Groundbreaker Ike Diogu saw wave of Nigerians in NBA coming

0 Comments

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Fifteen years after Ike Diogu was a first-round NBA draft pick, Nigerians are setting records.

Diogu was the lone Nigerian-American among a group of international players selected back in 2005. This year, a whole starting five and then some could be built from all the picks with Nigerian ties.

“I saw the wave that was coming, but I was just happy the rest of the world got to see it,” said the 37-year-old Diogu, the captain of the Nigerian national team.

The NBA hailed last week’s draft as “historic” because for the first time two players from Nigeria were first-rounders, and another six who have at least one Nigerian parent were also picked.

As the rookies sign their first contracts ahead of the NBA season scheduled to start Dec. 22, now comes the hard part of making the team and getting playing time.

Selected ninth overall by the Golden State Warriors, Diogu had thought he would be a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise. But he was traded during his second season.

“It’s good to mentally prepare yourself that anything can happen,” Diogu said in an interview from Rwanda, where the Nigerian national team is playing this week.

Diogu, who played at Arizona State, hopes his fellow Nigerians — and other draft picks — avoid the pitfalls he encountered. He recalled thinking he needed to impress as a rookie by flashing his full repertoire of post moves. But a coach told him, ”‘you’re making the game too complicated.’”

“Make the game simple,” Diogu said. “Play your style of basketball and let the game come to you, instead of of going out there and pressing.”

After a solid rookie season — he averaged 7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game — the Warriors hired Don Nelson, whose up-tempo, small-ball plan didn’t include Diogu, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound post player.

Following six NBA seasons, the Texas native began a successful overseas stint, mainly with teams in Asia. He’s played in two Olympics with Nigeria, and plans to play at the Tokyo Games, also, with Nigeria already qualified.

He watched last week’s draft from Phoenix, where he spends off-seasons, before traveling to Rwanda for a continental tournament.

The Nigeria-born first-rounders — Precious Achiuwa (20th, Miami Heat) and Udoka Azubuike (27th, Utah Jazz) — both played high school and college basketball in the United States. The other six include Isaac Okoro (5th, Cleveland Cavaliers) and Onyeka Okongwu (6th, Atlanta Hawks).

The NBA hailed it as a “historic night” for Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous country.

“This achievement further showcases Nigeria’s long basketball tradition and African players’ continued impact on the game of basketball around the world,” said Victor Williams, CEO of NBA Africa.

Nigeria has given the NBA two No. 1 overall picks — Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984, and Michael Olowokandi in 1998. The numbers have increased in recent years. Five players of Nigerian descent were selected in the 2017 Draft. League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, drafted in 2013, was born in Greece to Nigerian parents.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley described Achiuwa as “one of the most underrated players in the draft” and noted that he’s only been playing organized basketball for six years.

Achiuwa grew up in Port Harcourt in southeast Nigeria and said he wants to represent “where I’m from, my whole country behind me, my whole city.”

Okoro said his mother always told him “to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I still got Nigerian blood.”

Diogu knows that feeling. Growing up near Dallas, he learned as much about his parents’ Imo state as he did about the Lone Star state.

“I was born in the U.S. but I grew up in the U.S. as a Nigerian,” he said. “I was around the Nigerian community, I went to a Nigerian church, Nigerian parties, all of my friends were like me — both parents were Nigerian.

“So my parents always made sure to let it be known that you are Nigerian and you need to know the ways of the culture, food, music, everything … Everybody’s clothes would smell like the food that your mom was cooking, the dried fish or the goat meat or whatever.”

Regardless the nationality, NBA success isn’t just about talent, Diogu said. A first-rounder playing behind a $30 million-per-year player may only get spot minutes, for example.

“As crazy as it sounds,” he said, “there’ll be some second-round picks that get into situations that are better than first-round picks.

“It’s a fine line between success and failure in the NBA.”

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

0 Comments

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
89

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,299

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that would be by one point, so Feb. 9 against Milwaukee is certainly a possibility.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images
0 Comments

The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
Sarah Stier/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.