With the Houston Rockets having signed players from 24 countries outside of the U.S., here’s a look at all 31 international players ranked from worst to best.
While the Houston Rockets used to be completely comprised of United States-born players, that changed drastically throughout the years. According to Basketball-Reference, there have been 384 total players that have officially signed with the Rockets since their inception in the 1967-68 season.
Of those 384, there have been 31 players that were born outside of the United States of America, including some of the best players in NBA history. There are 24 different countries represented in this list, with Argentina leading all others, birthing three players that became Houston Rockets at some point.
The cream of the crop should be fairly obvious, so I’ll be starting with the guys that even diehard fans might not have even heard of. These rankings will be largely based on each players’ effectiveness as a Rocket, however, their overall careers will sometimes be used as a tie-breaking factor.
I’ll begin with someone who played just 13 total minutes for H-Town:
31. William Howard (France)
While he had a good basketball career in France, William Howard was never quite able to make it in the NBA. After playing in different French leagues from 2012-19, Howard was officially signed by the Utah Jazz after they agreed to buy out his contract with the French basketball club Limoges.
He never played a minute with Utah, instead spending time with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. Through 15 games with Salt Lake, Howard averaged 13.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, earning him a two-way contract with the Houston Rockets.
Given that he only played 13 total NBA minutes and never scored a bucket, it’s easy to see why Howard is last on this list. Howard currently plays for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who just won the G-League championship in April 2019.
30. Tim Ohlbrecht (Germany)
While he bounced around German leagues and the D-League throughout his career, Tim Ohlbrecht never quite cracked his way into the NBA. Well, technically he did — briefly. Ohlbrecht played 12 total NBA minutes, all for the Houston Rockets in the 2012-13 season. In those three games, Tim scored a total of three points while tallying one rebound, one assist and one steal.
Ohlbrecht did have some basketball accolades outside of the NBA, however. He was a member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers that won the D-League title in 2013-14, making the D-League All-Star team in his first season with them. He was also a three-time All-Star for the German basketball league, Basketball Bundesliga.
Next: No. 29 - 27
29. Pops Mensah-Bonsu (U.K.)
While the London-born Pops Mensah-Bonsu had more NBA success than numbers 30 and 31 on this list, it wasn’t by much. The 6-9 power forward spent some time in the D-League but was frequently called up by NBA teams throughout his career.
Unfortunately, Pops would only last for a few games before being waived or sent back down to the D-League after he was given opportunities. Mensah-Bonsu spent time with the Raptors, Mavericks, Hornets, Rockets and Spurs, but only played more than 12 games with Toronto.
Pops averaged 1.3 points and 1.0 rebounds with the Rockets in four games in 2009 before being waived. He currently is the general manager for the Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards’ G League affiliate.
28. Bruno Caboclo (Brazil)
One day after making the trade for Robert Covington and acquiring Jordan Bell in the process, the Rockets sent Bell to the Memphis Grizzlies for Bruno Caboclo. The move was likely pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but according to Rockets insider Alykhan Bijani, the Rockets had their eyes on him for a while.
Caboclo hasn’t been given many minutes in Mike D’Antoni‘s shortened, micro ball rotation, but has still found minutes in five games for Houston this season. So far, the 6-9 forward has scored 10 points, pulled down nine boards and blocked four shots in his 28 total minutes played.
Time will tell if Caboclo gets more opportunities in Houston.
27. Alexey Shved (Russia)
In December 2014, the Houston Rockets dealt guard Troy Daniels and some picks for Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved. The 6-6 shooting guard was averaging 9.9 points and 2.7 assists for the Philadelphia 76ers at the time.
Shved didn’t get much of a chance under Kevin McHale, though, showing up in just nine games for the Rockets. Alexey averaged 3.2 points per game in those nine games before being packaged with two picks for Pablo Prigioni of the New York Knicks.
Shved shined in New York for the 16 games he played with them — averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He’s currently playing in Russia as a member of BC Khimki.
Next: No. 26 - 25
26. Hasheem Thabeet (United Republic of Tanzania)
Given that Hasheem Thabeet was drafted second overall in 2009 over James Harden, it’s safe to say his NBA career was a bust. Much was expected from the talented UConn center out of college, but he’s since become one of those names with a negative connotation along with the likes of Sam Bowie or Greg Oden.
The decision didn’t work out for the Rockets, as he only played seven games and averaged less than one point per game before Houston shipped him off for Marcus Camby. Thabeet most recently played with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants but was waived on January 16, 2020.
