The NBA is on the verge of a dramatic, twisty, perky 2015-16 season: there’s a strong Western conference deeper than Wale; Lebron James has the weight of Cleveland on his back and front; numerous A-list basketball stars are feeling that they are the best player in the game; and the reigning champions are still trying to justify why and how they won the championships, even though they have yet to realise their potential.
Last but not least, we could see an all-out brawl for Kia Rookie of the Year.
But the one thing we can get excited about – without drawing blood – is watching the continuous rise of African players dominating the NBA. Last season, we watched the likes of Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Gorgui Dieng, Serge Ibaka, to name a few, taking basketball to the next level.
And what will the new blood of African players bring to the table. With the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay, Giannis Antetokounmpo taking to the stage, this season is set to be exciting for all the African players in the league. Here are my top five to look out for this season.
Bismack Biyombo is the gentle giant who works his butt off in silence. He understands the defensive system inside out: not just what he has to do but also what everyone else has to do, which makes him an impressive athlete.
Now he’s accepted his role as a rim protector, Biyombo will prove to be one of the sneakiest free-agent pickups during his first season in Toronto. Despite his 6’9” frame, Biymobo’s contributions to the Raptors likely won’t always be seen and noted by many.
The raptors have passionate fans and if Biyombo goes in like the ex-NBA player Pops Mensah-Bonsu, he will quickly become a crowd favourite.
Signed for his athleticism, physicality and defensive abilities, Biyombo has looked strong away from the ball through pre-season, providing excellent coverage in the paint. A lot of what he does won’t show up on the score sheet but the stability he’ll provide the Raptors on defence is invaluable, even if it isn’t headline material.
He won’t be a superstar over the season, but he will create a lot of excitement with his beast mode rim protecting, which I know the Raptors fans are going to love. The raptors have passionate fans and if Biyombo goes in like the ex-NBA player Pops Mensah-Bonsu, he will quickly become a crowd favourite.
Festus Ezeli was selected by Golden State in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft (30th overall). He has career averages of 2.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.95 steals and 14.4 minutes in 78 games (41 starts) over one season with Golden State. He made a great impact during the final stages of the championships last year and played an important role in the Warriors winning.
He’s a beast waiting to meet anyone at the rim.
Festus is hungry and wants to do and achieve more. This season will mean a lot to him because he has something to prove and with Andrew Bogut out with his fourth broken nose, Ezeli is expected to take a step forward this season.
I guarantee you that, any opportunity he’s given, he will work hard to prove why he isn’t a one-hit wonder: he’s a beast waiting to meet anyone at the rim.
Fresh, new and energetic for the Nuggets, the point guard is a first-year rookie in the NBA, but he plays like an old head. Maybe it’s because of his amazing level of basketball I.Q. or the experience he has from playing in China straight out of high school.
Mudiay is a born attacker and doesn’t ever seem afraid of the competition or the moment in which he is in. He is bringing the energy and life needed to kick start the Nuggets, a team with a great potential to make the playoff if they come together.
He’s definitely the x-factor of the Nuggets team and not too bad to look at for the ladies.
Now Ty Lawson’s no longer at the Nuggets, Mudiay has the starting job all to himself. This team is his team at the age of only 19 years old and it is up to him how he uses that opportunity. Mudiay will easily also be going for the Rookie of the Year title.
We have had a great summer of seeing him showcase his ability, size, quickness and skills. With the right guidance and support, this will be an exciting year for the Nuggets. He is definitely the x-factor of the Nuggets team and also not too bad to look at for the ladies.
Listed at 6’11″(the tallest African athlete I have ever met, no question about that), Antetokounmpo is one of the freakiest futuristic athletes out there. He’s loved by the fans – and also by his coach Jason Kidd.
This year is a breakout year for Giannis – because he is absolutely capable of everything and anything. A basketball player who can play seven positions without much of a struggle is a pretty special athlete. He never complains. He just goes out there and plays.
Everyone loves a Greek Freak.
I watched him step out to play at the NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg and his confidence in shooting the three was evident for all to see. Antetokounmpo averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in 2014-15.
Antetokounmpo is special and this season we will surely see why people really call him the ‘Greek freak’.
Everyone loves a Greek Freak. The 20 year old must keep this trend alive, elevating this time from a solid starter to a team leader.
Ibaka was named part of the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the third straight season. He led the NBA in total blocks for the fourth consecutive season joining Dikembe Mutombo as the only two players in NBA history to accomplish the feat, Oklahoma City Thunder went 10-2 when Ibaka blocked 5+ shots, set a Thunder record by going a perfect 12-for-12 en route to 25 points at Brooklyn (1/31)… This can go on and on.
This is now Serge’s seventh season and he will be playing as a title contender along with a supporting cast that all have something to prove.
Serge Ibaka is a force not to be reckoned with. Ibaka should, and will benefit, from this season with Billy Donovan at the helm and he should get a lot of easy looks with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant looking like they are already in mid-season form.
Despite a slightly disappointing 2014-15 season, Ibaka should have a nice bounce-back year and he is a nice target in the early rounds. This is now Serge’s seventh season in the league and he will be playing as a title contender along with a supporting cast that all have something to prove.
Serge will be a free agent in 2017 and before that, I am sure his eyes are on the prize of the championship and also the call up for an All-Star before 2017.
This season has got to be – and it will be – special for Serge Ibaka… if he stays healthy for most of the season. He is definitely my player to look out for this season. He is leading the way for all African players in the league and a great role model too.