/ 25 January 2021

Early NBA season check-in – African Blogtable

Boston Celtics V Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid is an early favourite in the MVP race. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Every month the African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the most pressing questions related to the 2020-21 NBA season.

Featuring in five of the last six NBA Finals, Steph Curry and the Warriors are back, looking to battle it out in the regular season to secure a playoff berth after missing the postseason last year. With a young squad, will the Warriors bring back the magic of their past championship teams?

Which African player has stood out for you the most in the first four weeks of the season?

Amine El Amri, Le Matin (Morocco): Without a doubt, Steph Curry has been in great shape and his shot seems to be getting better as time passes. But with a very slim chance to see Klay Thompson back on the court this season, and without any experienced shooting guard/power forward on the team, it would be an enormous surprise if the Warriors were conference title contenders. The team is promising, as they showed against the Lakers last week, but when the decisive part of the season comes, they will need more than that. Making it to the conference semifinals with this roster, on the other hand, would send a very strong message about the future of the franchise.

Joel Embiid, hands down. The Cameroonian is on another level this season and is a serious contender for the MVP award. It seems like Embiid made a motivation out of all his frustrations, after getting swept by the Celtics in the bubble last season. He even got a bit of a revenge on Wednesday night, scoring a 40-plus point game for the second time this season. 

Fidel Maithya, Nation Media Group (Kenya): So Steph is unquestionably on his way to the Hall of Fame after passing Reggie the other day. I guess the only other Hall of Famer to beat in that category would be Ray Allen. The Warriors are looking good, for what it’s worth. An excellent coach and an excellent superstar in Steph … He, however, needs a supporting cast that can take him all the way. As of now, they are good for the playoffs, but can’t really challenge the likes of Utah, Denver or even Portland, who they beat the other day. Kelly Oubre Jr. can be that X factor for them if he could only drop a three-pointer with precision. His breakout game came against the Lakers where he scored 23 points while shooting 50% from the field. Defensively he can be a one-on-one lockdown defender, kind of reminds me of Pippen at that size. Overall, I think the Warriors can’t wait for Klay Thompson to come back. It would be interesting to see him, Draymond, Steph and Wiseman as automatic starters.

Easy, Joel Embiid. He’s playing at that level. Almost 28 points a game, but what’s impressed me the most is his efforts on rebounds. Doc Rivers always emphasises that on defence, and it shows.

Mohamed Youssef, Filgoal.com (Egypt): Stephen Curry is a legend. He has changed the game over the last few years, but to get back to the finals again would be hard. Golden State plays without an experienced big man who would help the team on the defensive end of the floor. This is very important for a team with finals aspirations, as they would need to challenge a team such as the LA Lakers, which have great centres in Marc Gasol and Monterzl Harell.

In my opinion, the best African player so far has been Joel Embiid. He is doing a great job offensively and defensively, and has led the Sixers to dominate Eastern Conference in the first few weeks. I think this will continue throughout the rest of the regular season. 

Nafy Amar Fall, Wiwsport (Senegal): The Warriors have been full of confidence, especially with the victory over the Lakers. At the start of the season, they only seemed to have Stephen Curry to hold onto, and it was especially visible in the losses to the Nets or the Bucks. However, with Green’s return from injury and good contributions from Andrew Wiggins and James Wiseman, the Warriors can bring some of the magic back this season.

Joel Embiid for sure! He is the 76ers strongman and is having a good start to the season. Last Wednesday, he delivered an extraordinary 42 points, 10 rebounds performance against the Boston Celtics at home. In addition to his defensive contribution, he is just formidable on the floor. The entire 76ers system is set around him. He is Philadelphia’s best player since the start of the season with an average of 27.7 points per game and a serious contender for the MVP title this season. 

Refiloe Seiboko, Mail & Guardian (South Africa): The one thing the Warriors did not lose in their previous season is Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and their battle-tested coaching staff. With so much focus on trades and superstar free agents, the intangible upside of player and organisational continuity is not discussed enough. The Warriors have two of their star players and have a solid playing style, which they are teaching to their new players. As long as that’s still there, the magic is not fully lost.

After several injury setbacks and generally underperforming, Joel Embiid seems to finally be taking a leap. With more than a couple of impressive performances so far, it seems like this might be the season where he plays to his true potential.

Rotimi Akindele, Beat FM (Nigeria): For the Warriors, I think it might be too early to see the return of their magic. It’s been an average performance so far, but I like the belief that’s running in the team, if you consider where they are coming from. Steph has tried to play the big man’s role, Green as well. Andrew Wiggins has put in a good shift too and let’s not forget Kelly Oubre Jr. They will push hard, no doubt, but it won’t be a surprise to me if they fail to make the conference finals.

I love the look of Clint Capela, Precious Achiuwa, and the likes, but the standout for me based on his consistency so far has got to be Joel Embiid. The Cameroonian hopefully can remain very fit for the remainder of the season.

Stuart Hess, IOL (South Africa): Curry’s start to the season’s been amazing. Not only does he look like the old Steph (Steph-fortless), but he’s carrying that mostly young team on his back. Andrew Wiggins has given him good help, but it will all be on Steph if the Warriors are to make the playoffs. I doubt he can bring back the magic of their past championship teams, because the Western Conference is just too deep in terms of contenders, but it’ll be fun watching him try.

Obviously Embiid. Statistically — 27.7 ppg and 11.5 rpg — he’s doing what needs to be done. For all the talk in recent years about building that 76ers team, they’ll go nowhere in terms of being a championship contender without Embiid being dominant. He has been dominant in the first four weeks. But they don’t hand out rings for playing well in the first four weeks of the season. 

Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal): The Warriors will have their say this season, despite the absence of injured Klay Thompson. However, against the league’s tenors such as the defending champions LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Brooklyn Nets or the Boston Celtics, the competition will not be easy. For the Warriors to compete with the best, they have to strengthen their roster. We may need to wait until next year to see if, with the Splash Brothers (Curry and Thompson) healthy, they can get back to their usual top level.

Regarding the performance of African players, I think many of them have performed very well. It’s hard to come up with one that stood out from the crowd, although Joel Embiid continues to improve and remains a leader of his team in their pursuit of a championship. Also, in the absence of some of the team’s top players, the young Miami Heat’s Precious Achiuwa has taken advantage of the opportunity and lived up to expectations. Pascal Siakam remains consistent with the Toronto Raptors and his consistency will be the key to the team’s success. The same goes for Serge Ibaka, who has integrated himself very well with the LA Clippers. Lastly, I must also give the nod to Senegalese player Tacko Fall at the Boston Celtics, who has been getting more playing time.