INDIANAPOLIS, IN – APRIL 05: Victor Oladipo #4 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warrriors during the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 5, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

While players connected to the African continent have quite a way to go to clinch the NBA ‘s Most Valuable Player Award, the Most Improved Player Award looks an attainable prize to win.

After all players directly or indirectly from the continent have won it in the past with former San Antonio Spurs Forward Boris Diaw-Senegal heritage- winning in his time with Phoenix Suns. Greece-born Nigerian Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the Most Improved Player at last season’s awards night.

Giannis ascent to the elite was made possible by former Milwaukee Bucks Coach Jason Kidd who implemented the staggering idea of having Antetokounmpo run the team’s offense for long stretches in games. It looked an inconceivable idea mainly because Giannis was just two seasons removed from a sophomore season where he looked incapable of running an offense for a substantial period on the court.

However, his talent ensured the project was successful and the result was a maiden trip to the All Star Game, another trip to the playoffs and hardware recognition for Bucks foundational piece. Giannis has been tagged by many as a future MVP winner and for a while in the past regular season, he was at the forefront only to be overtaken by James Harden, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

On June 25, this year’s NBA Awards will be held and irrespective how the season ends for Indiana Pacers, Shooting Guard Victor Oladipo is a lock to win the Most Improved Player prize.

Leading the league in steals per game and Pacers in scoring with 23.1 points per game while leading the side to an unlikely postseason run does that you. Since getting traded from Oklahoma City Thunder to the Pacers, Oladipo’s game has improved across board to deserve the prestigious award.


For the season, the former Indiana University star has added 2.4 steals, 4.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds to his scoring tally; last season he averaged 15.9 points, 1.2 steals, 2.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Born to Nigerian parents, the 6 foot 4 Guard can focus on his battles with LeBron James and the Cavs in the playoffs rest assured he is the best candidate to win the award in mid year. In the event, Oladipo strangely misses out on the award, Philadelphia Sixers Cameroonian Center Joel Embiid should be the next man up for the award. Sixers were dark horse playoff candidates coming into the season mainly down to the talented core and savvy veteran acquisition to the roster.

But behind Embiid’s All Star season, Philadelphia made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and won 13 straight games to end the season in third place in the Eastern Conference. Embiid has 22.9 point and 11 rebound averages this season up from 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds he registered last season in his injury ridden campaign. He is likely to fall behind Oladipo in votes for the upcoming award but should he muster another productive statistic line next season, Embiid is a sure bet winner. That would mean three straight Most Improved Player title wins for players from Africa in the three point era of the NBA with Antetokounmpo being the first.


The fun doesn’t stop there however, as Houston Rockets Center Clint Capela is just a consistent jump shooting threat away from getting his hands on the same award. The Swiss international with Angolan connections is rock solid defender, top rebounder and elite athlete with an expanding offensive game. His limited scoring range is what separates him from being highly touted like Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota Timberwolves. While the clay is primed for mould in his eye pleasing shooting stroke, consistently hitting jumpers will force Mike D’Antoni to design plays to have the ball in Capela’s hands at the end of possessions more.

Sudanese born Thon Maker.

While Pascal Siakam and Cheick Diallo look good to be future Defensive Player of the Year candidates, Thon Maker is the most likely African player to win the Most Improved Award after Capela.

The South Sudan born Australian Forward/Center has been picked by future Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Garnett as an MVP winner in the making. His long frame is comparable to Antetokounmpo’s and two seasons into his career, he is showing promise shooting three pointers while honing his shot blocking and overall defensive skills. Looking ahead, it isn’t difficult to fathom players with ties to Africa making strong claims for the NBA’s Most Improved hardware.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter


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