Who are the all-time best Asian NBA players? These players live on in the collective memory of the general public, and they leave a lasting impression. Three key factors are most important when analyzing elite players from the Asian continent: overall accomplishments, historical significance, and stats.
This article will look at the current and former Asian NBA players. It also analyses how their NBA career has shaped the league and opened doors for more players from the region.
The best Asian NBA players of all time
The NBA has long taken pride in being a truly global league, and that international reach has resulted in an international pool of talent that has gradually trickled into the league. Asia has seen the most viewership growth, attracting many great players from the region with whom we've fallen in love in the game.
10. Kim Min Goo
He is a former professional basketball player from South Korea. He previously represented South Korea at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Jeonju KCC Egis, Wonju DB Promy, and Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus. He was named to the All-Star Team of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in Manila.
9. Mengke Bateer
In China, he is known simply as Bateer, and he is a former professional basketball player from Inner Mongolia. He was a centre in the NBA for parts of three seasons, winning the NBA Finals during one of them.
He spent the majority of his career in the Chinese Basketball Association, first with the Beijing Ducks, then with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, and finally with the Sichuan Blue Whales in the National Basketball League. Mengke scored 8 points in his final NBA season with the Toronto Raptors.
8. Yuta Watanabe
While Yuta Watanabe hasn't seen much action in the NBA, he found success in the G League with the Memphis Hustle, an affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies, where he averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game the first year, and 15 points and six rebounds in the 2019-2020 season.
He played college basketball for the George Washington Colonials in the United States, becoming the first Japanese-born student-athlete to receive an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship. In 2018, he was named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. He has also played for Japan's national team, where he helped them win a bronze medal at the 2013 East Asia Basketball Championship.
7. Samad Nikkhah Bahrami
Mohammad Samad Nikkhah Bahrami is an Iranian small forward. He was also named to the FIBA Asia Championships 2013 All-Star team, along with teammate Hamed Haddadi. He has three gold medals from Asian Championships, one gold medal from Asian Cup, and two bronze medals from Asian Games.
6. Raymond Townsend
He was a member of the Golden State Warriors and the Indiana Pacers in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for three seasons. Townsend played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, earning Pacific-8 all-conference honours.
The Warriors selected him in the first round of the 1978 NBA draft, 22nd overall, and he became the league's first Filipino-American player. During his playing career, he stood 1.91 m tall and weighed 79 kg. He played the position of a point guard.
5. Hamed Haddadi
Hamed Haddadi, another familiar name to Iranian fans, remains a beloved figure within the Memphis Grizzlies community. He went undrafted in the 2004 NBA Draft but later signed as a free agent with Memphis in 2008, making him the first and only Iranian NBA player.
In the NBA, Haddadi never played more than 14 minutes per game. With the Iranian national team, however, he is a superstar who routinely scores in double figures. He's also a decent actor, having appeared in Mokhtarnameh, an Iranian historical epic TV series.
4. Wataru Misaka
He was an American professional basketball player of Japanese ancestry. He was also the first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), which was then known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA).
Misaka was a Utah Utes basketball player who led the team to NCAA and NIT championships in 1944 and 1947. Between these titles, he served in the United States Army during the American occupation of Japan for two years. He also appeared in three games for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season.
3. Yi Jianlian
He is a Chinese professional basketball player for the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He has also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, and Dallas Mavericks in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Yi played for the Guangdong Southern Tigers during the 2002-03 CBA season and was named CBA Rookie of the Year. Guangdong won three CBA titles in his first five years with the team. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft.
Yi is also a member of the Chinese national team. He represented his country at the Olympics in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and the FIBA World Championships in 2006 and 2010.
2. Jeremy Lin
He is a Taiwanese-American professional basketball player for the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangzhou Loong Lions. He was one of the best Asian players in NBA history when he unexpectedly led a winning turnaround with the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 2011-12 season, resulting in a cultural phenomenon known as "Linsanity."
Lin was the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA and one of the league's few Asian Americans. In addition, he became the first Asian American to win an NBA championship in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors.
1. Yao Ming
Yao Ming is undoubtedly one of the best Asian NBA players of all time, transcending the league not only as a star centre for the Houston Rockets but also as an ambassador for the sport in his native China. Ming arrived in the NBA with a lot of hype, and if not for an injury-plagued career, he might have lived up to it.
The 7-foot-6 anchor was selected first overall by Houston in the 2002 NBA Draft. He proved he belonged in the league in his first season, earning first-team all-rookie honours and the first of his eight All-Star selections.
Despite his dominance on the court, Ming's career would be cut short by foot and knee injuries. In five of his last six seasons, he did not play more than 60 games. Ming was finally inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
How many Asian NBA players are there?
Basketball players of Asian descent account for less than 10% of the total past and present NBA pool. However, as evidenced by the stellar play of current and former players, they are on the verge of becoming more prevalent in the league.
The NBA has opened training centres in Asian countries such as China and India as it expands its search for players overseas. The increased NBA presence has delighted NBA fans, especially since some hometown heroes have already made it big, playing at the highest level.
READ ALSO: Get to know about the top 15 all-time best point guards in the NBA in 2022
Sportsbrief.com published an article about the top 15 all-time best point guards in the NBA. Over the last decade, the best point guards such as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and others, have dominated the position.
With the increased emphasis on the deep three, point guards account for a large portion of the league's top scorers. Click on the above link to read more!