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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Jan 12th to Jan 18th

1. To Play Or Not To Play

With the Raptors in Minnesota on Jan 18th, one of the most burning questions of the year for Canadian basketball fans would finally get asked and answered.  Will Andrew Wiggins suit up for Team Canada this summer in Victoria and potentially Tokyo?

“I’m not sure. Right now my team is struggling a little bit so we have to get back and try to get in a playoff run. That’s my main goal right now. And after that I’m going to decide on Canada Basketball.” That was Andrew Wiggins’s response to Michael Grange’s question about his commitment to play for Canada this summer. Like always, Wiggins has deflected the question and “answered” with vagueness and a lack of clarity.

Much has already been made of Wiggins and his shortcomings as an NBA player. The lackadaisical demeanor,  the inefficient chucking, the poor defense and the frustrating stand-in-the-corner-with-my-hands-on-my-hip move. Then there’s the fact that he has not suited up for Canada since the disastrous 2015 Olympic qualifying tournament. With new found depth in the Canadian men’s program, some people might make the irrational claim that Canada should want nothing to do with Andrew Wiggins.

Despite his frustrating play and lack of commitment in the past, Andrew Wiggins is still one of, if not the most talented player to come out of Canada. It is silly to try and argue otherwise and his presence on Canada’s roster this summer would be monumental for the country. His physical tools are elite, even among basketball’s biggest and fastest athletes. And while he may not be the most efficient, Wiggins’s isolation scoring is something that Canada would desperately need. And he’s already taken steps this year and improved his ball handling and passing, two skills he did not possess for the first couple seasons of his career. Take this sequence for example where Andrew Wiggins makes a high level read as he’s driving to the basket. Wiggins demands so much attention when he’s attacking the basket and it seems like he’s finally realized that passing to his wide open teammates can yield good results. Check out the gorgeous skip pass to the corner and it results in a thunderous dunk.

All of this is to say that I still believe in Andrew Wiggins as a critical member of Team Canada. Both Canada basketball and Andrew Wiggins have a lot to gain and little to lose from forging a new partnership. Besides, despite the wave of NBA commitment, there’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding some players availability (Olynyk, Brooks, Thompson, etc.) and health (especially now after Powell’s devastating injury). Wiggins’s presence on Team Canada would fill a huge void in the program’s wing rotation. With Nick Nurse at the helm, I have full confidence that Nurse will be able to find Wiggins a role that he can thrive in. And who knows, maybe this is the start of the Andrew Wiggins redemption arc that all Canadian basketball fans (even the one’s that have given up on Wiggins) have secretly been yearning for.

2. NAW’s Return

The cousin of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was taken 17th overall by the Pelicans in this year’s draft. As the 2nd Canadian drafted, there were some high hopes for NAW entering his rookie year. These hopes were only driven higher by his amazing play in Summer League. He was third in PPG, 5th in AST  and 5th in steals and it looked like he could be the steal of the draft. He thoroughly impressed me with his shooting, vision, active hands on defense and the overall smoothness in his game (seems to run in the Alexander family). I mean just check out the way he dominated in Summer League.

Unfortunately, like many rookies, NAW has struggled early on in his NBA career.  His scoring was inconsistent and inefficient and he just got pushed around too easily on the defensive end. After a couple of games playing less than 5 minutes, NAW was pulled out of the rotation all together. However, when Jrue Holiday was sidelined with a left elbow injury in early January, NAW was reinserted into the Pelicans rotation and since then,l he’s been playing with a new sense of confidence on the court. He’s played more than 13 minutes in his last seven games and has reached double digits in scoring three times.

One thing I already love about NAW’s game is his poise and maturity in the pick and roll. While he played mostly off ball in college, it’s clear that NAW thrives as a big lead guard with the ball in his hands. It allows him to use his incredible vision and touch to make tight passes to his roll man and also allows his shooting to be an even greater weapon. Here he runs the pick and roll to perfection with Jaxson Hayes, who he’s developed some good chemistry with. NAW reads the defense, rejects the screen from Hayes and attacks the open space in the key. You can see the slight moment of hesitation in NAW’s drive that freezes the opposing big and catches him in no man’s land. Then he whips this bounce pass right on the money to Hayes as he’s rolling which leads to a bucket and a foul.

Another thing I love about NAW’s game is his ability to get by his defender and get to the rim (looks like this also runs in the family). He has that slithery and slippery quality that resembles his cousin and it allows him to get high percentage looks at the basket. Here NAW contorts his body in mid-air and uses his length to avoid getting blocked on the layup attempt. Then check out the soft touch at the rim and it really starts to resemble SGA’s drives to the basket.

Also, he’s ambidextrous and can shoot with both his left and right (it’s probably the reason why NAW loves to go left on his drives). While he hasn’t gotten to the extreme of shooting with both hands in the NBA, his comfort level with both his left and right hands will make him a dangerous offensive weapon in the future. Go to 2:10 in the video to hear a young NAW talking about his ambidextrous game. It’s amazing to realize that he went to this high-level NPH basketball camp with a recently broken right hand, dominated with his left hand and then sunk a game winning three with his preferred shooting hand (his right hand).

