NBA African review - Is the Cavaliers' Isaac Okoro headed for a breakout season?

Coach Pop pleased to see Africa as area of growth for the NBA (1:31)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been working on getting international talent into the NBA for 40 years, and says Africa is one of the biggest areas of focus for the league's growth. (1:31)

The new NBA season got underway just weeks ago, and already Africa-born players, and those of African descent, lit up the league in October.

It is no surprise to see Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo among the league's leading players, but while their greatness must be acknowledged, it is equally important to acknowledge the African roots of some players having breakout seasons, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaac Okoro.

Under-the-radar Star: Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Okoro, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Nigerian parents, appears to be having a breakout season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it is still very early days.

Up until this season, Okoro had never averaged more than his 2020-21 numbers of 9.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in the NBA regular season. In the current campaign, he is putting those numbers to shame with averages of 12.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

Okoro's best performance of the season came against the Brooklyn Nets as he and Max Strus combined to lead the Cavs to their lone win of the season so far - a 114-113 nail-biter. Okoro posted 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in that game.

Democratic Republic of Congo-born Jonathan Kuminga has also so far lived up to his promise to improve to a higher level this season with the Golden State Warriors. However, the improvement has not been quite as drastic as in the case of Okoro.

Nevertheless, Kuminga is on course to beat his highest points per game average in an NBA regular season. So far in 2023-24, he is averaging 11 points per game and 4.3 rebounds.

More importantly, the Warriors have had a positive start to the season as a team with wins over the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans to bounce back from defeat to the Phoenix Suns.

Kuminga lives to fight another day at the organization which enabled him to win the championship in his rookie season, as the Warriors have exercised their fourth-year option on his and Moses Moody's contracts.

It would be remiss not to point out the African roots of another much-improved player, the Raptors' Dennis Schröder, who is German but has a Gambian mother. The newly-crowned World Cup champion is averaging 8.8 assists per game with the Raptors, with only 1.5 turnovers per game.

Likewise, it must be acknowledged that French breakout star Victor Wembanyama, who is already heading towards becoming the San Antonio Spurs' star player, and played an immense role in their wins over the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns, has a Congolese father.

British-born OG Anunoby has Nigerian heritage and has been averaging 13.7 points per game for the Raptors with 20 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, Kuminga, Schröder, Wembanyama and Anunoby were all expected to perform at a relatively high level this season, while Okoro has been the one who has defied the odds most.

African MVP Watch:

Reigning MVP Embiid, who was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, is undoubtedly the early leader in the race for the award among the African players at the very least.

He leads the NBA in blocks per game at 3.0 and is averaging 31 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7 assists. However, his impact goes beyond the scoreboard. His most important contribution has been leading the Philadelphia 76ers through a difficult patch.

They lost a tight contest 118-117 to the Antetokounmpo brothers' Milwaukee Bucks, but bounced back with wins over the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers. With the Harden situation resolved after he was traded to the LA Clippers, the dressing room can now settle down and focus on the task at hand, with Embiid clearly the one they will look to for inspiration.