Under-the-radar internationals to watch
Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) drives to the basket between Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, left, and forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. Oklahoma City won 114-96. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
International players have long been making a significant impact on the NBA, a fact that has only become more apparent as the years go by. This season, of course, is no exception, especially with Milwaukee's own Giannis Antetokounmpo emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Aside from the Greek Freak though, other international players like the Gasol brothers, Goran Dragic, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and the Stifle Tower Rudy Gobert are expected to hog the headlines. While those guys will get plenty of spotlight, let’s not forget some of the more blue-collar internationals in the Association. More often than not, these guys will be just as key to their teams’ success, as some of their more heralded counterparts.
Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)
The 6'10 Swiss has shown promise in recent years, and he has so far been able to deliver for the Rockets. He has relished and flourished in his role as a long and athletic big man catching lob passes, grabbing rebounds, and protecting the rim. Capela has been a double-double machine of late, averaging 15.4 points, 11.4 boards, and 1.6 blocks, giving Houston that solid inside presence to complement their wicked perimeter game. Moving forward, Capela will continue to be a crucial piece of the puzzle, if the Rockets are to challenge Golden State's supremacy in the West.
Marcin Gortat (Washington Wizards)
The Polish Hammer is not top-of-mind when one talks of the Wizards, but he is still a key piece to their playoff puzzle. The bullish 6'11” slotman is perhaps the best low post option the nation's capital has on its roster, and though he is no 20-10 guy by any stretch of the imagination, he can still make opposing bigs work and ache trying to hold him down. He currently norms 12.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 1.0 block per game — a stat-line that has helped Washington to a share of the best record in the East as of this writing.
Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls)
He's just 20-years-old, but the fantastic Finn has been turning a lot of heads in the Windy City. In a loss against the Cavs, the rookie tallied 19 points, eight rebounds, one block, and - hold your breath - five triples! That’s not bad for a seven-foot kid who played just one year in the US NCAA. More recently, Markannen had a double-double of 14 points and 12 boards to help the Bulls finally land their first win of the season. Yes, the Bulls project to be very bad this season, but don’t sleep on Markkanen, who may wind up the face of this franchise sooner, rather than later.
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder)
OKC's Big Three will take care of the highlights and headlines, but make no mistake, the Thunder won't go far without Adams. The bruising Tall Black is the perfect complement to the explosiveness and versatility of Russ, Melo, and PG. He won't routinely average a double-double like Capela, but his heft and physicality make him such a tough matchup in the paint even for the Association's top centers. His current line reads 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 2.0 steals, and 66.7 FG%. Not bad at all.
Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers)
Aminu was born in the States, but he represents Nigeria internationally. The 6’9” forward is as versatile as they come — able to mix it up around the basket or stretch the defense with his outside shot. The Blazers' main locomotive runs on the terrific trio of Dame, McCollum, and Nurkic, but Aminu is the glue guy who can potentially tie everything together and prove to be the difference in terms of whether they make it to the postseason or not. He's scoring 10.6 points per outing right now, but two key stats make him a vital cog for Portland — rebounding (9.4 per game) and blocks (1.2 per game).
Honorable Mentions: Ricky Rubio (Utah Jazz), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Jakob Poeltl (Toronto Raptors)