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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Dec 29th to Jan 4th

Ed’s Note: Trying something new. The Canadian RoundUp is a new weekly column that will provide avid Canadian basketball fans with everything Canada in the NBA (and occasionally even venture out to the NCAA and basketball overseas). From the biggest storylines to breaking news to weekly power rankings, the Canadian RoundUp is the hub for the golden generation of basketball in the North.

1. Kelly Olynyk Falls Out of Rotation

Kelly Olynyk has been one of the stalwarts in the Canadian program and was a part of the first wave of “Carter Effect” Canadians to make the NBA and carve out a role. And thus far, Kelly’s had a solid career as a key contributor on a couple of playoff teams. He’s just the 7th Canadian to log 10, 000 career minutes and is the 1 of 3 Canadians with 500 career three pointers.

However, his start to the season can be described as shaky at best. Pegged as the starting 4 for the Miami Heat entering the season, Olynyk has not started a single game for Erik Spoelstra’s Heat and has topped 30 minutes in only 2 games this season. His 20.3 minutes per game are the lowest it’s been for Olynyk in 3 seasons, and he’s on track to not start a single game in a season for the first time in his career.

To be fair, Olynyk did come into training camp with a right knee bruise, an injury he sustained when suiting up for Canada in an exhibition game against Nigeria in the summer. That being said, we’re now entering the third month of the season and Olynyk’s play has remained inconsistent.

As a result of his up and down play, Spoelstra has essentially pulled Olynyk out of the Heat’s rotation. Over the last week, Olynyk’s seen his minutes decline sharply. He’s played 10+ minutes only once over the past week (in a blowout loss to the Magic) and has played less than five minutes in his last two games. Olynyk is entering the James Johnson and Dion Waiters doghouse and that is not where you want to be.

All this could have a domino effect for Team Canada this summer. Canada is hosting one of the qualifying tournaments for the 2020 Olympics this summer in Victoria, BC. There’s been a wave of vocal commitments from our NBA guys after they basically deserted the team last summer at the FIBA World Cup (besides Birch, Joseph and Olynyk). While he’s been a mainstay and committed in the past, Olynyk has already stated publicly that his contract situation could sideline him this summer.

2. RJ Barrett Cannot Shoot ⁠— At All

RJ Barrett’s rookie season has been filled with two things: losses and misses. While the Knicks’ new head coach Mike “not that Mike Miller” Miller has gotten the Knicks to be reasonably competitive lately, the misses have still been there to haunt RJ’s first season in the NBA.

Barrett’s shooting numbers are just flat out awful. He’s shooting a measly 38.3% from the field and 31.1% from three. And that’s not even mentioning his horrid 55.4% shooting from the charity stripe. He ranks 401st and 402nd respectively in the league in eFG% and TS%. While there were questions surrounding his shooting, nobody could have guessed that RJ’s first season would be such a disaster on the offensive end.

Barrett’s erratic shot mechanics has been a huge reason why he’s missing so much shots this season. These consistency issues are glaring apparent when Barret creates with a live dribble. Very rarely is Barrett’s jumpshot smooth and quick. Instead, it’s usually rigid and he has a lot of wasted, unnecessary movement. On this play, the first half of Barrett’s jumpshot actually looks fine. He’s in rhythm and even turns his body slightly to align his left hip with the net. However, watch as Barrett brings the ball backwards just a bit as he elevates, throwing off any rhythm he had before. Barrett loses all the momentum from his legs and is forced to rely on his wrist for power. And the result was not pretty.

In this next clip the Knicks run a handoff into a screen with Barrett. While he does not take any dribbles here, watch the weird kickback motion that his shooting wrist goes through as it kind of flutters excessively after he releases the ball.

Another example from the same game where Barrett’s left wrist extra movement in the follow through.

Another problem for Barrett has been his poor shot selection. At times, Barrett gets tunnel vision and takes some heavily contested shots. This sequence showcases one of Barrett’s biggest tendencies. He loves to drive to his left, absorb contact and then shoot as he’s going down. While it usually works out for Barrett due to his strength, this sequence is painful to watch.

Don’t think I really need to explain myself here. Gibson is wide open and instead Barrett tries to take on two defenders and throws up this runner that has no chance of going in.

The clip above also highlights a huge problem with Barrett’s game right now. He just can’t blow by defenders due to his slow first step and his lackluster handle. As a result, he’s tries to use his strength to bully his way past players, which just is not a viable, sustainable option in the NBA. While his rookie year is not playing out the way it was expected for Barrett, there are still signs that he can develop into a great NBA player. Here’s hoping he can reach that level and lead Canada in the future.

