With the announcement of the 2019 NBA awards, there was one common factor between nearly all major award recipients; international players. The game of basketball is not only growing worldwide, but the level of play is expanding as well. During the 2018-19 NBA season, roughly 25% of players in the league were foreign-born, ranging from 42 different countries. Not only is this trend rising, but the players coming in are making a significant impact on the franchise’s they join. Four out of the five major NBA award recipients were foreign-born, and the Toronto Raptors, the only non-American team in the league, just won their first ever NBA Championship.
The league is becoming more and more competitive, and a lot of this can be attributed to the global advancements in the game of basketball. The following foreign-born award recipients played crucial roles on their teams during the 2018-19 season.
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis, commonly referred to as “The Greek Freak,” was born in Athens, Greece. He began his professional basketball career in Greece, until the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in 2013 as the 15th overall pick. With his first MVP selection this year, he averaged 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG, all while being one of the best defensive players in the league. He lead the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
Luka Dončić was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In 2015, at the age of 16, he began his professional career with Real Madrid. Needless to say, he found success in the EuroLeaugue as he earned the EuroLeague MVP award in 2018 at 19 years old. He was then drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2018 as the 3rd overall pick and traded to the Dallas Mavericks, where he made his NBA debut. During his first year, Dončić averaged 21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 6.0 APG, earning him Rookie of the Year honors.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was born in Saint-Quentin, France. His professional career started in 2010 with Cholet Basket, a French junior team. Gobert was drafted in 2013 by the Denver Nuggets as the 27th pick and traded to the Utah Jazz. During the 2018-19 season, he averaged 12.9 RPG and 2.3 blocks to earn him the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Pascal Siakam, originally from Douala, Cameroon, played a pivotal role in the Toronto Raptors NBA Title. He played college basketball at New Mexico State University (2013-2016) until he was drafted as the number 27th pick by the Toronto Raptors in 2016. During the 2017-18 season, Siakam averaged just 7.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 20.7 MPG. To earn himself the Most Improved Player award, he bumped those stats up to 16.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 31.9 MPG during the 2018-19 season.