Cameroonian duo Embiid and Siakam highlight homegrown African talent

ByLeonard Solms ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid was Africa's standout player in November once again, while fellow Cameroonian Pascal Siakam put on a memorable performance for the Toronto Raptors against the Washington Wizards.

Victor Wembanyama, who is of Congolese descent on his father's side, currently trails Chet Holmgren in the race for NBA Rookie of the Year, but has had a season to remember for the San Antonio Spurs so far.

However, while Embiid and Wembanyama's success was expected, the likes of Dennis Schrder and Jonathan Kuminga continue to excel despite not being widely touted as key kingmakers for their sides this season.

African Player of the Month: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Embiid, who was discovered at a Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa as a teen, has been one of the best players in the league this season and clearly the top African player so far.

Now that James Harden has been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cameroon-born star's importance to the team is arguably more paramount than ever despite the presence of strong teammates such as Tyrese Maxey.

The stats speak for themselves. The 76ers finished November with a 12-6 record for the season. Embiid had missed only two games, a 112-99 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 124-114 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans.

In November, Embiid averaged 32.2 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game. His best performance of the month came in a 146-128 win over the Washington Wizards as he starred with 48 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.

Embiid, who now has US citizenship and looks set to play for the Dream Team at the Paris Olympics, also starred in his last appearance of the month, a 138-94 thrashing of the Los Angeles Lakers, posting a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Africa's biggest 'him' moment: Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)

The Wizards looked set to clinch a vital victory against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 13 to revive their season, as they led their encounter virtually from the start and even went 23 points up at one stage.

Even with 7:25 left in the fourth quarter, the Wizards appeared to be cruising at 106-90, but Cameroon's Siakam led an astonishing 21-1 run to swing the game in the Raptors' favor, including the decisive game-winning shot.

The scores were level at 107-107 when Siakam got the ball off Schrder, driving inside the arc and shrugging off Jordan Poole before landing a jump shot with 7.6 seconds remaining to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat - with that winning shot being our African moment of the month.

Siakam finished the game with 39 points, including 22 in the third quarter which sparked the comeback, in addition to 11 rebounds and 7 assists.

African Players in the NBA MVP Race:

Embiid is an obvious contender to retain his MVP title as he leads the 76ers' championship efforts, but Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks cannot yet be discounted.

The Greek Freak, who holds Nigerian citizenship, scored 40+ points in three games in November, dropping 54 against the Indiana Pacers, 40 against the Dallas Mavericks and 42 against the Washington Wizards.

The Bucks lost to the Pacers despite Antetokounmpo's heroics, and at the time, they were struggling to find their rhythm as a team as Damian Lillard sat out with injury.

However, they have regained their form since Lillard's return and have leapfrogged the 76ers into third place in the Eastern Conference at the time of writing.

'Oh hey now...' Player of the Month: Dennis Schrder (Toronto Raptors)

Schrder, who was born in Germany to a German father and Gambian mother, had already got the NBA season off to a fine start in October, but November was the month in which he proved that it was a sign of a sustained improvement to his game.

Having signed to the Raptors in July, Schrder is enjoying playing in a more pronounced role than before - arguably becoming more influential than he has been in a team since his days at the Atlanta Hawks.

Schrder averages 16.2 points per game and a career high 6.9 assists for the season at the time of writing. He has had some impressive shooting nights in November, notably against the Milwaukee Bucks - against whom he scored 24 points and 11 assists - and against the Indiana Pacers, against whom he notched up 26 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. The Raptors won both of those games.

However, Schrder has even played a key role in leading the team to victory in games when his shooting was not as impressive, such as the Raptors' last fixture of November in which he managed 12 assists and 6 rebounds in victory over the Phoenix Suns despite only scoring 8 points.

Keep Going, Young King: Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State Warriors)

Although he has not quite yet found the consistency that could propel him to the elite tier of NBA players, Kuminga is another African player who is competing for the NBA Most Improved Player Award based on early performances this season.

After a strong start to the season in October, Kuminga kept putting in important shifts in November, including 19 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then 21 in a rematch against them. However, his most important performance came at the end of the month against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The DR Congo-born small forward was all over the floor after coming off the bench, going 6-8 from field goal shooting for 17 points and also getting 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and a steal.

He earned the praise of Warriors veteran Draymond Green after the game, who credited him for not only his strong individual performance, but also bringing out the best in more senior teammate Klay Thompson.

"It was beautiful to watch," Green said of Thompson's display, per NBC. "And it all started with Jonathan Kuminga giving him a handoff in the corner. JK could have shot it, could have drove it, and he went uphill, DHO and got Klay going.

" And I told him in that timeout, 'You just got him 10 points. Off that one move. No one will celebrate you for it, no one will acknowledge you for it, but I will. You just got him going.'

"And that is incredible. That is growth on JK's part. Honestly, we all know what Klay's capable of. And he's starting to play a lot better over the course of these last five games. But for JK to get him going like that, that was special. And like I said, it shows the growth in JK's game."

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