The new season will soon be upon us. The expectations are high this year, given the various moves that have significantly strengthened some teams, and further reduced the chances of some in qualifying for the post-season.
Still, one thing remains constant: the determination of individual players to constantly improve on their performance of the previous season. The results of the lessons learnt the previous year, and the hard work of summer and pre-season, are put on display, right from the first tipoff.
And while some get it right on that first day, others slowly build up into the season. Here are the Top 10 African performances to start an NBA season.
DeSagana Diop averaged 2.0ppg, 3.7rpg and 1.0bpg over a career that spanned four teams in 11 years. But on opening the opening day of the 2007-2008 season while with Dallas Mavericks, Diop scored 8 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked 4 shots as Mavericks defeated the Cavaliers.
Manute Bol remains the only man in the history of the NBA to average more blocked shots than points in a career that lasted 10 years. The most points he averaged in a year was 3.9ppg in 1988/89 while with Golden State. And he showed what was to come from his first game of that season, with his 7 points, 8 rebounds and 'just' 4 block performance against Phoenix.
Emmanuel Mudiay arrived in the NBA from China in the summer of 2015, after skipping College to play one year for the Guangdong Southern Tigers. It didn't take him long to prove he is at home with the best; in his first game, against Houston Rockets, Mudiay scored 17 points, passed for 9 assists and grabbed 5rebounds. Talk about ready.
Joel Embiid spent all of his first year as an NBA player on the treatment table and in rehabilitation, and didn't play a single game. Then came the 2016-17 season, and finally Embiid stepped on an NBA floor to play an official game. The 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks he recorded against Oklahoma City Thunder on that opening night, is proof that the time he spent watching Hakeem Olajuwon tapes were not wasted.
Victor Oladipo joined the many NBA prospects whose game was compared to Michael Jordan's, while in college. And although he scored in double figures in his first NBA game (12 points in a loss to Indiana), it was on the first day of the 2015-16 season that Oladipo put up his best ever opening day show: he scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and added 2 assists and 2 steals versus Washington Wizards.
Gorgui Dieng averages single digits in scoring and rebounding in his first two seasons in the NBA, and although his scoring average has hit double digits the last two years, his career averages in both categories are still 8.9ppg and 7.2rpg. That is why his 12 points, 14 rebounds (5 offensive) 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot against Memphis in the first game of the 2016-17 season, will forever be adjudged a performance for the ages.
It is hard to pin down which of two opening day performances by Luol Deng is bigger; in 2011, the South Sudanese born star hit 21 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and added 4 steals, 3 assists, plus 1 block to a 0 turn over game in the win over L.A Lakers. But earlier, in 2007, Deng scored 22 points, snagged 11 rebounds and added 4 steals and 2 assists in another complete game against New Jersey.Whichever of these two performances you choose, it is worthy of mention as a top performance.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has spent only four years in the NBA. The first three years, the Nigerian-Greek forward simply showed up as a part of the Bucks on opening days. Then last season, everything changed; Antetokounmpo gave a glimpse of things to come with a 31 point, 9 rebound and 5 assist game against Charlotte.
Another great African opening day performance. Dikembe Mutombo, just like Luol Deng, has two pretty amazing opening days. In 1991, the Denver Nuggets rookie announced his arrival in the NBA with an 18-point, 16-rebound and 3-blocks game against the Golden State Warriors. Two years later, it was the Los Angeles Clippers that were at the other end of a 23 point, 17 rebound and 4 blocks opening night salvo from the Congolese Warrior.
Hakeem Olajuwon, the legend of legends, also has several opening day performances that will easily pass for great. But two readily comes to mind. In Olajuwon's third year, the L.A Lakers came calling, and The Dream put on a show with a 26 point, 17 rebounds and 6 blocks performance. Two years later, the Rockets travelled to Denver for the season tip off and although Rockets lost, Olajuwon scored 39 points and hauled down 19 rebounds.