How do the Basketball Africa League and NBA compare?


Image caption: Petro de Luanda's Carlos Morais (left) and Al Ahly Libya's Jo Lual-Acuil (right) meet in the BAL final and could become the competition's MVP - matching NBA star Nikola Jokic (centre)
GETTY IMAGES Image caption: Petro de Luanda's Carlos Morais (left) and Al Ahly Libya's Jo Lual-Acuil (right) meet in the BAL final and could become the competition's MVP - matching NBA star Nikola Jokic (centre)

First-time champions of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) will be crowned when Al Ahly Libya face Angola's Petro de Luanda in Rwanda on Saturday.

The BAL has held a one-off final since it was first staged in 2021, compared to the best-of-seven series seen in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The NBA, which is heavily involved in supporting and promoting the BAL, is also reaching its endgame with the Boston Celtics taking on the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals from 6 June.

"This has been the most competitive BAL season we've ever seen. There are so many stand-out players," BAL commentator Usher Komugisha told BBC Sport Africa in Kigali, where the play-offs have been held.

"It's an evenly-matched final. Al Ahly Libya has shown so much maturity while Petro have made it to the semi-finals of every BAL season and have a very smart coach in Sergio Valdeolmillos."

BBC Sport Africa has been crunching the numbers on the fourth edition of BAL and seeing how its star men and teams measure up to its well-established big brother in North America.

  • What did the Most Valuable Players achieve?

Earlier this month Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic joined some of the NBA's all-time greats by winning the league's MVP award for the third time.

The Serb averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and nine assists this season and completed 25 triple-doubles for the defending NBA Champions.

Jokic, 29, became just the second player to finish with more than 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 700 assists in a regular season.

The BAL will not announce its MVP until after the final in Kigali, but Jo Lual-Acuil is among several names in contention.

The South Sudanese-Australian centre has been crucial in Al Ahly Libya's run to the final in their debut season, breaking the BAL's single-game scoring record with 42 points in their Nile Conference win over City Oilers of Uganda.

Lual-Acuil averages 21.8 points and 9.9 rebounds but is well down on assists compared to Jokic, at 1.9 per game.

Petro shooting guard Carlos Morais, described as the 'LeBron James of Africa', could land the award if the Angolan club clinch the title, while Kelvin Amayo of Nigerian side Rivers Hoopers and Samkelo Cele of Cape Town Tigers also had impressive campaigns.

  • Who is most dominant in terms of wins?


Image caption: The Boston Celtics, chasing a first NBA championship since 2008, have been the dominant side this season

The Boston Celtics had the most NBA victories this season, topping the Eastern Conference standings with a 64-18 record.

The Celtics have stormed through the play-offs, dropping just two games in three rounds after sweeping past the Indiana Pacers 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

From a much smaller game sample, last season's champions Al Ahly recorded the most wins during the BAL Conference stage.

The Egyptians won five of their six outings in the Nile Conference, with their win percentage of 0.833 bettering the Celtic's regular-season record of 0.78.

Morocco's FUS Rabat triumphed in three of four matches in the Kalahari Conference, playing two fewer games after Burundian club Dynamo withdrew.

  • How did the defending champions fare?

Despite boasting the NBA's MVP in Jokic, the Denver Nuggets were beaten 4-3 in the Western Conference semi-finals by the Minnesota Timberwolves, having finished second in the table.

Al Ahly were aiming to become the first BAL team to win back-to-back titles but crashed out in the quarter-finals of the play-offs last Sunday.

They were upset by fellow North Africans Al Ahly Libya despite having beaten their opponents twice during the Nile Conference last month in Cairo.

The Egyptians led by three points early in the second quarter, but the Libyan champions turned things around in the third quarter to win 86-77.

It was Al Ahly’s biggest losing margin in BAL history, excluding seeing games.

  • Who have been the dark horses?


Image caption: Al Ahly Libya have reached the BAL final on their debut, registering a surprise play-off win over Egypt's Al Ahly along the way

In becoming the first side from their country to qualify for the BAL - and then also reaching the final on their first attempt - Al Ahly Libya have turned heads this season.

With a 3-3 record in the Nile Conference, the club only qualified for the play-offs on points difference and were then seeded seventh.

But they saw off the holders to advance to the semis, where Al Ahly Libya beat Rivers Hoopers 89-83 in overtime to make the final.

The Hoopers, the first Nigerian club to make the play-offs, also deserve a mention after seeing off 2022 champions US Monastir of Tunisia 92-88 to make the last four.

The Port Harcourt-based club first appeared in the BAL in 2021, losing two of their three games, and then missed the second and third editions.

In the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the stand-out dark horses, doing well to finish the season as the third-best-ranked team in the West as shooting guard Anthony Edwards stepped up his game.

For a franchise set up in 1989 and yet to win a first championship, few would have expected the Timberwolves to the reach the Conference Finals - where they were beaten 4-1 by the Mavericks.

  • How do the rookies match up?


Image caption: South Sudan prospect Khaman Maluach beats the NBA's Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama on rebounds per game this season

San Antonio Spurs star Victor Wembanyama, the first pick in last year's draft, was named NBA Rookie of the Year.

The 20-year-old Frenchman, who has Congolese heritage, was a unanimous choice after averaging 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, a league-high 3.6 blocked shots and 1.2 steals a game.

In the BAL, City Oilers' Khaman Maluach and Mohamed Sylla of FUS Rabat - two graduates of the NBA Academy Africa - are candidates for the prize.

Malauch, 17, only played six games this season but the South Sudan centre still leads the BAL averages in rebounds and blocks, with 13.5 and 2.8 per game respectively.

Fellow teenager Sylla joined FUS Rabat from the BAL's Elevate program, which matches prospects to competing clubs.

The Senegalese centre scored 15 points and 11 rebounds in the quarter-finals against Cape Town Tigers but could not stop his side from falling to a 91-88 defeat and the biggest upset of the season.

  • How would a BAL All-Star side do against an NBA equivalent?

"It would be quite interesting to see that kind of match-up," Komugisha said.

"We have players here in the BAL that have played in the NBA and some have been drafted in the NBA.

"Of course, the NBA would have an edge over the BAL players but the level of competition has risen so high this season.

"There's so much attention to detail in terms of coaching tactics but also the physicality of the game."

Fellow pundit Queen John-Moseph said the intensity of the BAL is similar to the NBA.

"Gone are the days when African basketball was just big men and aggression on defence," she added.

"We see hunger for victory, coaches outsmarting each other and the type of plays we see in the NBA.

"The BAL has attracted players from across the world and some could match those in the NBA. I think it would be a very good match and they would be able to compete."

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024