Another week has passed and that means another week of storylines for Canadian basketball has emerged. The Canadian Roundup is back and here to recap an eventful week for some of Canada’s brightest players.
1. Prospect Hype has Gone Too Far
On my twitter feed this week, I stumbled across this tweet that had sparked some debate in the Canadian basketball community.
In our age of social media, basketball prospects are being exposed to the general public at younger and younger ages. We’ve all seen the mixtapes of high school and sometimes middle school kids filled with slick crossover moves, deep, off balanced three pointers and thunderous dunks. And once these videos go viral, these kids grow up with an immense amount of hype. I mean just check out this Andrew Wiggins mixtape, one of the most viewed and viral mixtapes ever.
Andrew Wiggins was one of the most hyped prospects of the decade. He was dubbed “Maple Jordan” and went 1st overall in 2014. There were even some ridiculous comparisons to Lebron James as Wiggins progressed throw high school and college. By all accounts, Andrew Wiggins was going to lead Canada and become the greatest Canadian in the history of the NBA. While Wiggins has not met the otherworldly expectations thrust upon him (and been downright disappointing at times), he’s still carving out a solid NBA career.
Same thing goes with RJ Barrett. Maybe it was the incredible U19 FIBA Gold medal run he led as a 17 year old, but ever since then, Barrett has basically been crowned the future of Canadian basketball. Despite the numerous red flags in college (inability to shoot, tunnel vision, poor ball handling), Barrett was still put on this pedestal of greatness. And even though its only his rookie season, there are no doubts that expectations have or should be lowered with RJ. That doesn’t mean Barrett won’t ever reach all star status. It’s just he probably isn’t the face of Canada basketball. In fact, no one player has made a strong enough case to be the solidified as the face and future of Canada basketball (but Shai is starting to get there).
And I guess that’s my point. It’s dangerous and misleading to start to crown these young kids as the future of a nation. The timeline of physical development is different from player to player and even the development of basketball IQ and mental maturity comes along at different times (just look at someone like Brandon Clarke). And that’s not even factoring in differences in the development staff of NBA teams. While I understand any top pick is going to have a considerable amount of hype attached to them, the hype today is being piled on way too early. All I hope in the future is that we are more responsible in evaluating these high school and college prospects and more diligent at spreading the word. Media personnel, scouts and fans alike all have a role in making sure we’re not overhyping players and putting pressure on them to be something they are not at such young ages.
2. Offensive Rebounding and Oshae Brissett
With the Raptors battling so many injures all throughout the season, the Raptors’ depth has been severely tested. And yet the Raptors keep responding and playing well. In line with their “next man up” mentality it was first Montreal native Chris Boucher who stepped up and claimed an important role in the rotation. And just when it seemed like the Canadian-Raptors connection had run out, Nurse subbed in Oshae Brissett.
This past week Brissett set a new career high of 12 points and played a career high 22:44 against the Trailblazers. As he’s played better, he’s gained more and more of Nick Nurse’s trust.
Brissett brings an extra jolt of energy and hustle into the Raptors whenever he’s on the floor. Much like how McCaw was last year’s agent of chaos for Nick Nurse, it seems Oshae Brissett has been given a similar disruptor type role this season (albeit on much less minutes). Brissett is a bouncy and nimble athlete, physical attributes that make him a great defender on the perimeter and excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive glass.
Brissett’s first meaningful NBA minutes came against the Boston Celtics on December 28th. And it was Brisett’s motor that really helped the Raptors put away the Celtics. On his second offensive possesion, we can see Brissett’s hustle and athleticism on full display. After setting an off ball screen in the corner, Brissett hustles from around 15 feet away and heads straight for the offensive rebound. Check out his vertical leap as he is able to get to the ball before anyone else has a chance at touching it.
Again just the fight that this kid have. I love to see the hustle to track down the long rebound and then the extension and awareness to tap the ball to himself. This offensive rebound led to a huge Vanvleet triple and gave the Raptors a larger cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
And here is another key offensive rebound that gave the Raptors an extra possession and a much needed bucket to extend their lead. Brissett had no business even getting a finger on this ball with Brown boxing him out. However, the ball takes a friendlier bounce off the rim and Brissett out jumps Kanter and Brown to tap this ball to his teammate Davis right in front of the rim.
When digging through the advanced numbers, Brissett’s offensive rebounding numbers are eye-opening. He’s averaging 2.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, which would put him 6th in the league in OREB per game. And Brissett has a contested OREB% of 75%, putting him near guys like Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson!
When I heard Brissett was declaring for the NBA draft I thought it was a big mistake for him. After all in college he showed horrible touch around the rim and was just overall not impressive. Even him making the heavily depleted SMNT this past summer was a surprise. However, I think signing with the Raptors and entering the 905 development system may have been the best thing for Brissett’s career. Nick Nurse and Jamal Mahlalela have been able to get Brissett to use his athleticism to be a high impact player on the glass and on defense. Oh and the shooting stroke isn’t completely broken.
At this point, Brissett can change the complexion of a game even without being a large threat on offense. And who knows, maybe if things break the right away for him, we could see Brissett representing Canada in Victoria this summer. I wouldn’t be 100% against, especially if there’s low commitment among our NBA and better Euro bigs.
3. Jamal Murray’s Sneaky Athleticism
When you think of Jamal Murray’s game you might think about his smooth jump shot. Or maybe it’s that up and under move he loves to use. But I’m sure athleticism probably was not the first thing you thought of.
