by Jerrod Mustaf / www.supersport.com
Canada Now, NIGERIA on Deck
With close to a dozen players on NBA rosters, including the top pick in this year’s NBA draft, and the presumptive number 1 pick in the upcoming 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins, doing his apprenticeship at Kansas, Canada is finally relevant to America in basketball.
To further raise the profile of basketball in Canada, acclaimed rapper Drake was recently appointed “Global Ambassador” for the Toronto Raptors. This ambassadorship speaks volumes of the efforts that are being made to capitalise on the resurgence of basketball in Canada with the fusion of hip-hop to the emergence of youthful NBA prodigies who have exploded on the scene.
Players like Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Tristian Thompson and Andrew Wiggins have accelerated the pace of basketball prominence that Canadian-born Dr James Naismith envisioned when he found the sport.
For as much as Canada has our attention in the basketball world presently, Nigeria is the nation on deck that will herald a new era of basketball phenoms into the NBA.
Not only is Nigeria well represented in the NBA with young talent such as Festus Ezeli of Golden State Warriors and Al-Farouk Aminu of the New Orleans Pelicans, but also boasts foreign-born Nigerian first-round draft picks, Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic and Giannis Adetokuno of the Milwaulkee Bucks.
The NCAA is saturated with Nigerian talent throughout the country. The 2013 Parade Magazine National High School Player of the Year, Semi Ojeleye is a freshman star at Duke, Chris Obekpa of St Johns University is a projected 2015 first round draftee, and seven-foot center Tonye Jekiri of University of Miami is set to join the NBA elite within two years.
But the most promising Nigerian-bred talent playing in America may be center Jahlil Okafor, the number 1 ranked prospect in the 2014 high school class, and fellow 2014 classmate Chinua Anuaku, who is University of Louisville’s prized recruit.
The basketball world is recognising the tremendous potential of NBA talent in Nigeria and the strategic alliances made this summer by the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) should expedite Nigeria’s entrance into their “Golden Age of Basketball”.
All Balanced in the Western Conference
Without a doubt, this is the most balanced the Western Conference has been in over a decade, with no clear favourite.
So this regular season is probably worth watching. There are a number of good teams but no great team as of today. The only team that can honestly be penciled in as one of the top three in the West, is the timeless San Antonio Spurs. They are boring, maybe a step slower, but have been the New England Patriots of the NBA since 1999. Manu Ginobli may need to take whatever Tim Duncan did last year to bring his game back to life. If it weren’t for the stubborn coaching decision to keep Duncan on the bench in game six, the Spurs would be looking to repeat.
The Memphis Grizzlies gave Coach Lionel Hollins an envelope with a pink slip inside following the season and still didn't answer the call for a legitimate wing scoring threat. Mike Miller's 3-point shooting contest during the NBA Finals will prove to be "fool's gold" when it matters.
The first lesson that Doc Rivers will teach the Clippers is that Lob City does not win championships, just Sports Centre highlights. Doc is well respected in the league but covering up the Lakers championship banners is borderline elementary. Those banners should be a daily reminder to the Clippers that, until they win a ring, they will remain second-class tenants in the Staples Centre. By the way, of all the players who visit Hakeem Olajuwon for off-season post instruction, Blake Griffin could benefit the most. I still don't see them as legitimate contenders until Blake develops some semblance of a 'go-to move'.
Mark Jackson was a great teammate my rookie year and had a hall of fame career. He may prove to be a better coach than player in a few years. His Golden State Warriors had fans on the East Coast staying up past their bedtime (me included) during last season's playoffs to watch their exciting brand of basketball. As valuable as Stephen Curry was to the Warriors, Jarrett Jack was just as crucial. I give Jackson credit as a coach, but he's not the general manager who elected to part ways with Jarrett. His loss may prove costly, especially if the addition of Iguodala slows the development of Harrison Barnes.
Sam Presti of Oklahoma City was rightly given credit for building the Thunder through successful draft picks, who became the core of a contending team. The problem with that plan is that if you hit 'jackpot' with all of your draft picks, you will not be able to afford to keep them intact. Enter the decision to trade James Harden because they couldn't afford to pay him his worth and keep Serge Ibaka, who still can't make a move with his back to the basket. Hopefully, Presti has learned to grow his team smart and not so quick, and with a balance of draft picks and veteran free agents. Great thing is, his stars are young enough to regroup from that executive mistake and I expect them to contend again in a few years.
Brian Shaw will be a solid coach for the Denver Nuggets. He has learned from the most successful coach of all time in Phil Jackson. I'm sure he will have Phil's number on speed dial when he needs some advice coaching Nate Robinson and Javale McGee. Denver will be tough to beat at home because of the altitude and are talented enough to make the 1st round entertaining. Of course, Javale will headline Sports Centre's Not Your Top 10 Plays and NBATV’s Shaqtin’ A Fool, but don't expect much else from the Nuggets.
The Lakers are the enigma in the West. Aside from the soap opera last season, people forget that Mike D'Antoni took Steve Nash, an undersized centre, and spare parts to three consecutive Pacific Division titles. Steve Nash is still the general and his partner is one of the greatest players of all-time, who is playing for his legacy. Kobe at 60 per cent is better than 27 other starting shooting guards in the NBA. The questions for the Lakers are; how well Kobe returns from his career-threatening injury and if Pau Gasol can pretend he is playing for Spain in the Olympics this season instead of the Lakers? Also, how quick can the spare parts adapt to D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" offence?
