Whether because of an embarrassing inability to pronounce their names, a deep-seated favoritism for native-born players, or the tired paranoia that “foreigners are stealing our jobs,” fans tend to overlook capable foreign-born players. Sure, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash have gotten their due mostly, but even Gregg Popovich alluded to an overseas snubbing.
When speaking about recent talk that puts Tony Parker as a dark horse candidate for MVP this season, Popovich chimed in, saying, “Had he been a college player here and done what he did at 19, he wouldn’t have been the 28th pick for sure. He would have been first, second or third. He would have been high in the draft and would have been talked about here like the kids who were young studs that are just coming out.”
Whether or not that’s a sly jab at Lebron James, the leading MVP candidate and someone who was dubbed “The Chosen One” since he was breastfeeding, is up to speculation. It points at an important issue: what other foreign-born NBA players should we be watching for?
Here’s a breakdown of five foreign-born NBA players who happen to be trending upward.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Last 10 games: 52.7 FG%, 14.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 STLPG, 0.6 BLKPG
Season Average: 45.5 FG%, 11.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 STLPG, 0.5 BLKPG
It was no secret that Ilyasova landed in former coach Scott Skiles’, as well as many Fantasy League players, doghouse, after posting a miserable 6.9 PPG and 22% shooting from behind the arc to start the season. But his unconfident play seemed to be a direct result of inconsistent minutes, something Ersan alluded to when playing under Skiles, and has since disappeared under new coach Jim Boylan.
Ersan has too many abilities at the stretch four position, and relies too much on hustle play, to have remained a non-factor forever. In the last five games as a Buck, Ilyasova is averaging 14.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.6 three-pointers, and 1.0 blocks per contest. With a recently very unselfish Monta Ellis, he dished out 13 assists last night against Houston, and the addition of Redick, who will open up the floor for Ersan’s offensive rebounding and create more space for his long-range shooting, expect this output to last until an early playoff exit.
Team: Chicago Bulls
Last 10 games: 47.1 FG%, 10.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.2 STLPG, 0.1 BLKPG
Season Average: 40.4 FG%, 9.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.6 STLPG, 0.1 BLKPG
The emergence of Jimmy Butler has cut into Bellinelli’s minutes (he went from averaging 24 MPG to about 21), but Bellinelli has played more efficiently in a reduced role. His defense has never been stellar, and has dipped in the last ten games as you can see his STLPG went down considerably, but offensively he’s improved. With three minutes less of playing time, he’s scoring more, creating more opportunities for his teammates, and shooting at a better clip. He can be streaky at times, so the upside might not last very long.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Last 10 games: 44.5 FG%, 14.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.1 STLPG, 1.0 BLKPG
Season Average: 45.5 FG%, 13.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 STLPG, 1.7 BLKPG
Marc is now considered one of the best centers in the game. Therefore, it’s not like his pedigree is ignored. Expect his talents to shine more now that Rudy Gay is north of the border. His field goal percentage has dipped a little, as well as his blocks, but he has improved well or greatly in other categories. With improved outside shooters, a better true shooting percentage without Gay, and added responsibility, Gasol will continue to post padded numbers.
Team: Washington Wizards
Last 10 games: 53.8 FG%, 13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 STLPG, 0.9 BLKPG
Season Average: 48.6 FG%, 12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.9 STLPG, 0.5 BLKPG
The Wizards have won seven of their last ten games (with wins against the Clippers, the Knicks, the Nets, Nuggets, and Rockets), and much has been due to the one-name Brazilian’s improved output. Nenê’s currently sidelined with a shoulder injury but expect him in the Washington line-up soon. As part of a smoking hot 5-man lineup that includes Bradley Beal, John Wall, Emeka Okafor, and Martell Webster, the big man should continue playing well.
Team: Houston Rockets
Last 10 games: 57.1 FG%, 7.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.1 STLPG, 0.0 BLKPG
Season Average: 52.5 FG%, 3.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.1 STLPG, 0.1 BLKPG
It’s fitting that the Houston Rockets took on the incredibly bold James Harden, it certainly reflects their recent string of bold basketball moves. Moving Motiejunas to a starting role is certainly one of them.
With Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris gone, Motiejunas’ chances for increased playing time certainly went up, but no one expected him to unseat Carlos Delfino for a starting position. Considering that’s he averaged 10 points, 3.5 rebounds, one assist, and one three-pointer in 17 minutes the last two games (on an outrageous 72.7 FG%), expect to see more of this young star-in-the-making. As a team of the future, the Rockets seem to believe in his potential.