The Top Six British NBA Basketball Players

This is an opinion piece of the top six British NBA basketball players of all time. There were many great British NBA players. Great Britain has produced more than a dozen NBA players despite it not being known as a hotbed for basketball. While no British NBA player is in the Naismith Hall of Fame, they have made their mark in the NBA.

Six Best British NBA Players of All-Time

  1. John Amaechi (1995-96, 1999-03)

John Amaechi, the power forward and center, went undrafted in the 1995 NBA draft. However, he was able to get some playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers in his rookie season. In the 1995-96 NBA season, Amaechi averaged 2.8 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 28 games.

His best two seasons offensively came in the 1999-00 and 2000-01 NBA seasons with the Orlando Magic. In the 1999-00 NBA season, Amaechi averaged 10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. He would follow that up with 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in the 2000-01 NBA season. Amaechi would have two more years in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, but never again reached the level of play he had with the Magic.

  1. Byron Mullens (2009-14)

Byron Mullens, the second power forward/center on this list was drafted 24th by the Dallas Mavericks in 2009. However, he was traded shortly afterward to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had 1.1 points per game in his rookie season. His stats would dramatically increase in the 2011-12 NBA season. In that season he had 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

Mullens is now enjoying his time in the British Basketball League. This is what he said according to the British Basketball League:

“We wanted very good players here in London but more than that we wanted good people. The work has started now, we are all chomping at the bit to put our style of basketball on the floor in every single game we play this season.”

  1. OG Anunoby (2017-Present)

OG Anunoby, the small forward for the Toronto Raptors, is the only present British basketball player playing in the NBA and was drafted 23rd by the Raptors. Anunoby who grew up in the U.S. but was born in London, England has gradually improved from his rookie season. In his rookie 2017-18 NBA season, he averaged 5.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. More recently, in the 2020-21 NBA season, he averaged 14.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. This includes averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, and steals.

His most notable shot was game three of the 2020 Eastern Conference semi-finals. In this play, Anunoby made a last-second shot and avoided a 3-0 hole in the series against the Boston Celtics. The Raptors would still lose in seven games, but Anunoby gave Toronto a fighting chance to make their second-straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Celtics.

This is what Raptors legend Kyle Lowry (who gave the terrific pass to Anunoby in the video above) said about Anunoby according to Scott Rafferty of the NBA:

“What did Michael Jordan say? That the ceiling is the roof? Nah, OG has the chance to be special, man.”

  1. Ben Gordon (2004-15)

Ben Gordon, was a shooting guard and had a substantially longer career than all the previous players mentioned on this list. Gordon was drafted third in the 2004 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. He had an impressive 2004-05 NBA rookie season when he averaged 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. As a result, he won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and made the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2005. He at the time was the only rookie to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.

He was a very talented player. One time with the Chicago Bulls he made three three-pointers against the Miami Heat. According to Tom Firme of Bleacher Report in 2012, Gordon was one of the 10 strongest pound-for-pound players in the NBA. The biggest reason is his strength despite being only six-foot-three. According to Firme:

“Gordon’s strength helps his offense. He combines his heavy dribbling with his strength and length to create separation to take reasonable shots.”

  1. James Donaldson (1980-93, 1995)

James Donaldson, another center that made the list, is currently one of only two players from Great Britain to make the NBA All-Star Game. He was drafted 73 in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder). In his first season, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The year he made the NBA All-Star Game, he averaged 7.0 points and 9.3 rebounds. He also had 1.3 steals in that same 1987-88 NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks.

One of his most notable games was scoring 30 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and getting five blocks against the Chicago Bulls in 1987 with Dallas.

  1. Luol Deng (2004-19)

Luol Deng, who can play both the small forward and the power forward positions, was drafted seventh overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. In his rookie 2004-05 NBA season, he averaged 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. His breakthrough came in the 2006-07 NBA season, where he averaged 18.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.

Deng is considered an underrated player. His presence on the court though is invaluable. This is what then Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said about Deng according to the Chicago Tribune:

“Luol’s professional. He practices hard. Luol prepares well. He studies his opponent. He’s great at executing offensively and defensively. He’s helped this team get better every day,”

One of his notable games saw Deng score 30 points in a Miami Heat win over the Dallas Mavericks. He also had five assists, four rebounds, and one steal against the Mavericks in a 105-96 Miami victory.

The Top Six British Players of All-Time Summary

Deng, who was arguable the best player in British basketball said this about the Olympics, which joined FIBA in 2005 according to the Olympics:

“We took the team from not being recognized in Europe to competing with the best teams in Europe.”

This was true despite Great Britain’s men’s team only getting one win against China. They competed against other European teams and lost to European powerhouse Spain by only one point (score was 79-78) in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Similarly, this was the case with the women’s team. Great Britain did not get a win in women’s Olympic basketball but forced France to overtime in a narrow 80-77 loss.

There is a long and rich history of British basketball players in the NBA and in basketball in general. The British men’s basketball team appeared in the first-ever Summer Olympics that included the sport. Unfortunately, there has been a downturn of NBA players in Great Britain recently. It is also not nearly as popular as it was in the 1990s. Still, there is hope for Great Britain men’s basketball. For example, according to the British Basketball League, Sky Sports signed a two-year agreement with the British Basketball League.

There is also London-born Anunoby in the NBA (yes, he tried out for Nigeria, but was on Britain’s Olympic roster this year). Deng and Gordon probably ushered in the glory age of British NBA basketball, with other players like Pops Mensah-Bonsu who played in that era. Still, there is a bright side. The British women’s basketball team for example almost made the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. They could become a giant in European basketball if the progression continues.

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