Big men play a critical role, when it comes to winning games. They protect the rim, grab rebounds, and control the paint with authority. Furthermore, their size and ability to make an impact in the shaded area often demands the defenses’ attention. Today, we’re going to look at the top international big men in the NBA today.
With the entrance of international players, there’s no doubt that a lot of them have helped add another dimension to the front court position such as shooting from long range, putting the ball down on the floor, and making excellent passes like a point guard.
With the traditional back to the basket big man slowly going out of trend, there’s no question that the international bigs have taken the spotlight. For this piece, let’s rank the top 10 active international big men today who are dominating the game and helping their teams win.
Honorable Top International Big Men Mentions
The big men who barely made the cut are Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valančiūnas from Lithuania, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams from New Zealand, and Toronto Raptors’ big man, Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors) from Congo/Spain.
10. Clint Capela
Career stats: 12.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.7 steals
Awards: 1x FG% League Leader
Although Capela’s resume doesn’t seem impressive, he is arguably one of the best international centers today. The big man from Switzerland doesn’t have a wide array of offensive moves. However, Capela is a nightmare when it comes to dunks and offensive putbacks. Like a human pogo stick, Capela has made a name for himself by making explosive finishes above the rim and swatting away shots in the paint.
Playing with the Houston Rockets back then, Capela’s skills were even more magnified. The Rockets were a small-ball team that loved to run the fastbreak and shoot the long range bombs. This gave Capela the chance to patrol the paint for offensive putbacks and to be the receiving end of alley-oop passes. Because of this, Capela can easily get a lot of easy points, which allowed him to lead the league in terms of overall field goal percentage at one point in his career.
In terms of rebounding, Capela has shown he is one of the best rebounding bigs today. Just last season in 2019, Capela had a historical stretch by grabbing at least 19 rebounds in seven consecutive games. The only other player to accomplish this feat is Dennis Rodman.
With his trade to the Atlanta Hawks, it will be interesting to see how his skills will blend well with Trae Young, given how the latter is a long range bomber as well. Furthermore, Young also loves to feed cutting big men down low, which could allow Capela to make some serious dunks for his new team.
The Swiss center is still young at 26 and there’s no question he can still achieve so much more in the future. With his knack for getting rebounds and dunks, it should be enough to place him in the top 10 of this list.
9. Al Horford
Career stats: 14.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.8 steals
Awards: 5x NBA All-Star, 1x All-NBA Third Team, 1x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, 1x NBA All-Rookie First Team
Country: Dominican Republic
Al Horford has been a consistent stretch big man in the NBA, which places him 9th in this list. The five time All-Star has the ability to knock down open three point shots, roll to the basket, and finish down low. In his 13 years in the NBA, the Dominican big man has kept in step with the best big men in the league until today.
There’s no question, he has emerged to become one of the best international big men today. With traditional back to the basket style of play slowly disappearing, Horford became one of the best stretch bigs that successfully adapted to league that now puts premium on three point shooting. Throughout his career, he shot 36.8% from beyond the arc, which makes him a dangerous player to leave wide open.
Aside from his evolved skills, Horford is also a great leader. The veteran big man from Dominican Republic has always acted as a facilitator that is willing to pass up shots in order for the team to get better looks and opportunities. It is worth noting how Horford’s teams has always become playoff contenders. Speaking of passing up shots, the Dominican center has also displayed that he is also one of the best passing big men in the league. Like a guard, the way he reads the situation still towers over a good amount of big men in the league today, as he quickly reacts in a smart manner and successfully assists his teammate to a bucket.
Horford is not getting any younger at 34. However, the Dominican All-Star’s recent signing with the Philadelphia 76ers allows him to pair up with young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons while also providing veteran leadership to the team for a championship quest. But with all that Horford has achieved, there is no question he is one of the top 10 international big men in this modern era.
8. Marc Gasol
Career stats: 14.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals
Awards: 1x NBA Champion, 3x NBA All-Star, 1x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 1x All NBA First Team, 1x All NBA Second Team, 1x NBA All Defensive Second Team, 1x NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Marc Gasol entered the league with a chip on his shoulder, playing under the shadow of his older brother, Pau. But standing at 6’11 and 255 lbs., he was simply too big to play under the shadow of his brother.
