The NBA: The Top 10 Internationals of 2012-2013 (so far)

Yesterday was a good day for NBA internationals. Goran Dragic had 19 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds in leading Phoenix to its seventh win, 91-78, at the expense of the Cavs. Brazilian Anderson Varejao continued his strong play, netting another impressive double-double line – 20 points and 18 rebounds – in the loss. Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani, meanwhile, led the Raptors with 21 points in a sorry loss to the grieving Houston Rockets, whose coach, Kevin McHale, recently losthis daughter to lupus. :(

Dragic, Varejao, and Bargnani are three promising international talents in the NBA, but there are other foreign-bred, or born, guys who have been making waves in the first few weeks of the season. We’ll take a look at those guys today. The main basis for this compilation is the calculated NBA Efficiency rating of each international (based on I like this particular stat because of two things: 1) it’s quite simple to calculate and understand (no need for complicated formulas that leverage one or two stats over others – just straight up positives minus negatives), and 2) it measures WHAT REALLY HAPPENED on the court (i.e. aggregate contributions) as opposed to other metrics that calculate a player’s “potential” production – it’s just more “real” this way. Besides, this isn’t meant to predict who will be good in the future. Rather, it’s simply a list of those who’ve done really well in the past few weeks up to this point.

Also, only international players who have played for their “home countries” or “adopted countries” will be counted here, which means someone like Kyrie Irving, who is technically Australian-American, will not be included, since he played for the USA Junior Select and Youth teams before. All the following players have seen action for their respective national teams in FIBA-sanctioned events.

10. Pau Gasol (LA Lakers/Spain) – 17.6 EFF
At just 13.1ppg and 9.1rpg, the elder Gasol isn’t exactly having a banner season, but considering the quality of his frontline partner and the overall depth of the Lakers, these numbers aren’t too shabby. In my opinion, he’s still one of the top two overall natural centers in the league, though his numbers don’t show it. Given the Lakers’ inconsistent play, however, I won’t be surprised if we see Pau on another team before the holidays finish.

9. Tony Parker (San Antonio/France) – 17.6 EFF
The fiery Frenchman is norming better than 17 points and 7 assists so far this season. Those are a little lower than his averages last season, but he should continue his strong play as the Spurs remain top-level contenders in the West. What’s really impressive, though, is him shooting 48% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.

8. Nicolas Batum (Portland/France) – 18.9 EFF
Parker’s teammate on the French NT is having his best season so far. He has the second-highest EFF on the Portland roster, and he’s improved on all major stat categories. If Batum plays his cards right, he might even be considered an All-Star early in 2013. It would help, of course, if the Blazers were winning more games.

Nicolas Batum shoots over Brandon Knight
in a game between the Blazers and the Pistons.
(image by Carlos Osorio/AP)

7. Goran Dragic (Phoenix/Slovenia) – 19.1 EFF
The only Slovenian on this list is also enjoying a career season. He was good with Houston last year, but he’s been great for Phoenix this season. His contribution includes better than 16 points, 7 dimes, and 2 steals per outing, all of which make him the best player on the Suns’ lineup. He’s currently better than former Houston teammate Luis Scola (another international), the underperforming Michael Beasley, and the slumping (of late) Marcin Gortat (yet ANOTHER international).

6. Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma/Spain) – 19.2 EFF
This is how good Ibaka is – on a team with two Team USA stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), the Congo-born Spanish national (yes, try to wrap your head around that for a second) is currently carrying a 19.2 EFF rating. That kind of rating is good enough to lead some NBA teams, but on OKC, he’s just third-best. His career-highs in scoring, rebounding, FG shooting, and FT shooting offset his dip in the blocks category – if you can call 2.9bpg a dip at all.

5. Andrei Kirilenko (Minnesota/Russia) – 19.2 EFF
In his first NBA year NOT wearing a Utah Jazz jersey, the rompin’ Russian is enjoying one of his most productive seasons ever. Averaging 13.0ppg, 7.8rpg, 1.8bpg, and 1.5spg won’t make this his CAREER-BEST, but those numbers certainly improve upon his last few seasons in Salt Lake City. The T-Wolves are still struggling, but nobody can blame AK47 for that.

4. Al Horford (Atlanta/Dominican Republic) – 20.0 EFF
After a slight dip in production last year, Horford is back as the best player on the Hawks’ roster. His near-double-double nightly production is expected, and needed, as Atlanta continues to search for its identity in the post-Joe Johnson era. They’ll want Horford to remain consistent in putting up his 16 points and 9 boards per game. With Howard no longer in the same conference, and Andrew Bynum being, well, himself, it might also be quite reasonable to picture Horford as a reserve for the East All-Stars early next year.

Al Horford might see a return to the
East All-Stars this season.
(image by Kent Smith/Getty Images)

3. Joakim Noah (Chicago/France) – 21.8 EFF
The third French guy on this list is the biggest and, so far, the best. He also possesses the fifth-highest EFF out East, behind Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, the #1 guy on this list, and, LeBron James. This means he, NOT Luol Deng, is the best Chicago Bull right now. His numbers aren’t astronomical – 13.4ppg, 9.7rpg, 4.0apg, 2.2bpg, and 1.5spg (heck, his FG%, at around 47%, leaves a lot to be desired), but what he lacks in explosiveness, he makes up for in spades with well-roundedness. He fills up the stat-sheet in FIVE CATEGORIES (the guy is the number one passing big man in the East)! He looks like a beast, and, well, he IS a beast.