25. Zhou Qi (China)
It’s safe to say the first Rocket born in China had a much more memorable time in Houston than the second. Six years after Yao Ming played his final game in H-Town, Zhou Qi was drafted 43rd overall by the Rockets.
Boasting a 7-7 wingspan and coming off of a championship with Xinjiang in China, there was little risk involved in taking the 7-1 center in the second round. Like many others on this list, Qi spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and only played sporadically for Houston.
Zhou ended up showing up in 18 games for the Rockets in 2017-18 and just one game the following season before returning back to the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, where he remains currently.
Next: No. 24 - 22
24. Tyler Ennis (Canada)
Surprisingly, Tyler Ennis is the only Canadian-born NBA player to have spent time with the Houston Rockets. Like everyone below him on this list, that time was limited. After seasons with the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, the Rockets acquired the 6-3 point guard from Milwaukee in 2016.
Ennis showed up in just 31 games for Houston, with his game-high being nine points against the Oklahoma City Thunder in November. Overall, Ennis averaged 1.9 points and 1.1 assists for the Rockets before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Tyler Ennis currently plays in the G League for Raptors 905.
23. Zan Tabak (Croatia)
After Croatians Dino Rada and Toni Kukoc were each drafted the previous two years, the Houston Rockets took a chance on Zan Tabak, a seven-foot center from Split, Croatia in 1991. He stayed to play in Croatia for a couple more years before joining, the team, however.
Tabak showed up in 37 games for the Rockets, with his best game being a 10 point, five rebound performance against the LA Clippers during the regular season.
Tabak was fortunate enough to win a ring in his debut season with the Rockets, scoring six points and blocking three shots in that season’s playoffs in 31 minutes of action.
22. Richard Petruska (Slovakia)
Another center that was in the right place at the right time, Richard Petruska spent his one and only NBA season with the Houston Rockets the same year they won their first NBA title.
Selected 46th overall in the 1993 draft, he played in just 22 games, averaging 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in an average of 4.2 minutes per game.
Petruska’s biggest impact on the Rockets was actually on their championship trophy itself, as he famously dropped and dented it as it was making the rounds in the team’s locker room.
Next: No. 21 - 19
21. Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland)
I promise the names will start to become more familiar from here on out, starting with Thabo Sefolosha. The combo forward/guard from Vevey, Switzerland has made his way around the league since being selected 13th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006.
Over the years, Sefolosha has established himself as a good wing defender, even making the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2010 as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Since signing with the Rockets last September, Thabo has been averaging a career-low 10.6 minutes per game, scoring 2.2 points per. He did, however, give us all this glorious moment:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/01/27/0021900698/319/f146c4d3-ac59-ab3a-a4ca-23901f8a3084_1280x720.mp4
20. Vassilis Spanoulis (Greece)
His career in the NBA, however, is a different story. Spanoulis showed up in 31 games for the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season but started to see a drop in playing time due to his tendency to turn the ball over and struggle shooting the ball.
Spanoulis and Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy butted heads over the issue, with Van Gundy being frustrated that Spanoulis wasn’t showing the patience needed from a young player, instead demanding more playing time.
“(Spanoulis) says, ‘I was McGrady back home.’ Great. McGrady is McGrady here,” Van Gundy said in a Houston Chronicle column from 2007.
Spanoulis’ slightly better season than Thabo, as well as his accomplishments overseas, land him at number 20 on this list, but he could’ve been much higher if he had the patience to grow as a player in the NBA.
19. Bostjan Nachbar (Slovenia)
Bostjan Nachbar had some success in the NBA — it just wasn’t necessarily with the Houston Rockets. Taken 15th overall in the 2002 draft by Houston, he spent his first three years with the team but only averaged 10.6 minutes per game over that span.
Overall, Nachbar averaged 2.9 points and 0.6 assists per game in 75 games played for the Rockets. The best NBA seasons of Bostjan’s career were as a member of the New Jersey Nets from 2005-08, when he averaged 9.0 points per game.
Nachbar ended his playing career overseas in Spain, retiring in 2017.
Next: 18 - 15
18. Kostas Papanikolaou (Greece)
If this list was covering the names that are the most fun to say, Kostas Papanikolaou would be toward the top. Like just about everyone below him, though, he never quite took off in the NBA despite an impressive resume overseas.
