Five young African players with a point to prove

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Clippers

The 2019-20 NBA season is still in its infancy but even this early on there are numerous storylines that need some attention.

One of these is the question of which players have a point to prove to NBA media and fans around the world? With the rise of African players in the league, we take a look at a few of the superstars and upcoming players who will be looking to make a statement this campaign. 


Mo Bamba (Ivorian-American): Center, Orlando Magic

Born in Harlem in New York to parents from Cote D’Ivoire, Mohamed “Mo” Bamba is a sophomore this season having been drafted as the 6th pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He was widely touted as a big pickup by Orlando with his impressive wingspan, 7 foot 10 inches (2.39m), his major asset. Thus his defensive capabilities were in sharp focus.

He played 47 games with only one start in his first season and had a fair showing, only averaging 6.2 points per game (ppg), which is not bad for a rookie learning their trade, but he impressed with 5.0 rebounds per game (rpg) and crucially 1.4 blocks per game (bpg). According to NBA.com, he had a defensive rating of 109.2 last campaign. His shot-blocking will be the thing that the Magic will work on as he gains a better defensive awareness in the NBA. 

Bamba picked up an injury last term, a stress fracture to his left leg in February, that ended his season early and he’s been working his way back to full fitness ever since. Much will be expected from him as he eases his way back into active duty with the Magic eager to get the most out of their young star talent. Bamba will want to show the world that he can be a huge presence for the team to prove that the organisation were correct to select him so high in the lottery. So far in 2019 he’s done well but hasn’t been spectacular.

He’s played eight games and is averaging 5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.1 bpg. He will need to be very active on the glass on both ends of the floor in order for him to prove his case for more minutes. With his length, he could become a ‘Rudy Gobert-level’ defender but he will have to work on his positioning and physicality in that regard. But if the ringing endorsement from his close friend Joel Embiid is anything to go by he is one to watch for the future.  

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic

Victor Oladipo (Nigerian-American): Guard, Indiana Pacers

When Nigerian-American guard Victor Oladipo suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January it put the Indiana Pacers in a flat-spin. The impressive shooting guard had been central to everything good about the Pacers up until that point. Since joining the Pacers Oladipo has become a two-time All-Star, been named Most Improved Player of the Year in 2018, been the NBA Steals leader, was named in the All-NBA Third Team and NBA All-Defensive First Team. His rise has been meteoric till that dreadful knee injury that he’s only expected to be back from in the new year.

Oladipo entered the NBA in 2013 as the no. 2 pick overall by the Magic. Despite averaging 13.8 ppg, 17.9 ppg and 16 ppg in his three seasons in Orlando the team saw fit to trade him away to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Serge Ibaka, in a deal that also saw Ersan ─░lyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis head to OKC. His one season at the Thunder went the same route as his previous three with the Magic with a 15.9 ppg average and the Thunder weren’t keen to keep him on. Oladipo and Sabonis were traded to the Thunder for Paul George in 2017 and that brought out the best in the young player.

Oladipo was phenomenal once he joined the Pacers. When he picked up the injury he was averaging 18.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 5.2 assists per game. He will re-join a Pacers team that has brought in Malcolm Brogdon who has been impressive so far and much will be expected of their partnership. Oladipo will be eager to show that he is fully-fit and that his knee will hold up. The NBA needs him at his best again to bring added excitement to the league. 

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana Pacers

Pascal Siakam (Cameroonian): Forward, Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam has been on a tear since last season and the current NBA champion has been in sublime form to start the new season for the Toronto Raptors. Siakam is currently averaging career-highs of 26.3 points per contest, 9.5 boards per game as well as 3.9 assists. He has been balling at the highest level and has become a lynchpin in this Raptors team. Having won the Most Improved Player of the Season award in 2019 Siakam is looking to get even better than he was last time out. With Kawhi Leonard having left Toronto after his one season in Canada its fallen on the shoulders of Siakam to become the central piece in the Raptors machinery and he hasn’t shied away from that responsibility.

Siakam’s route to the top has been a circuitous one since being drafted with the 27th pick in the 2016 draft. He is an alumnus of the Basketball without Borders (BWB) programme in Africa and worked his way up the ladder from God's Academy high school in Lewisville, Texas to playing his college ball at New Mexico State. Since being drafted Siakam featured in the D-League (now G League) for the majority of his first season in Canada for Raptors 905.