2. Marc Gasol (Memphis/Spain) – 22.3 EFF
Perhaps for the first time ever, the younger Gasol brother is the better one. His EFF is good enough to place him in the league’s Top 10, and, of course, as Memphis’s top player so far. 15.3ppg, 6.9rpg, 4.8apg, and 1.3bpg while shooting 52% from the field and, get this, 91% from the stripe? WOW. Eat that, Pau. Eat that, Zach Randolph. Gasol is the King Grizzly Bear in Tennessee. He’s also the best center in the Western Conference BAR NONE (eat that, Dwight Howard, and, NO, Tim Duncan will never be a natural C in my book).

1. Anderson Varejao (Cleveland/Brazil) – 26.7 EFF
Ladies and gents, the NUMBER ONE international player in the NBA right now is not from Europe, is not from traditional South American powerhouse Argentina, and never figured in the same conversation as international luminaries Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili. I actually thought we had seen the best out of this guy in the LBJ years, but he’s turned into a really efficient workhorse for the Cavs, not to mention a great complement to Kyrie Irving. Look at the numbers he’s putting up – 14.5ppg, 14.9rpg (#1 in the league), 3.2apg, 1.2spg, and 52.5 FG%. With the exception of FG%, those are all career-highs. And, yeah, he also has a MUCH HIGHER EFF than Irving. The new King Cavalier and the best East big man, by far, is (I never thought I’d write this) Anderson Varejao.

Anderson Varejao and Marc Gasol are the two best
international players so far this season.
(image by Danny Johnston/AP)

Game Recaps (courtesy of the Sports Network):
Phoenix 91, Cleveland 78
Goran Dragic poured in 19 points and dished out seven assists to lead the Phoenix Suns past the Cleveland Cavaliers, 91-78, on Tuesday. Michael Beasley added 15 points and Luis Scola had 14 off the bench for the Suns, who have won three of their last four following a three-game skid. Anderson Varejao scored a game-high 20 points and pulled down 18 boards while Dion Waiters added 16 points and seven assists for the Cavaliers, who are just 1-4 since losing point guard Kyrie Irving to a finger injury, and 1-10 over their past 11 contests.

Philadelphia 100, Dallas 98
Evan Turner scored 22 points and the Philadelphia 76ers held off a late comeback attempt by the Dallas Mavericks to produce a 100-98 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Thaddeus Young added 20 points and Jrue Holiday had 18 along with seven assists for Philadelphia, which put together a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to break an 81-81 deadlock before staving off the hard-charging Mavericks down the stretch to record their fifth win in seven games. Dallas cut a 100-93 deficit with under two minutes left down to two on the strength of five straight points from Vince Carter, then had a chance to tie when O.J. Mayo was fouled going to the lane with 2.7 seconds to play. He missed both free throw tries, however, and Jae Crowder's desperation shot off the rebound missed the mark as time expired. Chris Kaman put up 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting and Shawn Marion finished with 17 in the loss, Dallas' second straight and seventh in its last 10 outings.

Houston 117, Toronto 101
Playing with heavy hearts, the Houston Rockets made their grieving head coach Kevin McHale proud in the team's first game since the death of his daughter. Jeremy Lin and James Harden combined for 40 points and 22 assists in the Rockets' 117-101 win over the Toronto Raptors. McHale's 23-year-old daughter Sasha passed away Saturday after a long battle with lupus, an auto-immune disease. She had been hospitalized with a related condition. The Rockets wore black badges on their jerseys to honor Sasha McHale. Lin, who has tallied nine assists and 12 turnovers over his last three games coming in, dished out 10 helpers to go along with 16 points and three giveaways in the win. Harden added 24 points and 12 assists for Houston, which has won three straight contests. Omer Asik had 13 points and 18 rebounds in the victory. Lin took over the reigns at point guard this season for Kyle Lowry, who had been with Houston the previous three-plus years. Lowry had just seven points for Toronto, which has dropped five consecutive games.

Minnesota 97, Sacramento 89
Kevin Love scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down 24 rebounds to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 97-89 win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. Luke Ridnour had 18 points and five assists and Nikola Pekovic scored 16 to go along with eight boards and four assists for the Wolves, who snapped a five- game skid. Andrei Kirilenko had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists and Malcolm Lee chipped in with 10 points in the victory. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans each scored 20 points and Marcus Thornton had 12 points off the bench for the Kings, who have alternated wins and losses the past four games following a five-game skid.

Indiana 79, LA Lakers 77
George Hill's go-ahead layup with 0.1 seconds left lifted the Indiana Pacers to a 79-77 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. With 24.5 left on the clock, Hill calmly and cooly took the time down to four seconds before he made his move. Hill drove past Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol before his high-arching underhanded scoop shot over the outstretched arms of Gasol and Dwight Howard and kissed high off the glass and through the net. Following a Lakers timeout, World Peace lobbed his inbounds pass to the rim, but no Los Angeles player was in the vicinity. Kobe Bryant, who finished with 40 points, tied the contest at 77-77 prior to Hill's layup after he rose over two Pacers and nailed a pull-up, right-wing 3- pointer. Hill tallied 19 points for the Pacers, who have won three of their last four games. David West had 16 points, 10 boards and eight assists in the win.

Top 10 Plays of the Night:

Game Highlights:

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