Kostas had numerous accolades before even making his NBA debut in 2014, including winning two EuroLeague titles, a Spanish League title and a Greek League title. The Rockets acquired the 6-8 forward from Portland, but he only saw the court 43 times representing Houston.
Playing a role off the bench, Papanikolaou averaged 4.2 points, 2.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game before Houston traded him to the Nuggets for Ty Lawson in 2015.
17. Pablo Prigioni (Argentina)
After a successful international basketball career, Pablo Prigioni became the oldest rookie in NBA history when he made his debut for the New York Knicks in 2012 at age 35. His debut season with them was the last time they were a decent team, as he helped them make the second round of the NBA playoffs before they fell to the Indiana Pacers (sorry Knicks fans, but let’s be real.)
In February 2015, the Rockets traded someone else on this list, Alexey Shved, for the 6-3 point guard. Prigioni only played 24 games for Houston that season, averaging 3.0 points, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game in that time.
Pablo currently serves as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
16. Oscar Torres (Venezuela)
After spending time playing ball in Venezuela, Oscar Torres became the first Venezuelan-born player ever to make it to the NBA when he signed with the Houston Rockets for the 2001-02 season.
The 6-6 guard started in 13 of his total 65 games played, averaging 6.0 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. Oscar’s biggest game for the Rockets came in December 2001, when he had 28 points off the bench on 10-of-11 shooting from the field.
After one more season in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, Torres went back to play overseas before retiring in 2017.
15. David Andersen (Australia)
Another international player that got his NBA start with the Rockets, David Andersen spent time on three different NBA teams in just two seasons. Houston acquired his rights from the Atlanta Hawks in 2009, signing him to a three-year deal shortly after.
The Aussie played 63 games for the Rockets, averaging 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, with his highlight game being a 19-point effort in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers in November 2009.
Despite his decent play, Anderson was shipped to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for a protected second-round pick. After a split season with Toronto and New Orleans, he returned to international basketball and currently plays in the NBL.
Next: No. 14 - 12
14. Francisco Garcia (Dominican Republic)
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Francisco Garcia played college ball at the University of Louisville, making it to the Final Four in 2005. After being drafted 23rd overall by the Sacramento Kings, Garcia earned himself a five-year contract extension.
The 6-7 small forward averaged 8.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game off the bench for Sacramento before he was traded to the Houston Rockets in 2013. Garcia spent three seasons with the Rockets but only appeared in 87 games total.
Still, Francisco was effective in his limited minutes, scoring 5.5 points and pulling down 1.9 rebounds per game. Garcia last played in a Dominican league in 2017.
13. Omri Casspi (Israel)
Omri Casspi was yet another Sacramento Kings draft pick, being taken 23rd overall in 2009. After a successful first two seasons in which he averaged 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, the Kings eventually traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for J.J. Hickson.
Omri eventually found himself with the Houston Rockets in 2013, where he played 18.1 minutes per game off the bench. In that time, he averaged 6.9 points and 1.2 assists per game and shot 34.7 percent from three.
☔☔ Steph Curry & Omri Casspi make it rain in Oakland! ☔☔https://t.co/wdFInC4mdF
— NBA (@NBA) December 29, 2015
After his short stint with Houston, Casspi ended up playing for the Kings two more times in his career, as well as the Timberwolves, Warriors and Grizzlies. Casspi currently plays in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
12. Samuel Dalembert (Haiti)
Born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Samuel Dalembert spent the majority of his career with the team that drafted him in 2001, the Philadelphia 76ers. After being with the team for nine seasons, the 6-11 center then spent the next five seasons with five different teams.
Dalembert’s third team was the Houston Rockets in 2011-12, where he was the team’s second-leading rebounder behind Marcus Camby that season. Dalembert averaged 7.5 points and 7.0 rebounds with Houston, highlighted by a 21 point, 16 rebound performance in a win over the Kings.
The Rockets traded Dalembert in 2014 to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he spent one season before ending his NBA career with the Knicks in 2015.
Next: No. 11 - 9
11. Nene (Brazil)
Born Maybner Rodney Hilario in Sao Carlos, Brazil, Nene has had a lengthy NBA career spanning since 2002. The Knicks selected him seventh overall in that year’s NBA draft but traded him to the Denver Nuggets.
Nene established himself as a force in Denver, averaging 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game through 10 seasons. The 6-11 center/forward was traded to Washington in 2012, where he spent five seasons before signing with the Houston Rockets at age 34.