While NAW struggled out of the gate, he’s starting to find his groove and rhythm in the NBA. One thing I hope to see is NAW filling out his frame more and adding muscle. Added strength and muscle is one of the things that has allowed Shai to take a huge leap in his development and it would do similar wonders to NAW’s game.

Power Rankings

        1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai’s meteoric rise to stardom has been exciting to track, especially for Canadian basketball fans. He continues to score the ball on great efficiency and reached 20+ points in all but one game this week. And of course, the big headliner of the week was Shai’s 20-20-10 triple double!

http://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1216922433673814017

Also, just wanted to throw in a quick defensive highlight from Shai. While his defense has slipped a bit this season, he makes a eye-opening play on this defensive sequence. Shai does an excellent job navigating around the screen and uses his insane wingspan to recover and block the shot. I mean it looks like Shai barely even got off the ground and was still able to meet Napier at the apex of his shot.

One thing that has surprised me with Shai’s game this past week is his jump in assists. I’ve documented in the past about Shai’s struggles so far in his career to run an NBA offense as the lead facilitator, but this week he showed some real flashes of what could be in store for him. Shai’s recorded only 4 games this season with 6+ assists and 3 of those games came this week (he had 5 assists in his fourth game of the week). If he’s able to begin to get his teammates involved, Shai will truly enter the elite plethora of perennial NBA all-stars very soon.

        2. Jamal Murray

Another week and another injury to Jamal. This time it looked like a pretty nasty ankle sprain and its forced Murray to sit out the past two games. Thankfully though, his x-rays came back negative and it seems Murray will miss a couple more games before making a return.

While he did avoid a major injury, Murray’s health is beginning to become a concern. He’s dealt with nagging injuries in basically every season of his career (he played through a hernia injury in his rookie year that needed surgery and also sat out this summer’s world cup due to an ankle injury). At this point, I would consider it a surprise for Murray to show up to Canada basketball training camp 100% healthy. Hopefully it doesn’t affect his availability as Canada would definitely miss his shot creation, spacing and leadership.

        3. Dillon Brooks

Dillon Brooks is making me eat my words with every game he’s playing. I mean just check out the scoring numbers and efficiency in his last 7 games. And of course, in typical Brooks fashion, the Grizzlies were 7-0 and are beginning to look like a legit playoff team in the Western Conference.

Brooks is shooting an insane 47.5% from three over the past 7 games and while I do not expect this type of shooting to be sustainable, he’s proving that he can be a strong complementary piece to the Morant-JJJ core in Memphis.

Really wanted to highlight this beautiful finish from Brooks this past week. He’s been feasting off of passes from Morant and here he makes an excellent back door cut. Morant hits him and Brooks pulls of this gorgeous up and under sweeping layup. With passers like Kelly Olynyk, Murray and Pangos, Brooks would be a huge threat off the ball with his ability to cut into open space and shoot the 3.With our wing depth being so thin, here’s to hoping that Memphis extends him early so he could play for Canada this summer.

        4. Dwight Powell

Ed’s Note: This quick deep dive into Powell was written before his devastating achillies injury last night. Prayers up for Dwight and hoping for a speedy and full recovery.

It took a couple months, but the Dwight Powell that Canadian fans have come to know has finally returned to form. He’s averaging 15.3 PPG on an absurd 80% shooting from the field this past week. Powell’s also chipping in on the glass as he’s averaging 7.0 Reb.

Love Zach Lowe’s piece that goes a little deeper into Powell’s importance for the Mavs this season. While much has been made of Doncic’s vision and passing, Powell’s elite rim rolling has contributed a ton to the effectiveness of Doncic-Powell pick and roll.

One thing that has made Powell such a dangerous roll option is his comfort with the ball in his hand. Very few big men in the NBA can put the ball on the floor with the comfort and fluidity that Powell can. I mean just watch Powell’s graceful drive to the rim. Check out the smoothness of the pass fake and the fluidity with which Powell lays the ball up with. His ability to handle the ball combined with his athleticism makes him a dangerous roll man.

        5. Andrew Wiggins 

The first half of the week was a huge struggle for Wiggins. He continued to be inefficient and scored only 10 points in the first 2 games of the week on 32.0% shooting from the field and an atrocious 14.3% from 3. It was beginning to look like maybe the stretch where Wiggins was dominating earlier in the season was an anomaly from who Wiggins truly is as a player.

However, unlike past seasons where Wiggins would sit back and continue his poor play, Wiggins has bounced back in the second half of the week. In the last 2 games of the week, Wiggins averaged 20 PPG, 7.5 (!) AST, 6.0 REB and shot 48.4% from the field and 37.5% from 3. He also dropped his first career triple double with an 18-10-11 performance against the Raptors.

http://twitter.com/BrianSwane/status/1218733889528553473

Andrew Wiggins has his flaws and vices, but he’s proving this year he is a good, sometimes even elite, NBA player.

Honorable Mention: Tristan Thompson

Thompson had a tough week after having such a dominant week last week. He was held scoreless for the first time this season and had another game where he could only muster 4 points. Thompson was also ejected for this weird sequence with former teammate Jae Crowder.

Also had this hilarious stare down of Lebron James after throwing down a huge dunk. Can’t knock the confidence and competitive edge that Thompson has been playing with this season. I would love to see him get traded to a contending team and see if Thompson can return to his 2015 and 2016 NBA finals form.

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