By Dan Ferrara, NBA International
The night started off strong for international players, as Australian-born Ben Simmons was selected No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons became the first Australian top pick since Andrew Bogut in 2005 and is now the third international player selected No. 1 in the last four years.
At his first press conference as an NBA player, Simmons shouted out his fans at home by exclaiming, “I love everyone who has been supporting me back home in Australia, I’ll be back soon!”
The fun didn’t stop there, as a record-setting 14 of the 30 picks of the first round would turn out to be players from outside the United States, symbolizing the immense popularity of basketball around the globe. Eight of the 14 lottery picks were international players as well, including six in the top 10. In total, 26 of the 60 names called on draft night we’re foreign-born.
Forward Dragan Bender of Croatia, through Maccabi Tel Aviv, joined Simmons in the top five, getting selected by the Phoenix Suns at No. 4. A player who Bender has drawn comparisons to, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia, was selected No. 4 overall last year.
With the Suns selecting Bender, Croatia has had a player selected in the top five (2015 No. 5 pick Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic) in back-to-back drafts.
When asked what that means for Croatia, Bender said, “It means a lot just in terms of the work back in Croatia. I think that there are more guys that are coming right now, some great talents. I’m looking forward to those guys coming overseas and to build a great national team, win some championships.”
Other notable international first-round draft picks included Buddy Hield (No. 6, Bahamas, New Orleans Pelicans), Jamal Murray (No. 7, Canada, Denver Nuggets), Jakob Poeltl (No. 9, Austrian, Toronto Raptors) and Thon Maker (No. 10, Sudan/Australia) Milwaukee Bucks). Domantas Sabonis (Lithunia) was drafted No. 11 by the Orlando Magic and then traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with guard Victor Oladipo in a deal involving power forward Serge Ibaka.