What do Gorgui Dieng, Victor Oladipo, Giannis Atentokounmpo and Dennis Schroder have in common? One way or the other, they lifted the Africa flag high at the 2015 All-Star weekend.
Senegalese Dieng, the only African-born of the four athletes, showed again that his potential should not be judged by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ poor season.
In the BBVA Compass Rising Star Challenge, the Timberwolves centre came off the bench with convincing numbers, including 14 points, four rebounds and a block shot to help the World Select team edge out the USA 121-112.
The former Basketball Without Borders camper out of SEED Project, in Dakar, wasn’t weighed down by the fact that he was the first African-born player to take part in the first showcase event involving rookies and sophomores, but he also had fun throughout.
He run up and down the floor for 19.13 minutes, made a couple of flashy dunks, and left fans and observers thinking that he could make a significant impact for Minnesota in the remaining two months of the regular-season.
The Wolves (11-42) currently rank bottom of the Western Conference with the fewest winning percentage, but the 21st overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft is doing really well as his double-double performances continue to prove.
He had two games with 20 points and 20 rebounds, nine double-doubles and 10 games with 10 or more rebounds.
Before the All-Star break, Dieng appeared in 53 games (starting 38), averaging 9.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
Fans and observers are not alone watching Dieng’s evolvement though.
This is what five-time NBA champion Tim Duncan had to say about Dieng’s game during the All-Star weekend in New York:
“He’s been great. He’s really steady, very deliberate. He’s improved his midrange jump shot. He’s solid defensively. He doesn’t try to get outside of himself. I really like what I’ve seen from him.”
In his second NBA season, the Orlando Magic guard has become a household name for a reason.
The American-born player, who introduced himself to SuperSport.com as Nigerian – he is the son of Nigerian immigrants – sparked the USA team in the Rising Star Challenge versus the World Select team with 22 points and four assists, but they fell short.
In that game, Oladipo came up with what have become been his trademark plays throughout the season. He dunked, provided assists and entertained fans at Barclays Bank Arena in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, Oladipo’s highly anticipated moment happened in Saturday’s Slam Dunk contest.
The 22-year-old, known for his athleticism and ferocity in attacking the rim, opened his participation with an impressive 360 dunk, which looked more like a 540 to getting the highest score of 50.
However, contest favourite Minnesota’s Zach LaVine was in the building to confirm his credentials and win this year’s edition of the Slam Dunk Contest.
Even though the Magic (17-39) have little chances of clinching one of the eight playoff places on offer in the Eastern Conference, the coming season seems bright for a man who improved his scoring averages from 13.8 to 16.6 points per game in jut one season.
Ever wondered why Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer continues to trust second-year back-up guard Dennis Schröder?
The answer to that question is, watch Schröder. Compare his playing style from his rookie season, in which he was sent to the D-League, to now and you certainly will find Budenholzer’s belief in Schröder.
The Hawks, who had four players in the All-Star Game, and are currently the No 1 team in the Eastern Conference have real championship credentials and can’t be disregarded for the remaining of the regular-season.
And Schröder… Well, he has plenty reasons to cheer. He saw his playing time increase five more minutes in one season, and doubled his assists from 1.9 to 3.5 per contest.
In Friday’s Rising Star Challenge, Schröder scored 13 points, had three steals and contributed a game-high nine assists.
Here is his assessment of the game: “Everybody said we had to win because we are the world. That’s why we wanted to win the game.”
The Germany-native also replaced John Wall in the skills challenge.
Only Oladipo, spent more playing time than Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Atentokounmpo in the Rising Star Challenge, and he came up with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the World team.
The Greek-born player with Nigerian parents tried to put his dunking abilities in focus, but he was eliminated in the first-round of the Slam Dunk Contest.
For now, Atentokounmpo has a tougher challenge of helping the Bucks (30-23) continue among the East playoff contenders.