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Antetokounmpo's choice headlines African presence in the new NBA season

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Many names come to mind if the question of a player to build an NBA franchise around should arise: Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, or even Donovan Mitchell.

But when a survey of every General Manager in the NBA was taken, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek-Nigerian forward of the Milwaukee Bucks, received 30 percent of the votes in answer to the question "If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?".

He topped the poll from Davis (23 percent of the vote), Durant (20 percent), James (17 percent) and Curry (7 percent), the man who just about won the 2016 NBA MVP voting by a landslide.

The choice of Antetokounmpo, and the presence of Joel Embiid, who clocked 3 percent of the votes to rank sixth on the list published two weeks before the 2018/19 NBA season tips off, could herald the return of African influence in the NBA.

African names were last up in lights like this during the heyday of Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

Antetokounmpo and Embiid represent the vanguard of a tide that includes the likes of Victor Oladipo, Clint Capela and Evan Fournier, as well as a growing band of rookie and second-year players born in Africa or of African-origin who hold dreams of being named Most Valuable Player in the near future.

The 2018 NBA Draft saw Deandre Ayton become the first player with African roots (his father is Nigerian) to be selected top of his draft class since Michael Olowokandi was selected as the top pick by the LA Clippers 20 years ago.

Ayton's story provides one of the reasons the 2018/19 season shapes as being unforgettable for Africa: The prospect of seeing more of the emerging African talent in the league rise to the top, perhaps even as soon as the All Star Weekend.

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Ayton, who arrived in the NBA arguably a better player than Embiid when he started, served notice of his talent by averaging 22.5 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game in his first two pre-season contests for the Phoenix Suns.

And while he leads the new breed of African players that includes American-Malian-Ivorian Mohamed Bamba (Orlando Magic), Nigerian-American Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), French-Congolese Elie Okobo (Phoenix Suns), and German-Congolese Isaac Bonga (LA Lakers), still others are ready to take the next step.

The likes of Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks), OG Anunoby (Toronto Raptors), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Wesley Iwundu (Orlando Magic) and Semi Ojeleye (Boston Celtics) have already logged major minutes in the league last season, and should step it up into pushing for starting slots this coming season.