Foreign NBA players such as Dirk Nowitzki (213 cm), Pau Gasol (213 cm) and Tony Parker (188 cm) have not only displayed great talent and skill in their NBA careers, they have also been part of championship-winning teams. They’ve set the bar high, but at the same time have paved the way for a greater influx of foreign talent into the league.
Here are the top five foreign NBA players under the age of 25. They have grown by leaps and bounds with each passing season and are ready to take up the mantle once held by the aforementioned international superstars.
1. Nicolas Batum (203 cm), Portland Trail Blazers
At only 24 years of age, Batum is already entering his sixth season in the NBA. The Frenchman has developed into a dynamic and versatile player, who appears to do everything on the court. In the 2012-13 season he averaged 14.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.9 apg. Batum showed range, knocking down 2.3 treys per game. He also was present on the defensive end, averaging 1.2 spg and 1.1 bpg.
In July 2012 the Blazers matched a four-year offer sheet worth $46 million, which Batum, who was a restricted free agent at the time, signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Many people were concerned that Portland may have overpaid for their young French import, but Batum’s performance in the 2012-13 season has allayed such fears and he has proven to be an integral part of the team and its future.
2. Serge Ibaka (208 cm), Oklahoma City Thunder
Serge is only 23-years old, but has already led the NBA in blocks in 2011-12 (3.7 bpg) and 2012-13 (3.0 bpg). Ibaka is from the Democratic Republic of Congo who received Spanish citizenship in 2011. He was a member of the Spanish National Team in 2011 and 2012.
Serge improved his averages across the board in 2012-13, averaging double-digit scoring for the first time in his NBA career with 13.2 ppg. He also logged a career-high 7.7 rpg and even developed a touch from the outside, knocking down 20 shots from downtown to average 0.7 three-point shots made per game.
The Thunder are serious Western Conference title contenders this 2013-14 and they will be leaning on Ibaka to anchor their interior defense as well as counting on him to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor.
3. Ricky Rubio (192 cm), Minnesota Timberwolves
Rubio had a rough 2012-13 season, managing to suit up for only 57 of Minnesota’s 82 regular season games. The Spanish point guard was not one-hundred percent healthy as he played out his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ACL, which he suffered in March 2012.
Through his two seasons in the NBA Rubio has already awed fans with his passing ability and his clearly high basketball I.Q. His game and skill set have been compared to that of recently retired NBA great Jason Kidd.
In 2012-13 Ricky posted averages of 10.7 ppg, 7.3 apg and 2.4 spg. This 2013-14 season coach Rick Adelman wants Rubio to improve his scoring. Ricky and All-Star power forward Kevin Love will be both a formidable and entertaining tandem to watch.
4. Nikola Vucevic (210 cm), Orlando Magic
This 22-year-old Montenegrin player broke out in a big way in 2012-13 for the Orlando Magic. He arrived in Orlando from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the multi-team deal that dealt Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the Magic in full rebuilding mode, Vucevic was thrown into the forefront of the action as the team’s starting center. He proved from the get-go that he was ready to make an impact for his new team.
In only his sophomore year in the league, Nikola averaged 13.1 ppg and 11.9 rpg, surprising many observers. This 2013-14, he is ready to improve his game even further and be one of the Magic’s core players moving forward.
5. Jonas Valanciunas (211 cm), Toronto Raptors
He had a rocky rookie season for the Toronto Raptors in 2012-13, averaging 8.9 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He was in and out of the starting lineup as he worked on his toughness and consistency. The Lithuanian center was hampered by a few injuries which included a broken finger and a strained neck.
It was after the All-Star break that Valanciunas truly emerged as a player who warranted serious minutes on the floor, as he averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg. He carried over that successful second-half of the season, with a very dominant performance in the NBA Summer League held in Las Vegas, where Jonas was named the Most Valuable Player. He is one of the players expected to have a break-out season this 2013-14.
Honorable mention: Enes Kanter (208 cm, Kentucky’11), Utah Jazz
The doors of opportunity are flung wide open for Kanter this 2013-14 season. The Utah Jazz’ 2012-13 starting frontcourt tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have both signed with other teams and now Enes and Derrick Favors are expected to step into their roles this 2013-14 season. At 21-years of age, this Swiss-born Turkish national is primed to make a big leap in his junior year in the league.
His season averages of 7.2 ppg and 4.3 rpg are deceiving as Kanter was only given 15.4 minutes a game on the floor. He was given two opportunities to start, where he averaged 20.5 ppg and 15.0 rpg through 39.5 minutes per game. His per 36 minutes numbers in 2012-13 translated to averages of 16.9 ppg and 10.2 rpg. The numbers and his situation are in his favor and it’s up to him to live up to his potential this season.