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The NBA Better Watch Out For The Young Canadians

Canada Men’s Basketball has not qualified for the Olympics in now over two decades. They have only made it to the Olympics one time after 1988. Canada has struggled to develop basketball players in the past. The most notable Canadian player ever in the NBA would be Steve Nash. He was a two time all star and helped that one Canadian team make it to the Olympics for the first time since 1988. It was in that 2000 Olympics where Nash shined for Canada, where he scored 26 points against Yugoslavia and led the team to the quarterfinals. The 7th place finish was their best result in this millennium, since that was the last time they made it to the Olympics. Nash hoped that the 2000 Olympics and his play would inspire young Canadians to take up the sport.

The Raptors have also played a huge roll in getting more Canadians to play the game of basketball. When the Raptors joined the league in 1995, they were not a good team and many did not watch the games. It was not until the 1999-2000 season where people started watching the Toronto Raptors. That is when a young Vince Carter led the Raptors to their first playoff appearance in the team’s history. They ended up winning their first playoff series the following year, and ended up making the playoffs three consecutive years. The Raptors became Canada’s team and inspired young kids in the country to start playing basketball.

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Currently, there are 21 NBA players from Canada. Basketball in Canada has grown significantly and is becoming almost as popular as hockey. With the cost of hockey increasing, many are choosing to play basketball as it is much more affordable. The best current and future Canadian stars that are mentioned here are all under the age of 26. These seven could play a huge role in helping not only grow the sport in Canada, but maybe even win an Olympic medal.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Birthplace: Hamilton, Ontario

Age: 22

Draft: 2018 (11th Overall)

College: Kentucky

Current Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

Creator: Michael Conroy | Credit: AP Copyright: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. watch out for the young canadians
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) plays against the Indiana Pacers during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Gilgeous-Alexander has impressed many in just his second season in the NBA. He was second among all Canadian’s with an average of just over 19 points a game in his sophomore season. That is a big jump from last season where with the Clippers he had an average of just below 11 points a game. Gilgeous-Alexander led the team in scoring this year. A team that had Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari.

The Thunder were one of the most surprising teams this season. Many expected them to compete for a playoff spot, but ultimately be one of the teams on the outside looking in. This team proved everyone wrong and ended up being the 5th seed in the tough Western Conference. In the playoffs, Shai played an average of 40 minutes a game while averaging 16.29 ppg (points per game). The Thunder were eliminated in seven games in the first round by the Houston Rockets. It was a great season for both the Thunder and Gilgeous-Alexander. At just 22 years old, Shai has a very high ceiling. I expect him to be the leader of the Thunder in the future when Chris Paul is gone, which will likely be this offseason, and expect him to one of the best players on team Canada’s roster for many years to come.

RJ Barret

Birthplace: Mississauga, Ontario

Age: 20

Draft: 2019 (3rd Overall)

College: Duke

Current Team: New York Knicks

Creator: Mike Stobe | Credit: Getty Images Copyright: 2020 Mike Stobe watch out for the young Canadians
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 02: RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks in action against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden on March 02, 2020 in New York City. New York Knicks defeated the Houston Rockets 125-123. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

RJ Barret was considered the best player in the 2019 draft before entering college. He ended up getting drafted 3rd overall in last years draft, behind his Duke teammate Zion Williamson and Rookie of the Year Ja Morant. RJ Barret was great at Duke but was not talked about much leading up to the draft and throughout his rookie year. This was due to the hype of Zion Williamson, the play of Ja Morant, and RJ Barret having to play on the Knicks. The Knicks have been terrible for years, the laughingstock of the entire league. It is a tough place for RJ to be drafted into, but he has said himself that he is prepared for it.

