When Team Africa takes on Team World in the first-ever NBA Africa Game on Saturday, the hosts will likely be seen as underdogs. That tends to happen when the other team has Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Bradley Beal, among other standouts.
But really, who cares? Whether Team Africa loses by 20 or pulls off the victory, it’s going to be unquestionably intriguing simply seeing how their players gel with one another. Take a look at the unique roster:
NBA Africa Game 2015: Team Africa Roster
Note: * Indicates not playing due to injury
Luol Deng (Miami Heat; Great Britain; born in South Sudan)
Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers; U.S.; parents from Nigeria)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks; Greece; parents from Nigeria)
Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets; France; parent from Cameroon)
Bismack Biyombo (Toronto Raptors; Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs; France; parent from Senegal)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves; Senegal)
Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors; Nigeria)
Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder; Congo)*
Luc Mbah a Moute (Sacramento Kings; Cameroon)
Head coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs; U.S.)
Assistant coach Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks; U.S.)
Assistant coach Monty Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder; U.S.)
General manager Billy King (Brooklyn Nets; U.S.)
General manager Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors; U.S.; born in Nigeria)
Team Africa Breakdown
We’ve seen time and again how Popovich can get results out of pretty much any lineup he’s given, but it’s going to be fascinating to see how he works with this decidedly unique roster.
For starters, there’s no true point guard. The closest thing is Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6-foot-11 wing with freakish length and guard-like abilities. The Greek Freak has always been a talented ball-handler in the open court, but he’s not exactly someone you might peg to run a half-court offense. He’s going to have to, though, and it’s going to be extremely compelling to watch.
On the same topic of position-less basketball, you know Pop will have a unique role for Spurs power forward Boris Diaw. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Frenchman is built like a big man, but he can handle the ball and might just be the best passer on this team.
Ultimately, with center Serge Ibaka out with an injury, Pop is going to have trot out a lineup of something like Antetokounmpo, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Diaw and Gorgui Dieng. Even with subs, it’s pretty much always going to be a lineup of forwards.
There are plenty of question marks because of this. How are they going to stop Chris Paul? Who is going to create the offense in the half-court? Can Batum and Deng provide enough outside shooting?
Of course, on the other side of things, the unique nature of the roster provides some advantages. They have the size to crash the boards, they have the shot-blockers (Dieng, Bismack Biyombo) to bother the Gasol Brothers and Nikola Vucevic and they have a definite advantage in length and athleticism, which should prove advantageous should the game turn into a track meet.
Again, Team Africa may enter as the underdog, but even if they go down in front of the home crowd, they are going to go down in a thouroughly entertaining blaze of glory.
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