Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” The NBA, alongside Basketball without Borders appear to take Gandhi’s words to heart. NBA Africa 2017 showcased what’s great about the NBA and its players.
While bringing global awareness, the game was also played in support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and also SOS Children’s Villages South Africa (SOSCVSA). The players gain invaluable experience from their participation. The NBA Africa players are excelling in the current NBA season.
Team Africa versus Team World
Team Africa consisted of NBA players who were either born in Africa or parents were born in Africa, while Team World consisted of NBA players of different nationalities.
The experience was a resounding success. Everyone appeared refreshed and most players showed marked improvement since then. In this article, three players from each team are showcased. For Team Africa, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, and Clint Capela were chosen. Team World players DeMarcus Cousins, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Kristaps Porzingis are looked at.
Trust The Process
Philadelphia 76ers are currently 15-18 this season. Star center Joel Embiid is blossoming into one of the most dominant players and personalities in the NBA. Embiid who has a long history of injury played in only 31 games last season. The 76ers showed faith in Embiid when they signed him to a five-year contract extension worth over $140 million in the off-season.
Though Embiid, a native of Cameroon, did not play in the NBA Africa game, he was involved in all of the activities and festivities surrounding the entire event. The experience gave Embiid renewed strength and great health as he has already played in 23 of the team’s 33 games. His numbers are impressive also as he’s averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. Against the LA Lakers Embiid tallied an eye-popping 46 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks.
Unafraid to express himself, Embiid has drawn the ire of his contemporaries at times. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the usually calm Carmelo Anthony had to admonish Embiid telling him “Don’t Do that.” Embiid is bringing a unique personality to the NBA not seen since the days of Shaquille O’Neal.
Oladipo brings hope to the Hoosiers
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Victor Oladipo (and Domantas Sabonis) to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George, it was viewed as another transaction victory by Thunder supremo Sam Presti. What a difference a few months make. Following his MVP performance in the NBA Africa game, Oladipo continued his form into the NBA season. Oladipo has improved his shooting and scoring immensely. He’s averaging 24.9 points per game, that’s 9 points more than the previous season. His shooting percentage also improved, most notably three-point shooting percentage went from 36% accuracy last season to an astounding 42.8% this season. Oladipo’s Effective Field Goal percentage jumped from 51% last season to 55.6% this season. What’s amazing is those shooting percentages from last season were career highs and he made significant improvements on them simply by changing teams it appears.
Capela is the anchor for the Rockets
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni were both very happy with the progress of center Clint Capela. Capela who is in the final year of his contract expects a significant pay raise. That reality gives Morey very little pause. As per ESPN’s Tim McMahon “We’ll have him here as long as he’ll have us,” Morey said. “He couldn’t price himself out.” When speaking of Capela’s potential, Morey was even more poignant. “The only way [to overcome the Warriors] is to develop near-elite two-way players,” Morey said. “I think Clint has that potential. He’s on the way. He took a big step forward last year. It’s a lot to put on one guy, but we need one more step, at least.”
Coach D’Antoni expects a lot out of his star center. “To me, it’s just a matter of time. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t become, if not the best center in the league, one of the best.” Even franchise player and superstar James Harden recognized the job done by Capela. “Defensively, he got better. Offensively, he’s so mobile and skilled. His touch around the rim has got better. He continues to work.”
From a numbers perspective, it’s hard not to notice Capela’s growth. In each statistical category, Capela has improved this season compared to last. That’s not the easiest thing to accomplish. While Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Coach D’Antoni are readily credited for the way the Rockets are playing, Capela remains the unheralded, yet arguably the second most important key to the Rockets’ success.
Rondae is rounding into form
Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a surprise selection to the World Team. That said, Hollis-Jefferson embraced the opportunity with the zeal and vigor that embodied the Nets logo of “We Go Hard”.
Following his successful trip to Africa, Hollis-Jefferson continued to show improvement to his game. At the Las Vegas Summer League, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson experimented with playing Hollis-Jefferson at center. During the off-season, Hollis-Jefferson worked hard on his game notably his shooting form. The results thus far have been promising. Hollis-Jefferson’s shooting percentages improved from all distances.
Having been primarily a defensive-oriented player, Hollis-Jefferson is slowly transforming himself into a two-way player. While miles away from Kawhi Leonard, or LeBron James, Hollis-Jefferson is proving to be good at basketball and his improvement has coincided with his trip to Africa and the Nets’ improvement.
The Unicorn is the darling of New York City
New York Knicks forward/center Kristaps Porzingis is now the man in New York. With the departure of Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson, Porzingis embraced the challenge of being the star. During his time in Africa, Porzingis sought the counsel of veteran great Dirk Nowitzki. They worked out together and undoubtedly Porzingis picked Nowitzki’s brain on the NBA.
Upon his return from Africa, Nowitzki stepped seamlessly into the leadership role of the Knicks. Averaging 25.5 points per game, Porzingis leads the Knicks in scoring and blocked shots. More importantly, the Knicks currently boast a 17-16 record. That’s good enough for eighth in the east, most impressive.
Boogie Wonderland in New Orleans
The player who quite possibly benefited the most from the NBA Africa trip is DeMarcus Cousins. The New Orleans Pelicans center actively participated in the clinics and relished being a teacher to the participants.
As the 2017-18 season unfolded, Cousins started on a tear. Thus far Cousins is averaging 26.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. Cousins attempts 6.5 three-point shots per game with 36.1 percent accuracy. The Pelicans are currently at .500 and in the early hunt for a playoff place. This season Cousins boasts a Player Efficiency Rating of 23.2 (the average NBA player’s rating is 15).
Several players from the NBA Africa 2017 game are having excellent seasons. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics is a revelation this season. Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons appears to return to his All-Star form. While Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets and C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers are both playing at a high level for their teams.
The ability to give of oneself often rewards the giver in return. It appears that the participants of the NBA Africa 2017 are reaping said rewards.