While he averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in his first season with Houston in 2016-17, his minutes decreased the following two seasons behind Clint Capela, who was getting more and more playing time.
Nene was still on the Rockets’ roster to begin the 2019-20 season, but his nagging hip injury kept him out all year. In February 2020, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and subsequently waived by them the next day.
10. Carlos Delfino (Argentina)
Just cracking the top 10 international players in Houston Rockets history is 2004 Olympic gold medalist Carlos Delfino. While he spent the majority of his NBA career in Detroit and Milwaukee, Delfino had a decent season with Houston in 2012-13.
The 6-6 Argentine averaged 10.6 points and 3.3 rebounds for the Rockets in an average of 25.2 minutes per game. That amounts to 15.1 points per 36 minutes, which was a career-high for a season for Delfino.
After being waived in June 2013, Delfino returned to play overseas, where he last played for Lavoropiù Bologna in Italy in 2019.
9. Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Figuring out where to place Dikembe Mutombo on this list was tricky. From the outset, the premise was to evaluate each players’ contributions as a Rocket first and foremost, but other career accomplishments would also play a factor. Mutombo’s case is the latter.
Mutombo was 38 years old when he joined the Rockets, so, naturally, he wasn’t as effective in his five years with Houston as he was earlier in his NBA career. Overall, he averaged 3.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game with the team, which are all just fractions of the kinds of numbers he put up in his career.
Given his age when he joined the franchise combined with his remarkable resumé though, he certainly deserves a top 10 spot.
Next: No. 8 - 6
8. Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon)
Like many players on this list, Luc Mbah a Moute had a short but effective tenure with the Rockets. After signing with them in 2017, Luc averaged 7.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game through 61 games played.
Mbah a Moute provided versatility for the Rockets with his 6-8 frame and quickness. He also randomly has the distinction of posting the highest plus-minus game in NBA history, when he had a +57 in a 125-95 victory over the Denver Nuggets in 2017.
Shoulder injuries hampered Luc’s time in Houston, and he ended up signing with the LA Clippers for the second time to begin the 2018-19 season. He was waived after just four games with the club after more injury complications.
7. Goran Dragic (Slovenia)
After beginning his professional basketball career in 2003 in Slovenia, Goran Dragic found himself on the Phoenix Suns five years later. After three successful seasons with them, he was traded to Houston in exchange for Aaron Brooks.
Dragic played his role as a backup point guard well and took advantage when team needs led him to start on certain occasions. Dragic even earned a Western Conference Player of the Week award in April 2012 after averaging 30.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over four games.
In July 2012, Dragic hit the free agent market and signed a 4-year, $30 million deal to return to the Suns. He’s since been traded to the Miami Heat, where he continues to play presently.
Goran averaged 10.7 points and 4.6 assists per game in his two seasons with Houston.
6. Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania)
In 2011, the Houston Rockets made a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves one day after they drafted Donatas Motiejunas. The deal involved acquiring Motiejunas and Jonny Flynn for Brad Miller and Nikola Mirotic.
The 7-foot power forward debuted with the Rockets in 2012, averaging 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in his rookie season. Much like Vassilis Spanoulis, Donatas became frustrated with a lack of playing time during his tenure with Houston. The difference with Motiejunas, however, was his positive attitude and respect for giving it his all any time he got an opportunity.
In 2016, James Harden described Motiejunas’ game, saying: “He’s versatile, [with] smart playmaking. He’s not one-dimensional, and that’s why he’s so good.”
The hustle and heart Donatas played with made him a fan favorite in Houston, and that paired with his contributions earn him the sixth spot on this countdown.
Next: No. 5 - 3
5. Omer Asik (Turkey)
If this was a list of best nicknames, Asik and Destroy would probably be at the top. Career-wise, Omer Asik still did enough for Houston to crack the top five despite playing for just two seasons with the team.
After getting his start in a Turkish league in 2005, Asik was drafted by Portland in 2008 but traded to the Chicago Bulls. The 7-foot center never quite got the playing time he deserved until he signed with the Houston Rockets in 2012.
In his first season in H-Town, Omer averaged a double-double with 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game to go along with 1.1 blocks. Those all ended up being career-highs for a season by the time he played his last season in the NBA in 2018.
Asik was loved in Houston throughout his tenure, but the arrival of Dwight Howard in 2013 significantly reduced his playing time enough to where he ended up being traded to New Orleans before the 2014-15 season.
