NBA Draft Trends: Mapping out where the foreign picks come from

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

View Foreign draft picks since 1998 in a full screen map

For the past week, we've been looking ahead -- and back -- at the NBA draft, examining 15 years worth of picks from both the pro and college angle to determine what patterns have emerged in the process. For our previous posts in this series, click here.

Today, we're looking at the overseas selections. In the map above (which you can click on to go wider/full screen), a detailed look at every foreign NBA draft pick since 1998. Click on the pin, and you'll see the player, his hometown, the year that he was drafted, his overall draft selection number, which NBA team selected him and which foreign team that he represented at the time of his pick. The 167 picks plotted out are only draft picks that were playing for foreign teams/not on college rosters at the time of their selection.

So, for example, Hasheem Thabeet (from Tanzania) doesn't qualify because he got to the NBA via UConn. The purpose of this post is to look at foreign-born/foreign-playing players only and see where the heaviest pockets of talent germinate. (And, yes, Canadians, this means there wasn't one Canuck playing international basketball at the time of the draft. I was surprised by this as well.)

How have NBA teams coveted foreign players in the past 15 years? Here's the scope of the boom -- and decline. In 2003, the peak: 20 players picked. In 2010, down to six, the lowest since the late '90s, right before the fad came in full. Look at that leap between '01 and '03. Was it coincidence that just two years later, the NBA instituted its age-limit rule?

As for foreign lottery picks, there have been just 20 since 1998, which isn't "bad," but also only bests the Big Ten in that department. The highest years for foreign-born lottery picks: 2002, 2006, 2001, all with three apiece.

You're now wondering: Which countries are producing the most pros? Here's the list of who's at the top. If it were still as one, the former Yugoslavia would dominate all over this horizontal bar graph, yo.

I encourage you to zoom in on the map above and see how clustered that pocket around Bosnia and Herzegovina is. Teeming, I tell you.

To my surprise: Germany and Russia had only four draft picks apiece in the last 15 years. In total, more than 40 countries have produced NBA players since 1998. Not bad, right? And though it's probably obvious, I must note that the country with the largest population and zero NBA players: India. About 1.3 billion people over there, and no one can ball at the best level. I guess it's all cricket and field hockey. Australia (three picks) would be higher were it not for the fact that many Aussies play college ball as the conduit to the NBA.

If you're curious, I also tallied up the draft selection of every one of these players, and the average foreign pick is selected 35th overall. (By contrast, the ACC is in the mid-20s.)

As for the NBA teams, I charted out each pick per franchise last week and where it comes. But to make it full circle for the sake of this post, here are the 10 teams that most desire foreign blood.

On the flip side, the Heat and Bobcats have taken just one foreign player in that span. (Though the Bobcats haven't been around for 15 years.)

Coming Thursday: How this year's draft order compares historically to the past 15 years.

 
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