The NBA season tipped off on Tuesday with a showdown between last season’s champions, the Denver Nuggets, and the Los Angeles Lakers. The star and biggest draw of the first matchup of the championship was Nikola Jokić, crowned last year’s Finals MVP, who helped the Nuggets to victory (119-107) by contributing 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. The Serbian Jokić is one of the 125 foreign players that will start this year in the world’s most global league. This record number surpasses the 121 of the 2021-2022 campaign and the 120 of last season.
Not only does the NBA boast more foreign players than ever before, but several of them also have aspirations to become the league’s standout performer or top scorers. This is the case not only for Jokić, but also for the Dallas Mavericks’ star, Slovenian Luka Dončić; the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontman, Nigerian-born Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo, or last week’s MVP, French nationalized (and also American) and Cameroon-born Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. In addition, this year there is the most outstanding rookie of the last two decades, the Frenchman Victor Wembanyama, number one in the draft and a huge prospect this campaign and for the future of the San Antonio Spurs and in the NBA.
This marks the third consecutive season in which squads have contained at least 120 foreign players and the tenth consecutive year that the 100-mark has been hit. All 30 NBA teams now feature at least one international member. The Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder are the most internationalized, with eight foreign players apiece, followed by the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs, with seven. The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns, both among the main contenders for the title, each have six.
For the tenth consecutive term, Canada is the most represented country outside the United States, with a record 26 players. France is the second foreign country with 14, which is also a record number. They are followed by Australia (nine players), Serbia (seven), Germany (six), Nigeria and Turkey, the latter two accounting for five men. In total, there are 40 countries and territories represented in the various squads, in this case close to the record of 42 set in the 2017-2018 season. More than half of the foreign players (64) come from European countries, while 15 are African.
Three foreign players have scooped the award for the best player in the league in the last five seasons. Before Embiid (2022-23), it was clinched in two consecutive seasons by both Jokić (2021-22 and 2020-21) and Antetokounmpo (2019-20 and 2018-19). All three have occupied the top three positions in the rankings for the past two years, edging out U.S. players, with Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum being the most likely to make this year’s shortlist.
There are 15 foreign players in the early-season squads who have appeared in an NBA All-Star game previously: Antetokounmpo, Dončić, Embiid, Jokić, Rudy Gobert (Minnesota Timberwolves; France), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder; Canada), Al Horford (Celtics; Dominican Republic), Kyrie Irving (Mavericks; Australia), Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz; Finland), Kristaps Porziņģis (Celtics; Latvia), Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings; Lithuania), Pascal Siakam (Raptors; Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Brooklyn Nets; Australia), Nikola Vučević (Chicago Bulls; Montenegro) and Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors; Canada).
The Spaniards will have less clout than ever in recent years. There are only three: Usman Garuba, Santi Aldama and Ricky Rubio, and the latter is temporarily sidelined. Garuba has signed with the Warriors, but on a dual contract that allows him to also play for their affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio is still on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster, but has decided to take a break from the game temporarily to take care of his mental health. Santi Aldama will be hoping to get more playing time with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Latin American representation has dwindled to a minimum. The most notable figure is Al Horford, the Dominican Republic star for the Boston Celtics. And his compatriot Chris Duarte, of the Sacramento Kings, is the only other Latin American. There are no longer any Argentina and Brazil players in the competition.
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