The younger Gasol was able to immediately make a name for himself in Memphis by being their defensive anchor. Because of this, he is known for his ability to adapt on defense. With the help of his bulky frame, he can definitely stand toe to toe against the best centers in the league today. Aside from his defensive capabilities, Gasol can also punish opposing teams with his three-point shooting. Throughout his career, the big man from Spain has shot 35.6% from deep. Very acquainted with the European style of play, his passing is also one of his best assets. Because of this, Gasol emerged to become one of the best playmaking bigs today.
With his departure from Memphis to Toronto, Gasol finally won a ring for himself in 2019. The Spanish Center was a crucial piece for Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds throughout the Finals series against the Golden State Warriors. It is worth noting that Gasol would also help win the gold medal for Spain in the FIBA World Cup 2019 right after winning an NBA championship. The Spanish center joins Lamar Odom as the only players to win an NBA championship and FIBA World Cup Gold medal in the same year.
Although his numbers are taking a drop this season and he isn’t getting younger at 35, any NBA team would still love to have Marc Gasol on their roster. Because of his unique skills and achievements in his career, there should be no question he should be in the top 10 international centers conversation.
7. Domantas Sabonis
Career stats: 12.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 steals
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star
If you need a Point Center, call Domantas Sabonis. After a sub-par rookie year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sabonis has emerged to become one of the best all-around centers in this era. Playing for the Pacers this time, the lefty big man is putting up career high averages this season as he puts up 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. His efforts were good enough to name him an All-Star last February.
Standing at 6 ft. 11, Sabonis has displayed how he can be effective on the court by posting up down low, giving accurate passes to cutting teammates and becoming the receiving end of a pick and roll situation. Because of this, he is one of the most efficient players for the Pacers right now. Furthermore, his willingness to give tough screens and give hand-offs to his surrounding shooters make him make him a perfect fit for this Pacers team. Aside from this, his ability to read the floor and react to the defense make him a dangerous big man.
Perhaps one of the things Sabonis needs to improve on is his consistent shooting from the outside. Should he improve on this, he might even raise his place on this list in the future. So far, we have only seen a glimpse of his shooting when he shoots from the elbow. However, his three point shooting leaves a lot to be desired as he only made 25% from beyond the arch this season.
Sabonis is still young at 24 and so far at his young age, he has led his team to become one of the contenders of the East. As long as he keeps up his good work and improves on his outside shooting he could emerge to become a legitimate Top 5 center. But for now, we’ll place him 7th in this list.
6. Nikola Vučević
Career stats: 16.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.9 steals
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star
Stretch bigs are valuable assets in today’s game and there’s no question Nikola Vučević is one of the best in the league to do it. Because of this, he places 6th on our list. Although the center from Montenegro didn’t really give an all-star showing in his rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers, Vučević has emerged to become one of the legitimate centers in the NBA with the Orlando Magic.
Standing at 6’11, Vučević is a double-double machine that has the ability to average double-doubles. He has proven to everyone that he can produce a 20-20 game. In his first 20-20 game, the Orlando Magic franchise player scored 20 points and grabbed an eye-popping 29 rebounds against the Miami Heat.
Vučević also possesses a decent post game, as he can punish opposing centers with his hook shots with the help of his long arms. Aside from his rebounding prowess and decent post game, Vučević can also faceup for a long range shot. Throughout his career he shoots a decent 33% from beyond the arc. It is worth noting how deadly Vučević is at the mid-range. So far, he has accumulated two fade-away game winning shots from the left corner. First, he did it in 2015 against the Los Angeles Lakers and then in 2016 against the Atlanta Hawks.
But more importantly, his ability to run the floor in transition compliments the young Magic team very well. In so many instances, the Magic center is seen running down the floor during fastbreaks to collect missed lay-ups or to dunk the basketball. There’s no question the Orlando Magic are a rising team in the Eastern Conference with Vučević leading the way.
