The new NBA season kicks off on 24 October. While there was no African champion last season, Joel Embiid was MVP and top scorer. And once again this year, there are bound to be African stars to shine on the NBA. On Sunday, Sport News Africa publishes the 5 most eagerly awaited Africans before revealing on Monday, those who could spring a surprise.
Joel Embiid (Sixers), the NBA title as his sole obsession
We hesitated to keep him on the list of Africans in the NBA. Joel Embiid, who was born in Cameroon, decided a few days ago to represent the United States at international level rather than his country of birth. A bit like the Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon, considered to be the best African basketball player in history, who played in the Olympic Games for Team USA. But in the end, The Process remains a representative of the continent where he learned his trade, made his first dunks, grabbed his first rebounds and registered his first blocks.
After a hectic summer, marked by his wedding and also his change of sporting nationality, Embiid is back to his daily life as an NBA player. And still with the main challenge of lifting the Sixers to the top of the American Basketball League.For on an individual level, he has achieved virtually everything. He is an All Star, has twice finished as the NBA's top scorer and was crowned MVP at the end of last season after twice finishing on the podium.However, this year's championship will be very hard to come by once again. Philadelphia is in a turbulent patch.
Although the franchise has attracted Nick Nurse, who gave Toronto its only title in 2019, to its bench, James Harden, the other superstar on the roster, has asked to leave. As a result, on the eve of the new season, the Sixers still don't know who will back up Joel Embiid. This is problematic when you consider that, at the same time, Eastern franchises such as Boston and Milwaukee have considerably strengthened their squads.
Pascal Siakam (Toronto), bringing the Raptors up to scratch
The other Cameroonian NBA star who has yet to pull on the Indomitable Lions jersey is about to embark on his 8th season. Pascal Siakam has already gone further than anyone expected when he arrived in the big league in 2016. He has rapidly progressed in all aspects of the game. From being a bench player, he became the best 6th man during the Raptors' 2019 title triumph, and went on to become a lieutenant and then general of the Canadian franchise. While he continues to rise as an individual, Toronto is stagnating and regressing. However, if the board, which has opted to rebuild the group, has kept him in the squad despite several requests, it is because it still believes in his abilities as a leader.
But does PS47 really have the shoulders to lead the Raptors back to the top of the East?Nick Nurse had his doubts. His replacement on the Toronto bench, Darko Rajakovic, hopes otherwise. "He's an excellent player, and the ball always ends up naturally in the hands of the best players. I'm proud of him and his commitment in the first three days of training camp," says the Serbian coach of the Cameroonian.
Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State), finally making his mark with the Warriors
After a frustrating play-off campaign in which Steve Kerr kept him on the bench, Jonathan Kuminga put in a lot of hard work during the off-season. The Congolese winger worked on his defence and penetration. The Warriors benefited from the fruits of his labour during pre-season. The 21-year-old finished as his team's top scorer and is giving Steve Kerr a few equations to work with. If he starts the season in the same form, the coach will have to find a place for him in the starting 5 or make him the perfect 6th man for the Californians. In this role, he would replace his mentor Andre Iguodola, who officially retired a few days ago. JK00 therefore has his cards to play if he is to make his mark.In fact, he showed last year in the regular season that he was capable of grabbing a lot of minutes and making the most of them.
Gabe Vincent (Lakers), shining in his new role and his new franchise
Gabe Vincent is proof that nothing is out of reach if you work hard enough.Undrafted in 2018, the Nigerian entered the NBA through the back door. He was drafted by Miami and fought his way into the Heat's rotation. As a result, the combo-guard has played in two NBA Finals and even played a key role in Florida's surprise run to the 2023 play-offs. Gabe Vincent was Jimmy Butler's perfect lieutenant in the post-seasons. This enabled him to sign a three-year contract with the Lakers this summer.
What can he bring to the Purples and Gold, who are aiming for the title? He replies: "I can bring a bit of toughness on defence, as well as creativity. I can make shots when I'm open. I showed in Miami that I have a very complete game.I can wear several hats and play with any quartet of different players. I can have an impact on winning in a number of ways and every night will be different depending on how the season develops and what roles are assigned. But I think I can have a positive impact on the game with any group on the court, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do that."
Josh Okogie (Suns), existing among the stars
In less than a year, Phoenix have revolutionised their squad.Coach Monty Williams and Chris Paul have left, but the Suns now have a big 3 who can work wonders offensively with Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. Among these shining stars is Nigerian Josh Okogie. The wing-back is a true Swiss Army knife, as every basketball coach likes to have. He knows how to defend in all positions and against the best, but he can also punish offensively if necessary. As was the case when he arrived in Texas last February, he will be looking to make a name for himself this season too.