The new NBA season will unveil new heroes galore, and here are ten players of African descent who will grab our attention as the drama unfolds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks). Two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, one-time All-Defensive, one-time All-Rookie, and the Most Improved Player of the 2016-17 season, the Nigerian-Greek has been bringing something new to his game. Every season since he stepped on the hardwood of the league he’s raised the bar, and this season will not be different. The Freak is arguably one of the two most well-rounded players in the NBA, with LeBron James the other. If it were possible to hand him the MIP crown in back-to-back seasons Antetokounmpo would have snagged it. Look out for him to be impressive again.
Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers). Oladipo went from almost anonymous to superstar real fast. In his first six games in Indiana, following his move from Oklahoma City, Oladipo averaged 25.5 points per game, and capped that run with a dagger 3-pointer in the win over the San Antonio Spurs. Now he has added All-Star, All-NBA, All-Defensive, Most Improved Player and Steals Champion to his resume … all accomplishments logged in that single 2017-18 season. What more can the Nigerian-American add? We can’t wait to find out.
Clint Capela (Houston Rockets). Is this the year Clint Capela will finally crack the All-Star Game? The Angolan/Congolese-Swiss center playing for the Houston Rockets averaged a double-double of points and rebounds to cap a breakout season where he finally got recognition as an elite player in a team that has James Harden and Chris Paul. He led the league in field-goal percentage last season, and with the Rockets looking to further stretch the floor with the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, Capela may have another record-breaking season.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia Sixers). JoJo has raised the bar each season he’s been fully active, matching his performance on the floor with the talk off it. Like Oladipo, the Cameroonian big man added All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive honors to his resume, while leading the Sixers to above .600 wins for the first time in 18 years, and a playoff place for the first time in six years. Now, Embiid has set his sights on a place in The NBA Finals, and it will be fun to watch that process.
Dennis Schroder (Oklahoma City Thunder). Schroder was a legit superstar at Atlanta, where he averaged 12.9 points and 4.8 assists in five years. Now the Gambian-German has moved to Oklahoma City, where he will share point guard duties with Russell Westbrook. That may limit his chances of getting an All-Star place, but it will be interesting to see how the fiery point guard will handle himself in a team that was built in his image. The early prognosis has been good, given what we’ve seen in the preseason games. We’ll wait to see what the reality will be when the season tips off.
Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). The Nigerian-Bahamian has won the hearts of Phoenix fans straight off the bat with a series of preseason performances, averaging a double-double of 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He is also shooting .603 percent from the floor. Now, we may argue it’s just the preseason, but he is putting up these numbers with Devin Booker still out, recuperating from surgery. The return of the shooting guard will likely open up the floor, and allow Ayton to make an even bigger splash, when the season tips off.
Mohamed Bamba (Orlando Magic). The Magic has been a kind of pit stop for African talent in recent seasons: Oladipo, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka have all passed through Orlando, now it’s the turn of Bamba. The Ivorian-American will serve as understudy to Montenegrin Nikola Vucevic. However, the promise he’s shown in preseason, scoring in double figures in two of the three games he’s played so far, meant he may be a part of Orlando’s long-term plans. Bamba will need to bulk up a bit more, then who knows: Orlando may decide to let Vucevic go, and give the youngster the same opportunity Capela had at the Rockets.
Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves). Okogie is in a unique situation: the Nigerian shooting guard is listed as backup to Jimmy Butler, who has made his intention to leave the Wolves known. Should a trade happen, Minnesota will probably look for pieces that will fill the Butler void; if it doesn’t happen, Butler remains first choice. But the unfolding drama would have put the Georgia Tech product on alert. He’s had a mixed preseason, showing off his athleticism and nifty defense when he’s been on the floor at an average of 21.5 minutes. He has also shown the ability to draw fouls—one aspect in the makings of a superstar.
Elie Okobo (Phoenix Suns). Like Ayton, Okobo is projected by ESPN to be a starter in a Phoenix side desperate for a fresh start. The 20-year-old Congolese-French guard has been playing first-team ball for four years, and with the likes of Ayton, Booker and Trevor Ariza around him, his game is bound to develop in leaps and bounds, especially as he familiarizes himself with the NBA system.
Kostas Antetokounmpo (Dallas Mavericks). The other Nigerian-Greek in the league (Giannis’ brother, in fact) has played only 21 minutes of basketball for the Dallas Mavericks, but the 20-year-old has given the team a 15-point return for those minutes in the games he played. What makes Kostas one to watch out for, is not just the uncanny physical resemblance to his brother but also his play. He can run the floor, play defense, has a great handle and understands the game. He has a two-way contract with the Mavericks, and has been sent to the G-League, which means he can be recalled at any time while he develops.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, WNBA, their clubs or Kwesé Sports.