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Al Horford, Other Latinos to Keep an Eye on in the 2016-17 NBA Season

Al Horford, Other Latinos to Keep an Eye on in the 2016-17 NBA Season

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on November 10, 2016

Letter “ñ” is resounding increasingly louder around the world’s best basketball league. In this season, 31 players from Latin America and Spain made the rosters of the 30 NBA franchises.

Over the past decade, the internationalization of the NBA has dramatically enhanced its market, a league that now reels in over $8 billion worth of revenues worth of revenues every year. Americans continue to dominate basketball, but as we’ve seen in international competitions, the gap is no longer overwhelming. The times of the Dream Team at the 1982 Olympic Games in Barcelona, when they used to beat their opponents by a 40-plus-point margin, are now long gone.

When checking into the history books, we find that Puerto Rican Butch Lee became the first Latin America-born player to sign a contract with the NBA back in 1978. What’s more, he also became the first Latino player to win an NBA title as part of the 1980’s Los Angeles Lakers.

Another Latino highlighted in the record books is Panama’s Rolando Blackman, who played 11 seasons for the Dallas Mavericks, beginning in 1981. During that time span, he averaged 20 points per game and was a four-time All-Star starter. 

What Latin American players are getting more media hype in this year’s NBA season? PanamericanWorld takes a closer look at five of them, either regular starters or bench replacements, who will play key roles in their teams’ aspirations to reach the playoffs.

Al Horford

After nine years with the Atlanta Hawks, Dominican pivot Al Horford was signed by the Boston Celtics for a four-year $113 million contract. During his tenure with Atlanta, Horford averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per match. Those are pretty good numbers for a pivot, so the Dominican player was a diehard figure in the Hawks’ regular roster. He helped the Hawks make the playoffs in nine seasons.

Once the 2015-16 season came to a close, talks were under way to keep Horford in Atlanta. But the Celtics came up with a much bigger offer. His new team won 48 games in the previous season, so the addition of the hefty 2.08-meter-tall, 244-pound player could make the Celtics chalk up far more wins and pan out to be a tough contender for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

Manu Ginóbili

The 39-year-old Argentinean will wrap up his successful career with the team he signed with 14 years ago: The San Antonio Spurs. It seemed the four-time NBA champion and the league’s best sixth man in 2008 could play for a different team following his franchise’s poor playoff showing last season. The Philadelphia Sixers were interested in the veteran player, a move that prompted the Spurs’ front office to sign him for a one-year, $14-million contract.

In the course of the past season, Ginobili’s numbers went south as he barely played an average 19.6 minutes -the lowest in his career. Therefore, his scoring also dipped to 9.6 points per match. But nevertheless, the Spurs -a team pounded hard by the retirement of Tim Duncan, its most iconic player- need get Ginobili out of the bench and make good on his longstanding experience (923 regular season games and 197 playoff matches) and sort things out on the court. The Spurs are top favorites to win the West Conference and it’s no secret that to beat the shoo-in Golden State Warriors, Greg Popovich will have to rely on all the talent of his regular squad and the contribution of the benchwarmers, like Manu.

J.J. Barea

The veteran 32-year-old Puerto Rican player continues to be a key element in the offensive formation of the Dallas Mavericks.

Barea started out his professional career in 2006 with Dallas and stayed there through 2011. He was never the top defensive player, yet his ability to dribble the ball fast and sneak in through taller guards, eventually turned him into one of the most loveable players in the franchise. Following the Mavericks’ winning NBA season against the Miami Heat in 2010-2011, in which Barea put on quite a good show, the Puerto Rican player became a free agent and eventually signed a $14-million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He logged a couple of acceptable seasons with Minnesota, better than the years in Dallas, yet his team never made it to the playoffs. In 2014, as he was put on waivers by the Timberwolves, the Mavericks brought him back in with a four-year, $16-million contract. The East Conference is pretty strong and the Mavericks need Barea’s talent to go back to the post-season.

Luis Scola

This season, the veteran 36-year-old Argentine pivot is playing for his fourth team in five years. He seems to be past his prime now. After serving a stint with the Toronto Raptors -a team that hoped to make it to the NBA finals- Scola signed with the Brooklyn Nets for $5 million, bringing his contribution to a team that was rebuilding itself.

Scola played a major role in the Houston Rockets from 2007 to 2012. In that period of time, he was a regular player and his scoring average went up to 18.3 in 2011. After leaving Houston, he landed in the Phoenix Suns for a full season and then moved to the Indiana Pacers in the East Conference. He lost his regular job in this team and his stats plummeted to 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Now with the Nets, he’s just a replacement player. Let’s see how he fares there.

Anderson Varejao

The Brazilian player shares a record impossible to break: he played for the two teams that went to the NBA finals in the same season. He started the 2015-2016 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and 31 games later he was part of a three-way trade that sent him to Portland. He didn’t even put on the jersey there because he was released. A few days later, he signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors through the end of the season.

Varejao is not at his best right now. Four years ago, he used to score 14 points per game with Cleveland. Today, he’s not even five minutes on the court. But this Brazilian player is part of the NBA’s most complete team -at least on the roster- so, he’ll surely make it to the playoffs once again. What’s more, thanks to the media hype the Warriors get, every time the veteran pivot jumps onto the court, he becomes far more visible than the other NBA Latino players that vie for getting more minutes on the court.

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