Here he won the D-League championship and was named the MVP of those D-League Finals in 2017. After winning an NBA championship in his third full season and in his first appearance in the NBA Finals you’d expect that Siakam had nothing to prove to anyone, especially since he showed out in the Finals. The Cameroonian averaged 19.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 3.7 apg. But this new season will be about proving the doubters wrong and showing that he isn’t just in the NBA to make up the numbers. If he carries on the way he’s started then a first All-Star appearance isn’t far off and he could also take his team on another deep playoff run. 

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers


Joel Embiid (Cameroonian): Center, Philadelphia 76ers

The other Cameroonian on the list is Joel Embiid who is also a BWB alum. He’s become one of the most recognisable figures in the NBA with his larger than life personality and physique. He takes to the court and dominates and then uses that same presence to stand out on social media. He is an MVP-level troll on the social streets with his tweets evoking as much chatter as his dominating of teams on the hardwood.

Embiid has made the most of every opportunity handed to him and even some that weren’t. He had to overcome long-term injury problems to begin the career that saw him sit out the initial two seasons he should have played in the league. Having been drafted in 2014 with the third pick by the Philadelphia 76ers his eventual rookie season in 2016 was curtailed by injury, but he made enough of an impression to be considered for Rookie of the Year. He missed out on the award but made the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

Since those first three injuries disrupted seasons Embiid has surged onto the scene being named an All-Star twice, he’s been included in the All-NBA Second Team in both 2018 and 2019, also making the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in both of those seasons. Last season he was the fulcrum in the Sixers’ playoffs push as they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. Embiid averaged 22.9 ppg, 11 rpg and 1.8 blocks in the 2018-19 regular season.

Embiid will be motivated to improve on his showing in the postseason with the 76ers as they chase a place in the NBA Finals. He knows he can get better, having already improved so vastly in a short period of time. He’s 25 years old now and he is aware that he has time on his hands. But he is ambitious and so are his teammates and fans. Embiid will be out to make a point that he is the best Center in the NBA and will want to will his team to higher heights. 

Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks


Giannis Antetokounmpo (Nigerian-Greek): Forward, Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak as Giannis Antetokounmpo has become known is no stranger to any NBA fan, in fact, non-basketball following sports fans will recognise the likeable lanky superstar. Giannis is the son of Nigerian immigrants and lived the migrant story in Greece before making a name for himself in the NBA. The current regular season MVP has been on a spectacular upwards trajectory ever since he came into the NBA as a somewhat scrawny teenager in 2013 when the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him with the 15th selection. In his first season, he played 77 games and averaged 6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.9 apg and 0.8 blocks. The numbers weren’t anything to write home about but they showed the promise of the young player.

Giannis has been simply phenomenal since he started playing in the big leagues in the USA. He was named in the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2014 and has gone on to achieve tremendous personal accolades. In 2017 he took in a massive haul of accomplishments. He was named an All-Star for the first time, he made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team and All-NBA Second Team and he won the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Since then he’s become an All-Star twice more, even garnering the most votes in the Eastern Conference to be named a team captain last season. He’s also been included in the All-NBA Second Team again and even gained an All-NBA First Team selection. But the stand out achievement came the last term with his winning of the Most Valuable Player award. 

Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis has pulled off NBA firsts through out his career so far, notably being the only player to feature in the Top 20 of the top five statistical categories recorded in the NBA in the 2016-17 season. For Giannis, none of these achievements means much if his team is not improving and pushing for the top prizes. The Bucks have gotten better and better as he has improved, but they haven’t made it to the NBA Finals yet and that is Antetokounmpo’s goal. Milwaukee made it to the Eastern Conference Finals but fell short, losing to the eventual NBA champions the Raptors. Last term he averaged a massive 27.7 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.3 steals per game and 1.5 bpg. He will need to have an equally dominant season this term in order to lift his team to further success and perhaps go back-to-back as the league’s MVP. You wouldn’t bet against Giannis and he is backing himself to get there. He has a point to prove, but mainly he wants to prove it to himself.

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