There are a lot of American basketball players making a living overseas, but these are the best.
Over the years, I have cultivated myself as not just an American basketball fan but an international one as well. When I started serving as general manager of TBT competitor Team 23, I really had to broaden my basketball horizons and understand that maybe some of the best American players aren’t in the NBA.
I came to the conclusion that one through 10 on an NBA roster felt like the best in the world, and 11 through 15 could find themselves interchangeable with any American player either in the G-League or overseas. This prompted me to write about seven players in particular who play overseas and have thoroughly impressed me for one reason or another.
Let’s start with some basic ground rules for this list: no American currently playing in the G-League is eligible, and this serves strictly American-born athletes who play specifically in high levels overseas. I’m also excluding players who previously made an big impact in the NBA, like Mike James, who has been one of the top Americans abroad for a while now.
Seven Best American Basketball Players Overseas Right Now
Jordan Loyd – Guard – 2021-22: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Jordan Loyd found himself sitting deep on the Toronto Raptors bench in 2019 when they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Since then, the guard has become one of the best American basketball players overseas, playing for Valencia in the gauntlet that is Liga ACB in Spain and this past season with KK Crvena Zvezda, a Serbian powerhouse club and champion of the Adriatic Basketball League, which has some of the best competition in the world.
Loyd served as the best player on the Zvezda roster. In the EuroLeague for Zvezda, Loyd finished third in scoring with 17.3 points per game. His frame, ability to get off quick shots, unlimited range, and ability to defend all feel conducive for the NBA.
At 28, Loyd is entering his prime and is playing against the best competition outside of the NBA, and he’s producing. He’ll begin the 2021-22 season with Zenit St. Petersburg, a top Russian club that will play in the EuroLeague.
Nigel Williams-Goss – Guard – 2021-22: Real Madrid (Spain)
A name that may feel more familiar with college basketball fans, Nigel Williams-Goss took Gonzaga to its first-ever national championship game in 2017. Then right out of college, he won the Serbian Cup and a Serbian Cup MVP as a member of Partizan and immediately established himself as a force.
Within the realm of international basketball, Gonzaga players have high priority in European system and become very valuable. Considering his college resume and how quickly he started winning in the overseas realm, it makes sense that Williams-Goss received a call from the Utah Jazz in 2019, who had drafted him two years earlier, and was offered a three-year, $4.8 million deal. He was waived in December 2020 and is now primed to continue his dominance overseas.
Williams-Goss doesn’t have as many accomplishments as others on this list, but that’s because he’s still very early in his career. This season, he will play with one of the best teams in the world in Real Madrid. Real is very cautious with its roster choices, and that thought process generally pays off. Rarely will it hand the guard role off to a young American, but that just shows the confidence Real has in NWG. Considering the past guards who have graced Real, like Facundo Campazzo and Luka Doncic, Williams-Gross finds himself in elite company and as one of the premier American basketball players overseas.
Nigel Williams-Goss’s early career accomplishments:
- Serbian Cup winner (2018)
- Serbian Cup MVP (2018)
- Consensus second-team All-American (2017)
- WCC Player of the Year (2017)
- First-team All-WCC (2017)
- WCC Newcomer of the Year (2017)
- Second-team All-Pac-12 (2015)
- Pac-12 All-Freshman Team (2014)
- McDonald’s All-American (2013)
- First-team Parade All-American (2013)
Jimmer Fredette – Guard – 2020-21: Shanghai Sharks (China)
Could this list exist without Jimmer? Now 32, the old Glens Falls, New York, native has become a legend in China and is still one of the toughest covers outside of the United States.
We will forever have the debate of whether Fredette belonged in the NBA for the majority of his career. You can implant Jimmer into any league, and will find a way to score. His handles, range, and shot-making ability have become legendary.
Fredette had a down year by his standards in China, averaging 26 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game – imagine that as a down year. While his teams have been the most winningest, he does still put on one of the best shows in basketball outside of the U.S., and we need to recognize that.
Fredette’s overseas accomplishments:
Kyle Hines – Forward/Center – 2021-22: AX Armani Exchange Milan (Italy)
Mike, stop talking about guards! Okay, I need to give props to one of the most accomplished American basketball players overseas before his career winds down.
No one on this list has had more success in Europe than Kyle Hines. Look at this list of accomplishments! He has more accomplishments than Apollo Creed has nicknames.
