Six Africans who desperately need to find a new NBA team

Tunisian Salah Mejri, of the Dallas Mavericks. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The NBA regular season offered opportunities for some players of African descent to grow their game and expand their influence in the league but many were practically invisible, for various reasons.

Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers), OG Anunoby (Toronto Raptors) and David Nwaba (Chicago Bulls) are examples of those who grew their influences, either from the previous season or as rookies.

There were others, however, whose influence on their teams ranged between minimal and non-existent, and then there were those who had fairly good seasons, but on teams that ended with awful records.

Luol Deng (Los Angeles Lakers)

The Deng case is that of franchise policy clashing with (unstated) ambition. The South Sudanese-Brit went from two-time All Star to non-playing veteran in five short years.


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And that is not because his value rapidly depreciated; just two seasons ago, he averaged 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per night for Miami Heat. In fact, in July of 2016, he signed a four-year contract that pays him 18 million dollars a year with the Lakers.

Then, towards the end of that 2016/17 season, the Lakers decided to go with their younger players, and shut him down for the season. He played only one game in the recently-concluded season, a 13-minute cameo on opening day against Clippers.

Jahlil Okafor (Brooklyn Nets)

The good news for the American-Nigerian is that he enters free agency in the summer; the bad news is that he may need to audition himself with a one-year contract before landing the big one.

Okafor was a hot prospect coming out of Duke in 2015, and was selected by Philadelphia 76ers with the 3rd pick. His first season was alright: he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds for the struggling Sixers.

Things turned when Joel Embiid, who had sat out two seasons because of injuries, returned to action. Okafor's minutes disappeared. He averaged just under 13 minutes in two games before he was traded to Brooklyn Nets in December, but things didn't improve much.

He appeared for the Nets in just 26 games, logging about the same minutes. The odds are that he will depart Brooklyn to seek playing time elsewhere; but it will be on a limited contract, as he rebuilds his reputation.

Chinanu Onuaku (Houston Rockets)

The total number of games Onuaku has played for the Rockets since he was drafted two years ago, is six... with a single start. He since been farmed out to the G-League where he plays for Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

This American-Nigerian may need to explore the option of playing oversees, so he can expand his game, and maybe further brighten his prospects of getting major minutes with another team in the NBA. That was the route American-Nigerian forward Ekpe Udoh and Congolese guard Emmanuel Mudiay took.

Ike Anigbogu (Indiana Pacers)

Time will tell whether all this American-Nigerian forward needs is patience. The 19-year-old, listed as the youngest player in the NBA in the 2017/18 season, injured his knee in a pre-season work out, and never fully recovered before the season tipped off after the Pacers drafted him.

Still, he made his debut in October, and has gone on to play 11 games for the Pacers, but he averaged just 2.7 minutes per game. He has since been farmed out to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League.

Wesley Iwundu (Orlando Magic)

The American-Nigerian became the first player to be drafted out of Kansas State University in 10 years when Orlando Magic selected him with the 3rd pick of the second round in the 2017 draft.

To be fair, he is listed as second in the Magic rotation behind French-Algerian Evan Fournier, and he played 62 games, starting 12 of them. However, he averaged just under 17 minutes despite the heavy game log.

At 23 years old, he needs to start playing more, and may need to also go the European route if things don't improve next season, especially as the Magic will have a new coach.

Salah Mejri (Dallas Mavericks)

This Tunisian legend has been in the NBA for three years, having arrived to the league after several years in Europe. He spent the first year shuttling between Texas Legends in the G League, and the Mavericks.

Things settled for him in the second year, and he made 73 appearances, logging 11 starts. He had a much quieter 2017/18, with just a single start in 61 games.

The good news is that his contract has ended. Mejri now has the choice of relocating back to Europe, where he won domestic and continental championships with Real Madrid, or staying in the NBA with a new team.