I'm still scratching my head at the most unorthodox metamorphosis of an NBA team in a 12-month span since the expansion draft. Starting with D-league project Jeremy Lin, who went to worldwide fame known as Linsanity during a whopping stretch of 25 games for New York in 2012, to the trade for reigning sixth-man of the year, James Harden, who is now projected as the top shooting guard in the league, to the courtship and signing of the supposedly best big man in the game, Dwight Howard.... Houston has rebuilt the Rockets!
Based on Howard's attitude on his last two teams and the inability to satisfy him, I hope there is a Babies R Us near the Toyota Centre to pacify him. We will find out if Harden is built for the pressure of being the focal point of a projected contender for a ring. He can no longer hide behind Durant, pick his spots to show up, or have the freedom to freelance with no expectations like last season. He is a marked man who is expected to carry the Rockets to the NBA Finals.
HEAT is on in Eastern Conference
Three years ago, when LeBron James escaped the pressure cooker in Cleveland to “take his talents to South Beach”, he claimed they would win seven championships. Basketball fans would have appreciated a little more humility after the “Decision” from LeBron and happily reveled in the Heat, being humbled by Dirk and the Dallas Mavs in 2011.
In 2012, due to a plague of injuries to Chicago’s Derrick Rose and the entire Knicks guard rotation, the Heat were able to survive a weakened Eastern Conference and win a ring in the lock-out shortened season.
Give the Heat credit this past season as the Heat were able to outlast the young Indiana Pacers in a grueling seven-game series and said enough Hail Marys during Game six of the NBA Finals to come back and beat the aging Spurs in seven.
This season, it looks like the Bulls are back with a healthy and hungry Derrick Rose. Besides his injury, he was questioned by fans for his inaction as the depleted and outmanned Bulls fought their hearts out in the playoffs while he sat on the bench in tailored suits and ties. His ego is ready to prove all doubters wrong….watch out Miami Heat.
The Pacers are a deeper and much better team with the return of former best player, Danny Granger. Oh, did we mention the same starting five that took Miami to Game seven are back, plus the veteran Luis Scola joined them in the offseason.
The team with the most talented starting five is the Brooklyn Nets, who will assume the ornery disposition of the Garnett-led Celtics. This is a one-to-two year window for the Nets but I'm not sold on this partnership yet. Veteran team plus rookie head coach is a recipe for a mutiny. We will find out in late January if J-Kidd or the players are running the Nets.
Across the city, the Knicks maintain that New York is their town and includes all five boroughs. Yes, Brooklyn…..you too. Melo and the Knicks seem to compete with a greater sense of urgency against the Heat but otherwise do not present a consistent challenge to the other elite teams in the East.
Detroit Pistons will more closely resemble the Bad Boy Pistons in frontline size, but Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars won’t be suiting up this year. There’s not enough on the roster to move into the top four teams in the East this season.
The scariest but most unpredictable team in the East will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Kyrie Irving-led back court will be exciting with Jarrett Jack bringing stability and leadership. The million dollar question is, “will Andrew Bynum’s knees hold up”? I expect the number one draft pick Anthony Bennett to contribute, but I’m not sure how much of a factor he will be. Even still, Cleveland will be a vastly improved team and this is the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.
So, Miami’s run to the Finals will end this season. Miami cashed in on the good luck with other teams’ injuries and the abbreviated lock-out season after the Collective Bargaining agreement presented Pat Riley with a window to add super star talent. That window is closing as Miami’s big three are entering the final season of their contracts. Dwayne Wade will be waging a battle against Father Time, who is still undefeated. Chris Bosh will be auditioning for another nice contract and to prove his many doubters wrong about his ….ability.
LeBron James will do his best to not let his impending free agent decision be a distraction, while he accepts all challengers to his throne in South Beach.
Jim Crow Basketball Challenge Proposed "All-White Basketball League"
When I first read the article, I assumed it was more of the dry humor from the latest former late night tv host. It had to be a joke. lol
I couldn't imagine pro basketball with only chest passes, player screens, and two-handed set shots...although Larry Bird is doing his best to reincarnate "white basketball" back in the Hoosier state.
Whenever I get the urge to see "white basketball" ( I don't), I just visit the local LA Fitness during lunch and get lulled to sleep by the execs in sneakers. For some reason I find the statement, "Hey Buddy, your ball.....I think I fouled you", rather amusing and inappropriate on the blacktop.
Not sure how many butts this whites only league will put in the seats with their proposed style of basketball, but history tells me not very many. I wonder if they plan to have picnigs before the games and sing Ol' Dixie for the anthem.
The greatest pro basketball league in the world only survived in the Fifties and early Sixties because of Black basketball. The Harlem Globetrotters, (not the minstrel team), were used by the NBA in the double-header format to draw fans to the arenas. After the Globetrotters beat the "World Champion" Minneapolis Lakers in 1948, it didn't take 2 years before the NBA signed Earl Lloyd from the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association(CIAA) and two other Negroes in 1950.
Years later it was Magic Johnson and Showtime and Michael Jordan and his playground swag that captured the hearts of basketball purists in this nation to the tune of billions from NBC, ABC,CBS and ESPN.
Basketball transcends race on most levels (playing fields). Teammates from completely opposite ethnic backgrounds form bonds and friendships that last a lifetime.
In year 2010, it would be an insult to basketball and all of the Legends Of The Game to make this a white versus Black issue. Therefore, I am proposing that Mr. Don Lewis select allstars from his All-American Basketball Alliance to play against the SBA All Stars all white team featuring Grayson "The Professor" Boucher and Randy "White Chocolate" Gill in a charity exhibition game.
Proceeds from this game will be donated to the Haiti Relief Effort.
We got Our 5....Get Yours!