- Italian Cup winner (2021)
- Italian Super Cup winner (2020)
- 4× EuroLeague champion (2012, 2013, 2016, 2019)
- EuroLeague 2010–20 All-Decade Team (2020)
- 2× EuroLeague Best Defender (2016, 2018)
- 6× VTB United League champion (2014–2019)
- VTB United League Defensive Player of the Year (2016)
- Greek League champion (2012)
- German League champion (2011)
- German Cup winner (2011)
- German Supercup winner (2010)
- German League Finals MVP (2011)
- German League All-Star Game MVP (2011)
- 2× Italian Second Division Cup winner (2009, 2010)
- Italian Second Division Cup MVP (2009)
- SoCon Player of the Year (2007)
- 3× First-team All-SoCon (2006–2008)
- No. 42 retired by UNC Greensboro Spartans
Hines simply knows how to win. He plays hard, he plays smart, he plays any style, he can guard five positions, and he amazingly does it undersized at 6-foot-6. He’s the Draymond Green of Europe, or should I say the Tim Duncan of Europe. He feels like the guy everyone in Europe wants to play with. Four EuroLeague championships with multiple teams is otherwise unheard of.
Hines is perhaps the greatest American glue player of all time in overseas basketball competition. I tend to wonder what a 6-foot-11 Hines would have looked like. The NBA missed out big time on this guys. But I think Hines got the last laugh with insane pay days and legendary status in Europe.
Brandon Davies – Forward/Center – 2021-22: FC Barcelona (Spain)
Brandon Davies has slowly become one of the most polished American big men in European basketball, and he just helps teams win wherever he goes. Big, long, agile, and competitive, I haven’t seen a team in Europe that he joins that doesn’t immediately get better.
Davies won two Lithuanian championships with Zaligiris, left and went to FC Barcelona, and it instantly jumped Real Madrid as the team to beat in ACB. He brings a toughness to European basketball. Now 30, Davies still has a lot of competitive ball in him. His accomplishments include:
- Spanish League champion (2021)
- All-EuroLeague First Team (2019)
- All-EuroLeague Second Team (2021)
- 2× Lithuanian LKL champion (2018, 2019)
- Lithuanian LKL Finals MVP (2018)
- Lithuanian King Mindaugas Cup winner (2018)
- French League Cup winner (2017)
- 2× First-team All-WCC (2012, 2013)
Davies’ game feels very conducive for the NBA. He can shoot, take the ball to the rim, rebound, defend, and play team ball. A veteran NBA team should feel lucky to have him, even if just for spot minutes.
Shane Larkin – Point Guard – 2021-22: Anadolu Efes (Turkey)
Now that Mike James has entered the NBA, Shane Larkin stands alone as the best American playing in the EuroLeague. Two years ago, Larkin brought Anadolu Efes, the Turkish powerhouse, to the EuroLeague championship only to lose to CSKA Moscow. He led Anadolu as the best team in Europe this last year, and after a rough start and countless adversity, Larkin took Efes to its first EuroLeague crown in club history, defeating FC Barcelona.
In doing so, Larkin etched himself into Turkish basketball lore and added to his list of accomplishments.
- EuroLeague champion (2021)
- All-EuroLeague Second Team (2021)
- EuroLeague Finals Top Scorer (2019)
- 2× Turkish League champion (2019, 2021)
- Turkish League Finals MVP (2019)
- 2× Turkish Super Cup winner (2018, 2019)
- All-Europe Player of the Year (2019)
- All-Spanish League Second Team (2017)
- Lute Olson Award (2013)
- Second-team All-American – AP, NABC (2013)
- Third-team All-American – SN (2013)
- ACC Player of the Year – Coaches (2013)
- First-team All-ACC (2013)
- ACC All-Freshman team (2012)
Larkin brings speed, defense, quickness, shooting, and the know-how to run an offense. I contend he’s better than some starting point guards in the NBA currently. He would at the very least make a serviceable backup for someone.
Bryce Cotton – Point Guard – 2021-22: Perth Wildcats (Australia)
At first glance, Bryce Cotton, who stands at 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, looks like he doesn’t belong on the floor. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only would I argue that Cotton has become one of the best guards outside of the NBA, he has also become a god in Australia. The NBL has risen to be one of the better leagues in the world, and by some accounts, Bryce Cotton may have cemented himself as the greatest player in the league’s history as a member of the Perth Wildcats.
His list of NBL accomplishments reads like this:
- 3× NBL champion (2017, 2019, 2020)
- NBL Cup winner (2021)
- 2× NBL Grand Final MVP (2017, 2020)
- 3× NBL Most Valuable Player (2018, 2020, 2021)
- 2× NBL Fans MVP (2019, 2021)
- 4× All-NBL First Team (2018–2021)
- 4× NBL scoring champion (2017, 2019–2021)
Cotton feels like one of the quickest, most clutch players I’ve seen play overseas. While he had a cup of coffee with the Jazz and Phoenix Suns in 2015, the NBA doesn’t know what it missed in this guy. Perth played the Denver Nuggets in an exhibition game in 2018 where Cotton held his own without a hiccup against the likes of Jamal Murray. The Tucson, Arizona, native and former Providence Friar is now 28 and essentially a walking bucket forever etched in the mind of any Perth Wildcats fan.