RJ Barret averaged 14.34 ppg this season on 40% shooting. His numbers were not great this year with the high expectations that a 3rd overall pick has. He ended up finishing 8th in Rookie of the Year voting, receiving only one vote, which was a third place vote. Even though Barret did not have the best rookie season, he still should be considered a future star in the league. Many have a tough time adjusting to the NBA from college in their first season, and need to work on getting in better shape. RJ Barret needs to get bigger and stronger, and also needs to improve his shooting, from mid range, from three, and from the free throw line. He is far from a finished product, but at just 20 years of age, I expect him to improve drastically over the next few years.

Andrew Wiggins

Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario

Age: 25

Draft: 2014 (1st Overall)

College: Kansas

Current Team: Golden State Warriors

Creator: Kyle Terada | Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports Copyright: Kyle Terada watch out for the young candians
March 1, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins (22) dribbles the basketball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Canadians are passionate about their own athletes. Unfortunately, Andrew Wiggins is not among those athletes celebrated in Canada currently. Wiggins has not played with the Canadian Men’s National Team since 2015. Many Canadians were and are still upset that he has since chosen to not play for the National Team. With the growing amount of young future Canadian stars, the anger has slowly subsided. Now Canadians believe he is no longer needed for the Canadian National Team to be successful. Although currently he is not playing for Canada, we do have to recognize the talent and skills he has. He is arguably the best Canadian basketball player in the NBA right now. Last season between the Timberwolves and the Warriors, he averaged just under 22 ppg.

Although he is still a great player in the NBA, he has not performed up to the expectations at the beginning of his career. Entering the league as the number one overall pick comes with high expectations, and although many see the talent he possesses, there are times where he just goes away in a game, and it looks like he is not giving his full effort. Now with the Golden State Warriors, we could see a major shift in his career. At only 25 years old, maybe getting the chance to play with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can get him to the next level that so many thought he would have reached already. With Draymond Green also on his team, I expect that this season will show us how good Andrew Wiggins really is, and what the rest of his career will look like.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario

Age: 22

Draft: 2019 (17th Overall)

College: Virginia Tech

Current Team: New Orleans Pelicans

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Dec 7, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (0) in action during the game between the Pelicans and the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alexander-Walker is not on the same level as the rest of the Canadians I have mentioned. This past season, he only played in 47 games, and started in only one of them. He averaged only 5.68 ppg on 36.8% shooting in an average of 12.6 mpg (minutes per game). He was not a top 10 pick in last years draft and does not have the same pressure or expectations the other Canadian’s mentioned have. Looking at his college career at Virginia Tech, you can see how he is still progressing and how big of a jump he made from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He improved in both assists and steals while also going from 10.67 ppg to 16.18 ppg.

During the Summer League, playing against guys his age, he proved that he can play. In the four games, he scored an average of over 24 ppg in under 31 mpg. In the five preseason games with the Pelicans, he averaged 15.4 ppg. Although these are small sample sizes, this shows that he has the potential and talent to put up big numbers and is one of the better players in his draft class. He may not be a key player for the Pelicans in the short term, but he does have the talent to be a starter in the future for a Pelicans team that should be in the playoffs consistently over the next decade.

Jamal Murray

Birthplace: Kitchener, Ontario

Age: 23

Draft: 2016 (7th Overall)

College: Kentucky

Current Team: Denver Nuggets

Creator: AAron Ontiveroz | Credit: DP Copyright: Copyright - 2020 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group. watch out for the young Canadians
DENVER, CO – MARCH 9: Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets runs the offense against the Milwaukee Bucks during the fourth quarter of Denver’s 109-95 win on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Out of all the Canadian players that I will mention, Jamal Murray is the one I believe has the highest ceiling. This season, most importantly the playoffs, have shown us that he can be a leader on a championship contending team. He is that good. He averaged 18.49 ppg during the shortened regular season this past year. That was second on the team in scoring, only behind the two time all star Nikola Jokic who averaged 19.9 ppg. In the bubble playoffs, Murray showed us that he is the real deal and already a star in this league at just 23 years of age.