4. Luis Scola (Argentina)
A legend in Argentina basketball, Luis Scola made his mark both internationally and domestically. Scola was a huge part of the Argentine national basketball team led by Manu Ginobili that won the gold medal in Athens in 2004.
Despite being drafted by the Spurs in 2002, NBA buyout rules prevented them from being able to ever bring him into the fold, forcing them to trade his rights to the Houston Rockets in 2007.
The 6-9 power forward proved to be worth the wait, finishing third for the Rookie of the Year award and making the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Scola flourished in Houston, increasing his points per game each season for the first four of five years with the team. In March 2010, he shot an astounding 20-for-25 from the field against the New Jersey Nets, finishing with a career-high 44 points in a 116-108 win.
In 2012, the Rockets used the amnesty clause for salary cap relief in an effort to trade for Dwight Howard. When he joined the Lakers instead, they used that cap space to acquire the one and only James Harden.
At age 40, Scola currently plays for Olimpia Milano in Italy.
3. Clint Capela (Switzerland)
After being taken 25th overall by the Rockets in 2014, Clint Capela hardly saw the floor in his rookie season, instead developing his game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Despite that, he was able to see some minutes in the 2015 playoffs due to Donatas Motiejunas going down with an injury.
Capela showed enough to warrant more minutes the following season, gradually becoming the starting center for Houston for the next five seasons. The Swiss center quickly became a crucial part of the team, always proving to be a reliable lob option for James Harden’s drives to the hoop.
His rebounding also took his game to the next level, as he tallied multiple 30+ point, 20+ rebound games with Houston, including one earlier this season against the Philadelphia 76ers.
With the team’s full commitment to micro ball being established in the middle of this season, Capela was traded for Robert Covington, but injury issues haven’t allowed him to suit up for the Hawks yet.
Clint ended his Rockets career number one in franchise history in field goal percentage.
Next: No. 2 & 1
2. Yao Ming (China)
Yao Ming is not only one of the greatest things to happen to the Houston Rockets, but he’s also one of the greatest things to happen to the NBA. Taken number one overall in 2002 by Houston, he brought the eyes of an entire nation along for the ride as he began his NBA journey.
Yao dominated in the CBA for five seasons prior, averaging 32.4 points and 19 rebounds per game in 2001-02 for the Shanghai Sharks. It was obvious the biggest league in the world was ready for him and he would prove he was ready too.
Ming averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in his rookie year, making the 2003 NBA All-Rookie First Team and finishing second for Rookie of the Year behind Amare Stoudemire. He would improve his scoring average in each of the next four seasons, despite nagging injury issues over that span.
In four playoff showings with the Rockets in his eight seasons, Ming averaged 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, making it to within one game of reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
By the time he retired from basketball in 2011, Yao had made eight All-Star appearances and had been selected to five All-NBA teams. He also had his number 11 retired by the Rockets and made the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Even though he had various game-related accolades, his work off the court made him even more special. He worked for years with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, raised money for underprivileged children in China and donated time and money during disastrous events like the SARS outbreak and the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
What can I say about Hakeem Olajuwon that we haven’t said already? He’s the greatest Houston Rocket ever, the most talented center that’s ever existed, and one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
More from Space City Scoop
- Robert Horry uses Rockets as cautionary tale for Lakers
- Houston Rockets: 2 pros and cons to re-signing Kelly Olynyk
- Why Tad Brown is the Rockets’ biggest loss to date
- Rockets legend in awe over Stephen Curry’s level of play
- Rockets fiasco shows importance of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria as a soccer goalie, the moment he decided to pick up a basketball changed the landscape of the sport forever.
Olajuwon had a hugely successful college career at Houston, leading the Cougars to a Final Four appearance and two championship games in his three seasons.
Upon joining the Houston Rockets after being selected number one overall in 1984, The Dream averaged 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds in his rookie year.
It took only two seasons for him to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986, where they pushed the Boston Celtics to six games. The same Celtics, by the way, that had five Hall of Famers on their roster.
After some rough years that included almost parting with the Rockets before their championship glory days, Hakeem carried Houston to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. The ’94 championship team was the only team in the 1980s and 90s to win a title with just one Hall of Famer on their roster — Hakeem.
The world knows just how much Hakeem brought to the game. He’s still all over the all-time leaderboard for multiple NBA categories and franchise categories. James Harden may have an outside shot, but Hakeem will likely remain the greatest Rocket of all time fo years to come.