill Wennington, Canada (3,301, 720 gms, 4.6ppg), Marko Jaric, Serbia (3193, 447 gms, 7.1ppg), Andrew Bogut, Australia (3,118, 262 gms, 11.9 ppg), Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico (3021, 433 gms, 7.0ppg), Gheorghe Muresan, Romania (3020, 307 gms, 9.8ppg)
When comparing the NBA’s all-time list and the all-time list for international NBA players, you can see that international players really haven’t had their chance until recently.
On the NBA’s all-time scoring list, you have players that have been out of the game for nearly 30 years, and only four active players in the top-30.
With the international NBA list, more than half of the players are still active (17/30), while the others have retired no more than 12 years ago.
International players that were lucky enough to come up in the last 5 to 7 years, players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Yao Ming, and Pau Gasol, have been given a fairer shake than their predecessors, with large roles in their team’s success that has reflected in their individual statistics.
The next generation, players that have come into the league the last few years, Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat, and Rudy Fernandez, will have even more chances of success and assimilation; without the xenophobia, politics, negative stereotypes, and ignorance that their forerunners dealt with.
As time moves forward and basketball becomes more globalized, international players can then be judged on their individual talents and have more opportunity for success.
* Edit: AddedVladimir Radmanovic and Swen Nater in first list. Those of you that consider Tim Duncan an international player can list him at #2 all-time with 19,246 points in his NBA career, placing him right above #3 Dirk Nowitzki (19084 points).