He exploded in the playoffs, averaging more than 25 points a game, leading the team. When the pressure was on his team down 3-1 to the Jazz, Murray decided to score 42 points in game five and 50 points in game six to keep his team alive. In game seven against the Los Angeles Clippers, Jamal Murray scored 40 points in a huge upset to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Even against the eventual champions the Los Angeles Lakers, Jamal Murray scored more than 20 points a game in four out of the five games. Murray is able to elevate his game to such a high level when the pressure is at its highest. Jamal Murray is and will be the key for Canada’s success in the Olympics and has the talent and skill to carry the team on his back.

Dillon Brooks

Birthplace: Mississauga, Ontario

Age: 24

Draft: 2017 (45th Overall)

College: Oregon

Current Team: Memphis Grizzlies

Creator: Daniel Shirey | Credit: Getty Images Copyright: 2020 Daniel Shirey watch out for the young canadians
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 20: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts to a play during the second half against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on February 20, 2020 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Dillon Brooks had a very strong season this past year. After only playing 18 games last year due to injuries, he came back and was excellent. On a young Grizzlies team, he proved that he is a key piece on the team for the future, starting all 73 games he played. Although the Grizzlies just missed out on the playoffs, losing in the play in game, the Grizzlies exceeded expectations this year. A team with many young stars like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, this team has shown that they will be a problem in the Western Conference in the future. Brooks was third on the team in scoring, averaging just over 16 ppg.

Dillion Brooks is one of the older players of these young Canadians at 24 years old. However, he has really only had two full NBA seasons under his belt. He makes a big impact on the game when on the floor, since his 16.18 ppg came in under 29 mpg on average. With an increase in minutes, Brooks can become a 20 point scorer for this Grizzlies team. As far as his impact on the Canadian National Team, he last played in an event with Canada in 2017. Before Covid-19, he said that he would play in Canada’s Olympic Qualifying events that were supposed to occur back in June of this year. I expect him to be a big part of Team Canada’s success in the future.

Brandon Clarke

Birthplace: Vancouver, British Columbia

Age: 24

Draft: 2019 (21st Overall)

College: Gonzaga

Current Team: Memphis Grizzlies

Creator: Brandon Dill | Credit: Getty Images Copyright: 2019 Getty Images watch out for the young Canadians
MEMPHIS, TN – NOVEMBER 23: Brandon Clarke #15 of the Memphis Grizzlies plays against the Los Angeles Lakers at FedExForum on November 23, 2019 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images)

Brandon Clarke is the last of the Canadian players I will mention. Although 24 years old, he did just play in his first season in the NBA. Staying at Gonzaga for his junior season helped him mature as a player and prepare him to be ready to play in his first season in the NBA. Although he only started four games and did not play big minutes, he was still a big contributor to this young team. In just 22.4 mpg he averaged just over 12 ppg. He had an amazing field goal percentage of over 61%.

At Gonzaga, he was making his three pointers only 26.7% of the time. In his first year in the NBA, he shot the three at 35.9%. The 24 year old has not yet played with the National Team. He was not a talked about prospect until he had a great junior season with Gonzaga. Now that he has shown in his first season that he can play a big role for a good team, I fully expect him to be a key member of Canada’s National Team.

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The Future is Bright for Canada Basketball

Canada has some very good young players who will be stars for the National Team in the near future. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barret, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke all have the talent to have great NBA careers. Some of them, Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins specifically, are already great players and stars in this league.

These players have grown up watching Steve Nash win two MVP’s. They have watched the Toronto Raptors become one of the most popular sports teams in all of Canada. Playing for your country is a huge honor, and hopefully all of them will take advantage of this honor and compete for Canada. I hope to see the same commitment that we have gotten from Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph over the years. Although they are not as talented as these young Canadians are, they took every opportunity they had to play for their country, and still continue to do so. If these young Canadians all decide to play for their country, Canada has a great chance of winning an Olympic medal in Men’s Basketball for the first time in 84 years.

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