International stars mark the NBA

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Return to the 1999-2000 season of the NBA and there were only two players born abroad in the NBA with an average of 15 points per game: Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

This season, there are 24 names on this list – by far the largest number in the history of the league.

The NBA's international footprint is growing, offering an impact as transformative as the league has probably not seen since the merger with ABA.

Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led Milwaukee to the NBA's best record since Wednesday, is one of the leaders in the MVP. Luka Doncic, of Dallas, seems to be a big favorite to become the first Slovenian rookie of the year. Cameroonian Joel Embiid may be the big league's dominant player and continues to improve for Philadelphia.

It's not just guys who get into the lists.

They are franchise players. At least a third of the teams in the league have a player born abroad who would rank as the best, or at least the most important.

"It has been fun to watch the last two decades, where the game started and where it is now," said Dirk Nowitzki, the German who has become the biggest star in the history of the Mavericks of Dallas. "I think the game has grown globally, in China, Australia, Africa, Europe, South America, I think we have 150 international players in the league or more. is fun to watch. "

Take a look at Tuesday's highs to see the impact.

– There were six guys with 12 or more rebounds, five of which were born outside of the United States.

– There were six guys with seven or more passes, all born outside of the United States.

– There were four guys with three blocks or more, all born outside the United States.

Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists for Denver, and it was perhaps not his best game of the season. Jokic is Serbian – and represents the way the game is played today. He is a 7-footer. Big, fast and competent. It will be a problem for the teams for a long time, and is the main reason why the Nuggets entered Wednesday at the West Conference summit.

The NBA uses the format "USA vs. "The World" in what was called the rookie game at the All-Star weekend since 2014, and it may be time to think about doing something like this in the college match.

Think about this possibility: Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Embiid, Jokic and Ben Simmons to leave. Select Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela and Nikola Vucevic as reinforcement. Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovic as security guards and wings. Jamal Murray, Jonas Valanciunas and Boban Marjanovic would be snubbed on this mythical formation of 12 men.

And even in this scenario, Kyrie Irving, from Australia, plays for the American team in this invented game.

The American team led by LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis would probably win again. But it might be interesting that the NBA looks at this type of format before too long.

"You have guys from everywhere and from anywhere in the world, you know that if you work hard, you can come and play in the NBA," said Tony Parker of Charlotte, born in Belgium.

There is a myriad of theories about why this happens.

What is most logical is that the game is essentially transmitted in real time to all the phones in the world. Young players like Doncic can see their European compatriots succeed in the NBA while admiring their basketball heroes – and for the Mavericks rookie, it was LeBron's. Embiid went a little bit older, claiming that his favorite favorite was the former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon. Antetokounmpo modeled part of his game after Scottie Pippen.

The seeds have been planted in the last 20 years.

It was only a matter of time before they carried this kind of fruit.

"We just know what this game is about," said Doncic about the young group of foreign stars. "I do not know if people think that international players are not so good, but I think we introduced ourselves."

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AP Sports Editor Steve Reed in Charlotte, NC, contributed to this report.

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More NBA AP: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for the Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds@ap.org