Four international players took home four of the NBA’s five major awards

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo from Inquirer Sports | Art by Tricia Guevara

This year’s NBA awards was proof that the game of basketball is becoming more inclusive. The league has made efforts over the past decade to grow the game outside the United States, and we’re finally seeing results.

24-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the best foreign players in the league today, didn’t know how to play the game until he was a teenager but bagged his very first MVP award this year. This is a shining example of the sport’s global reach, proving that some of the best talents in the sport are actually from the other side of the world.

Here are more examples of how one of the most prestigious sports league in the world is becoming more globally inclusive:

Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Athens, Greece)

Let this sink in: At 24 years old, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the third youngest player to win the MVP in the past 40 years. Antetokounmpo averaged 27 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, and a block per game last season. He was no doubt one of the main driving forces behind the success of the Milwaukee Bucks—which won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. The Greek Freak garnered a total of 941 votes over James Harden’s 776.

The NBA awards signifies that Antetokounmpo’s reign in the league has begun—and it’s going to be the phase of the league for quite some time.

Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic (Slovenia)

Before the season even started, Doncic was already expected to win the award. The Dallas Mavericks’ swingman did not just meet everyone’s expectations but even exceeded them, as he tallied a remarkable 292 points in his first 15 games alone and averaged 21 points, seven rebounds, and six assists during his rookie campaign.

Doncic had one of the most impressive rookie seasons in history. He became the fourth player in NBA history to complete a 20-5-5 rookie season, and, not to mention, a season full of highlight reels. Atlanta’s point guard Trae Young and Phoenix Suns’ big man Deandre Ayton did not even come close.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (France)

Despite not making it to this year’s all-star game roster, Rudy Gobert’s two straight Defensive Player of the Year awards established him as the best defensive player on the planet. According to, the Utah Jazz’ big man ranked second in the league in defensive win shares (5.7) and second in total blocks (187) while deterring his opponents from the rim at a league-leading pace.

Gobert put up an average of 15 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks per game and garnered 65 out of 100 first place votes this year.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Pascal Siakam (Cameroon)

It’s been exactly a week and four days since Pascal Siakam won an NBA championship, and here is he again enjoying another award. Siakam played a huge role in the Raptors’ run this season. Aside from his impressive finals performance, the 25-year-old forward averaged career-highs of 16 points, six rebounds, and three assists while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor and 36 percent beyond the arc in 80 starts this season.

He took his game to another level this season. Throughout the lineup changes, injuries, and mid-season additions, Siakam was one of the most consistent players, putting up stellar numbers every night. The third-year forward was a gem for the Raptors and they were certain that there wasn’t a single area that needed improvement in his game, but rather a whole lot of star power that played a vital role for the champions this season.

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