After watching some of his games this past few weeks, it’s one of the things that has jumped out to me. Jamal Murray is a sneaky athlete and has some highlight reel finishes at the rim.
This sequence came from mid December of this season. He fakes fellow Canadian Dort out of his shoes and then throws a lob to himself off glass. It takes a certain level of athleticism to pull this off and I guess it never really dawned on me that Murray had this in his game.
This dunk here was the clip that got me starting to pay attention to Murray’s bounce and athleticism. I mean his hang time here is insane and he throws down a vicious poster on Tyus Jones.
More hang time from Murray and another thunderous dunk. Caught Reddick in no man’s land and punished him for it.
Another back door cut from Murray and then he unloads at the rim on the taller Rudy Gay. Murray’s such a good backdoor cutter and with Jokic’s vision, it can be a scary thing for defenses to try and defend.
And then there was this Jordan-esque up and under from last season against the Thunder. There are very few NBA players that can pull this off and it’s time we are aware that Murray is on this short list.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
While Shai’s scoring has cooled off a bit, he’s still play basketball at such a high level right now. Over the past week he averaged 20.0 PPG along with 6.0 REB and 1.8 AST. It’s crazy to say that a week that saw Shai averaging 20.0 PPG would be a down week scoring for him. And yet here we are where it’s almost expected of Shai to wow us with his development and score 20+ night in and night out.
One stat that is linked with Shai’s scoring numbers is his drives per game. When he was on that incredible run that saw him tie his career high of 32 points three times, he was getting to the rim 17.5 drives per game, good for 8th in the league. However, over the past week, his drives per game has dropped to 15.0, corresponding with his decrease in scoring.
While Shai’s game has grown tremendously in the past year, I’m still not a fan of his low AST/TOV ratio. For the season his ratio is at 1.4, which is alarming if Shai is going to become the lead guard in the future. Maybe he fits in better as a 2-guard and OKC should find a pass first point guard to pair with him for years to come.
2. Jamal Murray
After Jamal Murray dropped 39 points against the Washington Wizards, I thought maybe he was going to find a rhythm and have an extended stretch where he was dominating. Instead, he got clipped in the head by Len’s screen in a dangerous play.
On the play where Jamal Murray got injured, Alex Len appears to elbow or arm him in the face (not opining on whether it's intentional or not). pic.twitter.com/DJsz2Knrdq
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) January 7, 2020
Thankfully Murray was okay, but it’s taken him a few games to start playing well again. He’s been dealing with so many nagging injures this season, and he seems to get hurt whenever he starts playing really well.
And then there was this insane story about Murray’s free throw drills with his father. All that shooting in the cold seems to be effective as Murray is now shooting a career high 91.6% from the line, which is tied for third in the league.
3. Tristan Thompson
Contract year Tristan Thompson is in full effect after he scored a career high 35 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against the Pistons. And if you thought Thompson did not learn anything from playing with Lebron James, you would be dead wrong. Check out these hilarious clips of coach Thompson in full effect. Literally guides Garland and leads him to his spot.
Tristan Thompson physically moving Darius Garland into place and then pointing Collin Sexton into place on the inbound. pic.twitter.com/L6jL1Sz8M8
— McNeil (@Reflog_18) January 10, 2020
Then there was coach Thompson drawing up an inbounds play to seal the game.
He followed up his career night with an 18 points and 13 rebounds. It’s safe to say Thompson is looking to secure a big paycheck this summer and his play may be warranting one.
4. Dillon Brooks
Brooks is in the zone right now scoring 20+ points in two of the three games this past week (he scored 19 points in the other game). In proper Dillon Brooks fashion, the Grizzlies have improved to 11-0 when Brooks score 20+ or more and have marched into the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
While I love that Brooks is scoring the ball so well, I’m not sure his 44.4% shooting percentage from three is sustainable. That being said why don’t we all ride this wave where Dillon’s tunnel vision is actually working well for him and his team. Because it can get ugly and frustrating in a hurry with Dillon Brooks and his shot selection.
5. Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins has a had a tough week after returning from a 4 game absence. The inefficiency has reared its ugly head again as Wiggins has recorded two games where he failed to shoot better than 35% from the field. He did look better in the Timberwolves impressive win over the Trailblazers, scoring 23 points on 60.0% FG% and even chipped in with 8 assists.
I’ve also been more impressed with Wiggins and the patience he’s showing this year on the offensive end. In this sequence, he reads how Bazemore is playing the screen and reacts by rejecting it. Then check out that split second hesitation in his spin move. He gets Whiteside to think he’s kicking it back to Dieng whose wide open, and once Whiteside clears the lane, Wiggins continues with his signature spin move. The result is an easy bucket and this play embodies Wiggins’ growth this season.
However, like usual, he’s had some frustrating plays. For example, in the next sequence, Wiggins throws up this awkward contested floater right in front of Hartenstein. Earlier in the year, Wiggins was attacking the basket with much more aggression and utilizing his incredible athleticism to score over and around people at the rim. It would be really welcoming to see that more in the upcoming weeks.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Powell
These past four games have been the first time that Powell has played well over a week of basketball this season. Like Olynyk he’s had an up and down year, however at least he continues to be the starting center on a playoff team.
Powell also recorded his first double double of the season this week, which is a big deal considering he only has 17 double-doubles in his career!
Dwight Powell is another polarizing player for his fanbase. While he has an elite skill as a roll man and finishing at the rim, his poor defense and rebounding limits his ceiling as a player. That being said, having Powell run pick and rolls with Shai and Murray is something I’m sure Nick Nurse and his coaching staff are already dreaming of.