If Vučević can become more consistent with his deep shot and stay healthy, there’s no question he can be an elite center in the near future.
The 5 Top International Big Men
We’ve reached the portion of the discussion where the elite will now rise to the top.
5. Kristaps Porzingis
Career stats: 18.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.7 steals
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star, 1x NBA All-Rookie First Team
All-around big men are getting more and more common these days. Kristaps Porzingis is no doubt, one of the best all-around big men in the NBA today. From his time with the New York Knicks, Porzingis has made a name for himself in the league by being a 7 footer who can put ball down on the floor, while also drilling his long range bombs at a consistent rate. Because of this, he was dubbed as The Unicorn.
Standing at 7 ft. 3, the Latvian big man is currently having a decent season with the Dallas Mavericks. Although his numbers took a bit of a dip due to playing alongside Luka Doncic, Porzingis has been a great second option for the team as he has been averaging 19.2 points and 9.5 rebounds. This goes to show how Porzingis has the capability to become a double-double threat every game. Furthermore, it is great to see him put up a great numbers after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in February 2018. Porzingis becomes a major threat for opposing teams especially during pick and roll or pick and pop situations. With Luka Doncic on the floor, The Unicorn gets a lot of opportunities to become the roll-man or the designated shooter. Because of this, his skills become even more magnified playing alongside the young sensation.
Defensively, Porzingis has also been a threat. For the Mavericks, The Unicorn has been swatting away 2.1 shots per game. He has the ability to not only guard the opposing team’s big men, but he can also keep in step with smaller guards. Because of him serving as their rim protector, Dallas sits at the 2nd spot in terms of rim-protection defense in the league.
With the Dallas Mavericks’ future shining as bright as ever, it is highly likely we will see Porzingis evolve to an even more dangerous player. Because of this as long as the Latvian All-Star stays healthy and keeps up his consistent scoring, he will continue to be a top 5 big man in this league for years to come.
4. Rudy Gobert
Career stats: 11.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 0,7 steals
Awards: 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 3x NBA All-Defensive Team, 1x NBA Blocks Leader, 1x NBA All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team
If there is a player you don’t want to meet while driving to the rim, it is Rudy Gobert. There is a good chance the French All-Star will rise up and block your shot into the stands. Today, the French center is arguably the best rim-protector in the league. Because of this, he is currently the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. So far, defense has continued to be his calling card. For this season, Gobert has made his defensive presence known by blocking away two shots per game for this season.
Although Gobert does not have a long range shot nor can he put the ball down on the floor, he makes up for it by using his 7’1 frame and 7 ft. 9 wingspan to get easy dunks and lay-ups down low. His physical built makes him difficult to guard for opposing centers, especially when he goes for alley-oops or rolls from a pick and roll situation. Once he gets the ball down low, you can expect him to finish authority. Furthermore, his ability to get rebounds makes him an even more dangerous center in the league. He is currently averaging a career-high 13.7 rebounds per game for the season.
There’s no doubt that Gobert is a force to be reckoned with. For the past four seasons, the French stalwart has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds, which makes him one of the coveted big man once 2021 Free Agency hits. Sure, Gobert plays like an old school center. However, he still manages to thrive in the league by making up for it in shot-blocking and impeccable timing to finish shots in the shaded area. Because of his accomplishments, Gobert is surely one of the best international players we have in the league today.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns
Career stats: 22.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.8 steals
Awards: 2x NBA All-Star, 1x NBA Rookie of the Year, 1x NBA All-Rookie First Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team
Country: Dominican Republic
The former NBA Rookie of the Year is arguably the best player for the Minnesota Timberwolves and one of the elite centers in the league today. The big man from Dominican Republic came out of the gates on fire during his rookie year. Towns emerged as a dangerous offensive weapon that possessed all-around skills where he can put the ball on the floor for a basket, shoot the long range shot, post up down low, and become a decent post passer for cutting teammates. He possesses so much skills that he even defeated All-Star guard, Isaiah Thomas, during the Skills Challenge.
