Before this season started, there was probably a slight backlash against young international forwards heading into the NBA. The Darko Milicic, Yaroslav Korolev, Fran Vazquez and Nikoloz Tskitishvilli experiences soured teams on foreigners light on experience and long on potential, and the Ricky Rubio tug-of-war between Spain and Minnesota unfortunately ended in favor of FC Barcelona, giving a harsh reminder to GMs in the league that procuring a player from his home country isn't always guaranteed. Moreover, Rubio was the only international among the top 21 picks in the 2009 draft, and Danilo Gallinari was the only foreign-born player among the top 19 picks in '08. Add to that the fact that other young international lottery picks like Yi Jianlan, Saer Sene and Andrea Bargnani were not meeting expectations, and 2009-2010 was destined to be a year where all of the top young players would almost certainly be American-born.
Nearly halfway through the season however, this season is turning into the Year of the Young International Forward. Take a look at the stat lines for the following players, all with four years or less experience in the NBA, all born outside of US soil, and all of whom you could have taken late in your fantasy draft or off your waiver wire:
Andrew Bogut (MIL): 15.1 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 58|PERCENT| FG
Luis Scola (HOU): 15.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 53|PERCENT| FG
Yi Jianlan (NJ): 15.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 39|PERCENT| 3PT
Marc Gasol (MEM): 14.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 61|PERCENT| FG
Omri Casspi (SAC): 12.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 42|PERCENT| 3PT
Danilo Gallinari (NYK): 14.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 41|PERCENT| 3PT
Al Horford (ATL): 13.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 58|PERCENT| FG
Andrea Bargnani (TOR): 17.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 38|PERCENT| 3PT
Add on top of that the resurgent years had by Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, all of whom rank in the top 11 of John Hollinger's PER rankings, and one could even argue that it's the Year of the International in general, not just young foreign-born forwards. But great things are generally expected from Duncan, Nowitzki and Nash, while it's their less-experienced brethren that have been a bigger surprise this year.
I'm a big fan of seeing how players have performed in their last five games, and in this metric, foreign-born forwards are shining even more. Scola is averaging 19 and 9. Gallinari has had consecutive games of 26 and 27 in the last week. Gasol had a 24 point, 15 rebound night against the Clippers on January 12th. Even Jonas Jerebko has gotten into the act, averaging 11 and 7 over his last five. Not only are the internationals playing well over the course of the season, they seem to be heating up as time goes on.
However, when you talk about breakout internationals this season, the conversation has to start with Bargnani. The former No. 1 pick has especially performed admirably under the spotlight this year, keying (along with Chris Bosh) the Raptors' recent 8-1 stretch and propelling them to the playoff hunt. In fact, over his last five games, Bargnani has averaged 20 and 9. In this year of the resurgent international forward, Bargnani's shedding of his previous "bust" label has been one of the top stories of the season, as he's finally playing like the inside-out force that everyone hoped for when he was picked first overall in 2006.
But it's players like Scola, Casspi and Gallinari that could end up winning your league for you, as they could have been had off your waiver wire early in the season, and show no signs of slowing down now. And if you weren't lucky enough to grab an emerging young international this year, keep one thing in mind: Lithuanian forward Donatas Motiejunas is one of this year's top draft prospects. By all accounts, he compares favorably to Andrea Bargnani. Nowadays, that's a compliment.