There have been an influx of international players coming into the NBA for the past few decades and this has done nothing but good for the league. One country that has been consistently sending notable athletes to the league would be Russia. Although Russian NBA players have been few and far between, there are a few that standout. Here are the 5 best Russian NBA players of all-time.
5. Viktor Khryapa
6’9″ Viktor Khryapa entered the league as the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Though originally drafted by the New Jersey Nets, the Russian was shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange of guard Eddie Gill. Khryapa would then spend two seasons in Portland where he would make the most out of his short stint. After failing to impress in his rookie season, the forward worked his way to have a more playing time in his sophomore year where he ended up starting 53 of the 69 games he suited up for the Blazers.
Unfortunately, his biggest contribution for the franchise wasn’t anything he did on the floor. Khryapa was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 2006, giving the Blazers the rights to future All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. After two more seasons in the league, Khyrapa decided that it was time to fly back home to play professionally in Russia where he would build his legacy as a two-time EuroLeague champion.
4. Alexader Volkov
Alexander Volkov was just the second player from the Soviet Union to be drafted in the league when he joined the NBA in 1986. He was grabbed by the Atlanta Hawks in the later rounds of the draft but it took the Russian three more years before officially joining the Hawks in 1989.
Though only short-lived, Volkov was able to provide decent numbers as a member of a Hawks squad which was filled with Hall of Famers like Kevin Willis, Moses Malone and Dominique Wilkins. After sitting out his second season due to a wrist injury, Volkov was a decent reserve option for Atlanta, averaging 8.6 points per game and adding 3.4 rebounds in 77 games.
When his time in the league wasn’t working out, the 6’10” forward decided to play closer to home and would thrive in Europe. He would play in Russia, Italy and Greece where he would slowly make a name for himself as an elite Russian powerhouse and win multiple championships. In 1991, Volkov found himself in FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players list. And now, one our list of best Russian NBA players in history.
3. Alexey Shved
After starting his career in Russia’s home league, sharpshooter Alexey Shved signed a multi-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012. After a couple of seasons as a reserve guard in Minnesota, Shved found himself in a huge three-team trade which ended with him being dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers alongside teammate Luc Mcah a Moute. As part of the deal, The Wolves got lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and the Cleveland Cavaliers got Kevin Love, who would end up winning an NBA ring with the team.
After being quite the journeyman, Shved joined his last team in the NBA before the 2015 ended when he was again traded to the New York Knicks. Now on his fourth team in just three seasons, Shved took the hint and decided to play his last few games in the NBA. He did go down swinging though averaging 14.8 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and even added 0.9 steals in 16 solid games in New York. Shved would then return to Russia and would go on to win EuroCup MVP in 2017.
2. Timofey Mozgov
Big man Timofey Mozgov joined the league in 2010 when he signed a three-year contract with the New York Knicks. The center spent a lot of time in the Knick bench but shined every time he was given the opportunity to play. He ended his rookie stint in New York with a solid 23-point, 14-rebound evening against the Detroit Pistons before he was eventually shipped to the Denver Nuggets which brought Carmelo Anthony to New York. After being on and off the starting line-up for the Nuggets, Mozgov finally found his groove and worked his way to be a staple in the Nuggets’ starting 5 in the 2014-2015 season.
His impressive stint caught the eye of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers which traded for him as they were searching for a missing piece for their squad. Upon landing in Cleveland, Mozgov instantly thrived as a main starter alongside James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Mozgov would play a significant role for the Cavs and would end up starting all six games of the 2015 NBA Finals where the Cavaliers eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors.
Mozgov and the Cavs would make a trip back to the Finals the next season where they would avenge their loss against the Warriors and win it all in 2016. He, alongside fellow Russian teammate Sasha Kaun who the team signed prior to the season, became the first Russians to win an NBA title.
1. Andrei Kirilenko
By far the biggest NBA star from Russia is none other than AK47 himself, Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko would end up playing a total of 797 games in the league and if you look at the list, no other Russian comes close. His long journey began in 1999 where he was selected by the Utah Jazz as their 24th overall pick. At 18, Kirilenko was the youngest foreign player at the time to be drafted in the NBA. Although it took him two more season before eventually putting on a Jazz uniform, he made sure he was worth the wait.
Kirilenko had a stellar rookie year and would be named to the first team NBA All-Rookie Team in 2001. He held the fort after John Stockton and Karl Malone left the team. He eventually made his way to become an NBA All-Star in 2004 and would end up slowly making a name for himself as one of the best defenders in the league.
The 6’9″ forward would go on to lead the league in blocks in 2005 (3.3 blocks per game) and eventually be named to the All-Defensive First Team in 2006. Kirilenko would play five more seasons in Utah before making appearances in Minnesota, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. That’s it. That’s our list of best Russian NBA players in history.