2. 3. An Ode to Brady Heslip

One of the most dedicated and committed Canadian basketball players in recent memory, Brady Heslip has retired from basketball at the age of 29 to pursue an MBA at the Smith School of Business at Queens. While the nephew of Jay Triano, never was the most talented player Canada has produced, his commitment to playing international ball was unmatched. He was the only Canadian to play in every single FIBA WC qualifying game and played an integral role when NBA and Euroleague guys had other commitments.

http://twitter.com/CanBball/status/1099364479609974785

Back in 2017, Heslip’s shooting played a key role in the Raptors 905 championship run. No matter what Heslip was always there and ready to play for Canada. And who knows, maybe in the future Heslip will find a role with Canada basketball and once again shine for his country.

Power Rankings

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai has undoubtedly played the best ball of any Canadian over the past month and his strong play has continued into the previous week. He averaged 24.0 points per game to go along with 7.8 rebounds last week and led the Thunder to four straight wins. In his last nine games, Shai’s failed to score 20 points only once and is shooting 53.4% from the field and 37.9% from three. He’s in a zone right now and the Thunder have crept into the playoff picture.

Here’s a really good analysis of Shai’s development this season by Thinking Basketball. Ben Taylor’s analysis of Shai’s defensive shortcomings is really interesting as Shai is often thought to be an elite defender due to his insane length.

  1. Jamal Murray

In my opinion, Jamal Murray is still currently the best Canadian in the NBA. Yes, Shai has played better over the last couple of weeks, but Murray’s development as an all around basketball player has caught my eye.

While his scoring has continued to be inconsistent, which is disappointing, Murray has become a better defensive player this season. According to FiveThirtyEight, Jamal Murray is at a +0.8 in terms of overall Def RAPTOR and rates as a + defensive player this season. Looking at Basketball Referances’s DBPM, Murray is a career high -0.3.

  1. Andrew Wiggins

Everyone has talked about Andrew Wiggins and the scoring explosion he was on earlier in the season. Since then, Wiggins has continued to score the ball. While Wiggins’ USG% is at a career high 29.5%, so is his eFG% (49.9%) and his TS% (53.6) is the 2nd highest of his career. He’s also beginning to contribute in other parts of the game as he’s averaging career highs in Reb, Ast and Blk’s per game.

Wiggins has not played in a game in over a week due to the flu. With the Timberwolves struggling badly, they desperately need both Wiggins and Towns to return in the near future.

  1. Brandon Clarke

At this point Brandon Clarke is far and away the best Canadian rookie in what has turned into a disappointing Canadian rookie class. His efficiency and impact is off the charts and he is already beginning to creep into the discussion of top 5 Canadian NBA players.

He currently leads all rookies who play at least 10 minutes per game in eFG%, TS%, PER, VA (value added), EWA (estimated wins added) and PIE (player impact estimate).

  1. Tristan Thompson

Continues to produce and play well on a bad Cavs team. This week he’s grabbed more than 10 rebounds in every game and Thompson continues to play solid defense. Thompson is in a contract year and his health and play this season has brought his value to a near all-time high (I don’t think anything will top what his value was when the Cavs won the chip in 2016). He could be one of the biggest names on the trade block this season and his defense, rebounding and hustle could prove valuable for a couple of contending teams (looking at you Boston).

One thing I’ve noticed this season is Thompson’s expanding offensive repertoire. He’s already hit 3 three’s this season (he’s never made one in his career) and this next play really surprised me. The footwork is excellent and it seems Thompson is getting more comfortable having a larger role on offense.

Honorable Mention: Dillon Brooks

Brooks has already become one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. When his shot is falling, he’s a dangerous offensive weapon for the Grizzlies. When he scores at least 20 points, Memphis is 9-0 this season! And over the past week, Brooks has shot the ball extremely well and scored 20+ points in 2 of the 3 games.

However, while he can provide an offensive spark, his shot selection is atrocious and his scoring is inconsistent (he’s had 10 games this season where he failed to reach 10+ points). He’s taking 12.6 FGA per game, which is the third most on the Grizzlies, ahead of the efficient Jonas Valanciunas. If Brooks is your third option on defense, your team cannot win a championship and probably won’t even make the playoffs. That being said, he’s playing well recently and could be a threat to move into next week’s top five.

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