Analysis: All-NBA will be more like an All-World team this season, once again

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Posted at 9:28 AM, Apr 09, 2024

The voting hasn't taken place yet, though it's fairly obvious that Denver's Nikola Jokic will be the NBA's MVP this season and therefore extend the record streak to six consecutive years in which a foreign-born player wins that trophy.

That's not the only international trend that will be continuing in award season.

Unless New York's Jalen Brunson averages at least 101 points per game this week, which seems unlikely, the scoring champion will be Dallas' Luka Doncic. Sacramento's Domantas Sabonis will win the rebounding title over Minnesota's Rudy Gobert, barring some big change in the numbers. Gobert could win defensive player of the year again. San Antonio's Victor Wembanyama will be the blocked-shots champion, plus is a lock for rookie of the year.

Jokic is from Serbia. Doncic is from Slovenia. Sabonis was technically born in the U.S., but hails from a Lithuanian family and represents that country in international play. Wembanyama and Gobert are from France, which will play host to an Olympics that are now less than four months away. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada) seem certain to be All-NBA picks, probably first-team ones. And it must be noted that Cameroon-born Joel Embiid, who is now an American citizen and likely a U.S. Olympian this summer, was on pace for a scoring title and MVP honors before injuries derailed those quests.

This is not a new thing, of course. Jokic and Antetokounmpo already have NBA titles and MVP trophies. It's only a matter of time before Doncic gets an MVP award. The only U.S.-born player to make first-team All-NBA last season was Boston's Jayson Tatum, and that'll probably be the case again this season even with Embiid ineligible for such an award because of the new NBA rules surrounding participation and a 65-game minimum required for consideration.

"Obviously, all great candidates," Embiid said of the top MVP candidates — the likes of Jokic, Gilgeous-Alexander, Doncic and Antetokounmpo. "They all deserve to win. It's just unfortunate that only one person has to win."

James Harden was the last U.S.-born player to win MVP, and that was in 2018. International players have gotten 456 of a possible 503 first-place MVP votes since (there are 100 voters, and there was an extra "fan vote" in three of those years). That's 91% of first-place nods going to international players in that span, and don't expect this year to be any different. Every first-place vote in 2022 and 2023 went to an international player.

And with the playoffs fast approaching, those international names are going to be in the brightest part of the spotlight once again. Jokic and the Nuggets have a title to defend. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have a chance to shake off a frankly disappointing second half of the regular season. Doncic and the Mavericks are back in the playoffs after last season's collapse. Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder are going to have home-court in Round 1; not bad for a franchise that some likely figured was still in rebuilding mode entering the year. Orlando has the inside track on a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, and Franz Wagner — one of the reasons Germany won the Basketball World Cup last summer — is a big part of the Magic surge.

"Players in this league — not referring to All-Stars but overall now — represent 45 countries and are roughly 30% of this league, and a number that's continuing to grow, including, of course, some of the very best players, MVP-quality players in this league," Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star break.

Silver told CNN a couple weeks ago that the league is kicking around new ideas to try to fix the All-Star Game, and one of the notions is again the concept of a U.S. vs. The World game. He wants a competitive game; players listened to those pleas and still played absolutely no defense in this year's game at Indianapolis, where the 200-point mark by a team got crossed for the first time. So, it's time for a new idea, and playing into the depth of the international star roster is a solid one.

"Look at the magnitude of the pool of international players coming into this league," Silver said. "Look at the amount of basketball that's being played on a global basis ... it's remarkable to watch what these guys now physically are able to do on the floor."

And it has been for some time. This was always David Stern's vision when he was commissioner, a global league, a global game with global stars. The NBA has it, maybe at a higher level than ever. That'll be evident in the playoffs. That'll be evident in the award voting, too.


Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press.