The NBA is filled with talent drawn from all around the world, and the All Star Weekend gives the media, coaches, players and viewers from everywhere, a chance to select the ones considered the best, to showcase their talent.
The other game played on that weekend, has featured stand-out rookies facing the top sophomore players; and has also featured the best young international players against the best American talent. Today, we focus on the best international and best players of African origin, who are still under 25 years.
Jusuf Nurkic 23, Portland Trail Blazers (Bosnia and Herzegovina). His name may not ring many bells now, but Nurkic may be the game-changer for a Blazers team that already has a stacked backcourt. He was selected by Chicago in 2014, but traded to Denver on draft night, then in 2016, Denver sent the center to Portland in exchange for Mason Plumlee; a move they might now be regretting. Nurkic averaged 8.0 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game while averaging 17.9 minutes in 45 games for Denver.
At Portland, he produced 15.2 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game in 20 games as his minutes jumped to 29.2. He may be in contention for Most Improved Player in the coming season.
Emmanuel Mudiay 21, Denver Nuggets (Democratic Republic of Congo). Unlike most rookies, Mudiay hit the ground running in his first season in the NBA; he scored 17 points and recorded 9 assists in his first game against Houston. The point guard went on to finish that 2015-17 season with an average 12.8 points per game, and 5.5 assists per game in 68 games. Then last season, he started the first 41 games before first dropping to the bench, then out of rotation. Still, Mudiay averaged 11.0 points per game and 3.9 assists per game. Plus, his turn-overs dropped from 3.2 to 2.2 per game.
Andrew Wiggins 22, Minnesota Timberwolves (Canada). Toronto-native, Andrew Wiggins was named NBA Rookie of the Year after posting 16.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game in his first season in the League. He has not looked back since. He improved on the 20.7 points per game of his second season, to 23.6 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game in the 2016-17 (his third) season. He is one of the reasons much is expected from the Wolves in the 2017-18 season.
Joel Embiid 23, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon). While Embiid insists on following the process that will lead to his development into the player he knows he can be, we all are watching at the greatness unfurling before us. The giant Yaoundé-born center missed the entire first season of his NBA career, but despite the limited minutes in his 2nd year, he managed 20.2 points per game 7.8 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game and 2.5 blocks per game playing just 25.4 minutes a night. If Embiid stays healthy, he will likely be an All Star in February.
Dante Exum 22, Utah Jazz (Australia). The floors of the NBA have been graced by many great Australians, and Dante Exum may just be the next in line. The 2014 Utah pick sat out the 2015-16 season, following a 4.8 points per game and 2.4 assists per game performance in 41 starts (he played all 82 games) in his rookie year. Last season, he averaged 6.2ppg and 1.7apg in 26 starts (66 games played) while playing less minutes (22.2 minutes in his first season, 18.6 last season). If he stays healthy, Exum will make huge contributions to Utah.
Clint Capela 23 Houston Rockets (Angola). When Capela was drafted by Houston Rockets in 2014, he was seen more as a project than an immediate-impact player. He spent a lot of time in the D League, but an injury to Donatas Montiejunas gave him a chance in the playoffs. The 17 games he played in the post season were way more than the 12 he suited up for in the regular season. He did so well in his 2nd season, that Rockets were confident enough to let Multiple All Star, Dwight Howard leave. He repaid that confidence by averaging 12.6 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game in the 2016-17 season.
Nikola Jokic 22, Denver Nuggets (Serbia). The power forward was selected with the 41st pick in 2014 by Nuggets, but didn't join them until a year later. He played 80 games in his rookie season, starting 55 of them. He averaged 10.0 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. Last season, he upped that average to 16.7 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game; statistics that prove he is one of the power forwards changing the game.
Dennis Schroder 24, Atlanta Hawks (The Gambia). During the 2015 Rising Stars Challenge at the All Star Weekend in New York, analysts compared Schroder to multiple NBA Champion, multiple All Star and NBA Finals MVP, Tony Parker. It sounded like high praise at that time. Not anymore. The Point Guard is yet to make an All Star appearance, but it seems it's a matter of time. His numbers jumped from the 11.0 points per game and 4.4 assists per game in 6 starts (he played 80) in the 2015-16 season, to 17.9 points per game, 6.3 assists per game and 78 starts last season. Atlanta is hooked on Dennis, and there is no telling how far he will grow.
Kristaps Porzingis 22, New York Knicks (Latvia). The man who was booed by Knicks' fans on the night he was drafted, has now become the centrepiece of the franchise. Porzingis was selected with the 4th pick in 2015, and by the end of his first season, the 14.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game average he posted, not to mention his selection into the NBA All Rookie Team, has convinced the Madison Square Garden faithful that they are onto a good thing. Then he followed it up with 18.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in 65 starts last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo 22, Milwaukee Bucks (Nigeria). The tale of Antetokounmpo's rise in the NBA has been told many times at the tail end of last season, and during the summer. The Greek freak is on his way to becoming the biggest player to come out of Africa since Hakeem Olajuwon, if he continues to progress the way everyone believes he has the ability to. Giannis can do everything, and can defend any player. And after last season, we are all waiting with bated breath to see what he will come up with this term.