The 2018 NBA season tips off on Tuesday, and Africa has on the menu players on new teams, players seeking to rejuvenate their career, and rookies ready to show out. KweséESPN gets you familiar with the African players to keep tabs on this season.
Coming off two years in Los Angeles that saw him play a total of 57 games for the L.A. Lakers, and just one game last season, Deng was finally able to come to terms on a contract buyout this summer ] and then had his pick of teams in a post-buyout mini free agency. Naturally Deng chose to sign with his former Chicago Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and the Minnesota Timberwolves as Thibs seeks to rebuild the Bulls circa 2011/12 in Minneapolis.[ ] South Sudan-born Deng will be eager to show Lakers fans who spent the past two years denigrating his abilities, on the basis of his contract and lack of minutes, that he still has enough left in the tank to give the Timberwolves a boost from the bench this season.
After spending the first five years of his NBA career with Atlanta Hawks, the Gambian-German point guard was traded to Oklahoma City in a three-team deal during the summer and will now be tasked with pairing up with Russell Westbrook. That has proven to be a difficult task for several guards over the years (despite those players taking the positive lessons learned from Westbrook's work ethic with them) and Schroder must reduce the turnovers (a career-high 3.3 and 2.7 per game the past two seasons) and figure out how to play off the ball with his NBA All-Star teammate dominating the ball most games. Oklahoma City might end up back in the playoff mix in the West if Schroder and Westbrook can figure out how to play together; if they can't, it will be a rough season for OKC fans.
Following a stay with Brooklyn Nets last season, after being traded by the Sixers, Okafor now gets the opportunity to shine alongside MVP candidate Anthony Davis. Okafor must show he is in better shape and able to provide average to good defence while playing alongside Davis. If the Nigerian-American center can form a quality big man tandem with Davis, and work alongside his fellow Chicago native on the offensive end, then Okafor will shut up the naysayers who doubt his ability to contribute on both ends of the court -- particularly defensively.
Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves -- Guard # 20, Nigeria)
Selected with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the draft this summer, the Lagos, Nigeria-born guard will get the opportunity to contribute to the TWolves this season -- especially if the want-away Jimmy Butler gets traded. Okogie's athleticism on both ends of the court will be appreciated by Tom Thibodeau, especially if he provides the mentality, energy and work ethic that his coach likes to see on defence.
The sixth pick in the draft, Bamba is following in the line of great centers in Orlando. After Shaquille O'Neal in the 1990s and Dwight Howard in the 2000s, Bamba is set to take up the mantle as the next talented big man to play in O-town. Bamba will get a chance to impress early, with his lateral movement and ability to block shots at an elite level on the defensive end, but it's his ever-evolving offensive skill set that is already wowing fans and teammates. If the rookie center of Ivorian and Malian parentage can continue to extend defences with his new-found ability to shoot the ball, he will ascend from the second unit to the starting lineup and the Magic will be able to focus on improving other positions as they seek to climb back to respectability.
Building on Last Season
Last season was a dream for Victor Oladipo, who enjoyed a career year with 23.1 points, 4.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting at 47.7 percent with a 23.1 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Add in the manner in which he carried Indiana Pacers to a 48-34 record, and a first-round playoff appearance, and there is much for the Nigerian-American to hang his hat on. Now starts the work for Oladipo to show the skeptics that last season wasn't a one-off, and that he deserves to be mentioned among the best two guards in the league.
The Cameroonian big man played more than half the regular season (63 games last season), and showed why he is already one of the top centers in the league -- and a star on and off the court. 'The Process' averaged 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game while shooting at 48.3 percent with a 22.9 PER for a Sixers team that reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Embiid and the young, talented Sixers core now are in position to build on last season and advance further in the Lebron-less Eastern Conference.
MVP! MVP! MVP! Those will be the chants ringing from the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee this season as Antetokounmpo, under new Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, will find himself in better positions to get easier buckets in an offence that should give him and his teammates more opportunities to make plays without resorting to iso ball. After last season in which he showed another jump in his progression -- 26.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while shooting at 52.9 percent with a 27.3 PER -- it doesn't take much of a stretch to see the 'Greek Freak' improve on his performance again, as he has each year in the league so far, and also take the Bucks higher in the Eastern Conference standings. If he can do that and prove NBA general managers wise for selecting him as the player they would choose to sign first if starting a franchise then the MVP chants in Milwaukee will be more meaningful.