Team World Going for Three-Peat at NBA Africa Game
By Sam Perley
Yes, the NBA Africa Game is an exhibition contest for charity, entertainment and fun, but it’s also a basketball competition nonetheless with plenty of national pride on the line. Led by co-captain Bismack Biyombo, Team Africa is targeting its first victory in three meetings with Marvin Williams and Team World, who are looking to stay unbeaten when the two sides square off on Saturday, August 4 down in Pretoria, South Africa.
For the home squad, a reasonable-looking starting lineup could feature an all-French backcourt of Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic) and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (Oklahoma City Thunder), forwards Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers) and Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors) and then Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) rounding out the center position.
Last year, Fournier averaged a career-high 17.8 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He’s not a natural point guard, but probably the best ball-handling option on the roster. Luwawu-Cabarrot dealt with injuries and rotational depth last season in Philadelphia, although improved both his offensive (103.1) and defensive (102.7) ratings from his rookie campaign in 2016-17.
Aminu and Ibaka are physical, defensive-minded players who are capable of knocking down three-pointers – both shot at least 36.0 percent from distance last season. Embiid, who sat out last summer’s NBA Africa Game because of offseason knee surgery, is arguably the best overall center in the game having garnered All-NBA and All-Defensive selections last season.
The hosts will have some size coming off the bench in Biyombo – a shot-blocking and rebounding specialist – along with emerging forwards in Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors) and Cheick Diallo (New Orleans Pelicans), a near-seven-footer in Ian Mahinmi (Washington Wizards) and two-time All-Star veteran Luol Deng (Los Angeles Lakers). Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach, J.B. Bickerstaff, has also been assigned to lead Team Africa as well.
As for Team World, look for Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies) and Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) to be the starting guards with Harrison Barnes (Dallas Mavericks), Danilo Gallinari (Los Angeles Clippers) and Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat) penciled into the frontcourt.
Temple – a late addition to the game – is a seasoned NBA veteran coming off the best offensive year of his professional career (8.4 points while shooting 39.2 percent from three). Perhaps overshadowed by his Bucks teammate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference in scoring last season with 20.1 points per outing – a new personal best.
With averages of 18.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists, Barnes is coming off his second season as the primary option in Dallas after signing with the team back in 2016. Gallinari played just 21 games last season because of various injuries, although is lengthy, nifty scorer when healthy. Lastly, Whiteside’s sticky, rebound-snagging mitts and basket-protecting fortitude could put points at a premium for the opposing Team Africa competitors.
Coming off the finest three-point shooting season of his career, Williams could be an offensive spark in Team World’s second unit. Rounding out the roster will be small forward Rudy Gay (San Antonio Spurs), reigning NBA All-Rookie Second-Team power forward John Collins (Atlanta Hawks) and two-time NBA Champion center JaVale McGee (Los Angeles Lakers).
In charge of the squad will be San Antonio Spurs assistant, Ettore Messina, who is on the short list of the most accomplished coaches in history outside of the NBA. It’s worth mentioning that Team World was scheduled to have four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan for the game, but he withdrew to get his personal affairs in order following his recent trade to San Antonio.
Team World squeaked out a 101-97 victory in the 2015 NBA Africa Game and last summer, knocked off Team Africa again, 108-97. Biyombo, Deng, Ibaka and Aminu have all played in this event at least once before, while their non-African counterparts are comprised entirely of first-time participants.
Because it’s an exhibition, it’s safe to assume the players won’t be putting forth the same amount of intensity as fans would normally see in a regular season game. Still, there’s enough on the line that an entertaining and compelling matchup could certainly unfold. Team World wants to keep its perfect record intact, while Team Africa would love to finally get a victory on its home soil in front of a passionate gathering of supporters.
Tune in to ESPN2 this Saturday, August 4 starting at 11 a.m. to see whether it’s Bismack Biyombo and Team Africa or Marvin Williams and Team World who emerges victorious from their NBA Africa Game showdown at Pretoria’s Sun Arena at Time Square Casino.