Greatest All-Time Starting 5: International
Here at Off the Glass we’re taking on the arduous task of going through every NBA teams’ greatest possible starting five, using players that have played for that franchise. A player at each position (Point Guard through to Center) will be selected, along with a 6th man who can be any position.
This is how it works:
Players selected must have played at least two full seasons for the franchise
The selection will be based on a combination of statistics, accomplishments/accolades and their significance to the franchise in question
Players had to have predominantly played at that particular position for at least one season to be eligible
DISCLAIMER: Players that were born outside of the United States but represented Team USA in international competition have been EXCLUDED from this list.
Let’s get started.
Point Guard – Steve Nash (South Africa/Canada): Steve Nash (he grew up in British Columbia, Canada) had a stellar career in the NBA and along with coach Mike D’Antoni, revolutionized the NBA’s entire style of play. During the early 2000s, isolation-heavy “hero-ball” had been popularized by players like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. However, the fast paced offense employed by Nash and his Phoenix Suns focused on running the floor and moving the ball – and when they started dropping a league high 110.7 PPG (13 PPG higher than the league average), teams were forced to take notice and adapt. Nash was the focal point of this innovative offense garnering 2 MVP trophies along the way.
Shooting Guard – Manu Ginobli (Argentina): Before coming to the NBA at the mature age of 25, Manu Ginobli had a wildly successful career in Europe. Since then, Manu has become one of the best examples of letting international players mature overseas before bringing them to the league.
As a San Antonio Spur, Manu has had an unorthodox career for an all-star. He has fluctuated between starter and 6th man from season to season, and has made countless statistical sacrifices playing for Greg Popovich. Nonetheless, his career accomplishments are as eye-popping as any player on this list: Manu is a 4-time NBA champion, was elected to the All-Star and All-NBA teams twice, and was named 6th Man of the Year in 2008. However, Manu’s greatest career accomplishment came in 2004 when he led Argentina to a gold medal finish at the Olympic Games. This was the first and only time that a country other than the USA has won an Olympic gold medal since NBA players were first allowed to participate in 1992.
Small Forward – Peja Stojakovic (Serbia/Greece): Peja Stojakovic was perhaps one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Standing at 6’10” Peja was much taller than most prototypical Small Forwards, and that height advantage allowed him to see right over the top of opponents, helping him average just over 40% on 3PA for his career. Having the frame of a Power Forward and the skill set of a Shooting Guard, Peja is a great example of the versatility that European players brought to the NBA in the 1990s. Although he won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks, his prime years were spent with the Sacramento Kings along with Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Vlade Divac. Together they won 50+ games in 4 straight seasons, won 2 division titles and in 2002 made a playoff run to the Conference Finals where they were controversially eliminated by the Shaq and Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Power Forward – Dirk Nowitzki (Germany): Dirk Nowitzki has quietly become one of the greatest players in NBA history. He is both a former League MVP and NBA Champion and has been named to the All-NBA team 12 times in his career. A revolutionary at the Power Forward position, Dirk was one of the original ‘stretch fours’, coming into the league with the ability to score at the basket and step out and nail three-pointers. His longevity in the league is becoming similar to that of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the fact that he likely has the most unstoppable shot since the Sky Hook is no coincidence. Dirk’s turnaround fadeway at the elbow is about as unblockable as they come, and when you factor in the degree of accuracy he hits it with; it’s easy to see why he is going into the 2016-2017 season having scored 29,491 points – the most ever by an international player in the NBA.
Center – Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria): Hakeem the Dream could very well be the greatest center of all time. It’s arguable, but he is certainly in the conversation. There were no holes in his game – he could do everything well. Offensively he could score on the low post or step outside and hit an elbow jumper. Defensively, he blocked shots, altered countless more, and stripped opponents in the post. He rebounded, he hit his free throws, he ran the floor and he was even a great playmaker. Hakeem is also the only player in NBA history to record a quadruple-double on more than one occasion, doing so twice. He is a 2-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year and won League MVP in 1994.
6th Man – Yao Ming (China): Hall of Famer, Yao Ming’s impact on basketball goes way beyond the NBA. His arrival in 2002 corresponded with a popularity explosion in Asia. This not only helped future Asian basketball players to enter the NBA, but it also opened the door for NBA players to the Chinese market. Without Yao Ming, Stephon Marbury doesn’t go on to have a successful career playing in the Chinese Basketball Association. Without Yao Ming, Emmanuel Mudiay doesn’t skip college and earn $1.2 million playing professionally in China. Without Yao Ming, Dwyane Wade doesn’t sign a lucrative shoe deal with Li-Ning, a Chinese shoe manufacturer.
All of this was possible due to one man’s influence, but make no mistake; Yao Ming was no slouch on the court. Although his career was cut short due to injuries, when Yao played he was a force. Standing at an amazing 7’6”, Yao averaged 19 PPG, 9.2 RPB and 1.9 BPG over 9 seasons with the Houston Rockets.
Did I miss any of your favorite International players? Let me know if you agree or disagree – @awrashoo