Offensively, Towns had the best season of his career this year for the Minnesota Timberwolves as he averaged 26.5 points per game while shooting 41% from downtown and 50.8% overall. The former Rookie of the Year also showed his rebounding prowess by averaging 10.8 rebounds per game. Furthermore, the Dominican All-Star is a double-double threat, averaging double digits in terms of points and rebounds during all of his five seasons in the league.
With that, the Timberwolves big man is simply an offensive machine that moves away from the traditional big man skillset as he can score in multiple ways and take over any game. However at a young age of 24, there are still areas of improvement for Towns, especially on defense. Despite being touted as one of the best defensive players out of college, Towns has been a defensive liability where he tends to struggle on keeping his fouls in check. Another area of improvement for Towns is his turnovers. Just last season, he averaged an alarming 3.1 turnovers per game. If the young star can improve on his defense and take care of the ball better, there’s no question he could make a case to be the best center in the league today. However for now, we will place the Dominican sensation in the third spot of this list.
2. Joel Embiid
Career stats: 24.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.7 steals
Awards: 3x NBA All-Star, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 2x NBA All-Defensive Second Team, 1x NBA All-Rookie First Team
Another player that can make a case for the best international center today is none other than the big man from Cameroon, Joel Embiid. Playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, Embiid has emerged to become a walking double-double, as he has averaged double digit points and rebounds for the past two seasons. Veering away from the traditional big man mold, the Sixers center possesses an inside-outside game that can give any opposing big man a tough night.
In terms of offense, Embiid can dominate big men down low using a variety of post moves. Once he gets the ball in the post, it is highly likely Embiid will power through the defender for a dunk or lay up. On the other hand, if the defender gives him space, the Sixers star has no problem facing up for a mid-range jumper. If Embiid is left open beyond the arc, he will also have no problems punishing opposing teams’ defenses from deep.
Defensively, the Cameroonian center makes an impact as well. Although he claims to have deserved the Defensive Player of the year in 2018, he lost it to Rudy Gobert. Despite not being declared the recipient of the award, Embiid makes a case for being one of the best rim-protectors in league. Whether it is a driving scorer or a player running the fast break, Embiid’s timing and long arms allow him to pull off emphatic blocks against various players.
At a young age of 26, Embiid has already made waves throughout the league and has been a crucial player for the 76ers. With still a lot of years ahead of him, it would be exciting to see him put up more MVP numbers and continue to carve his place as one of the best centers in the league. With that, we place him 2nd on this list.
Career stats: 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals
Awards: 2x NBA All-Star, 1x All-NBA First steam, 1x NBA All-Rookie First Team
While other big men on this list are double-double threats, Nikola Jokic is a triple double machine. Dubbed as The Joker, the Serbian Center has so far collected 40 career triple doubles at a young age of 25. In fact, Jokic is arguably the most skilled big man in this list due to his unique scoring and playmaking abilities. Because of this, it helped him take the first spot in this list.
Jokic may look deceptively slow and heavy at times. However don’t be fooled, as he can pull out eye-popping moves that can get past defenders. Unexpectedly, he makes it look so easy despite standing at 7 ft tall and weighing 253 lbs. In terms of court vision, Jokic towers above all big men as one of his specialties is to dish out no-look passes that often turn out as assists. Because of that, he is arguably the best passing big man we have ever seen in league history.
Aside from his passing, Jokic has the ability to score as he is currently averaging a career best 20.2 points per game this season while shooting an efficient 52.8% from the field. In terms of three point shooting, Jokic has the ability to knock it down. Throughout his career, he has shot a decent 33.8% from deep. This includes a hot-shooting 2017-2018 season, where he shot it at high clip of 39.6%
Although the Nuggets franchise player is not known to be a solid rim protector, he does make an impact in defense through steals. Jokic’s quick hands and great anticipation allow him to average 1.2 steals this season, which is good enough to put him 2nd among other big men. Those steals usually come from Jokic intercepting the passing lanes or stripping the ball away from opposing big men.
Jokic has displayed to all of us how dangerous a highly skilled center can be. Because of his presence, there’s no question that he has played a big role in terms of making the Denver Nuggets a legitimate playoff contender. Therefore, he is arguably the best center in the league right now given his skills and triple double collection.