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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Jan 19th to 25th

1. A Tribute to Kobe Bryant

“Be Legendary” – Kobe Bryant

Few athletes have ever been able to be so influential in not only their own sport, but also on everyday culture. Few athletes have been so iconic that they transcend the sport they play and even the nations they play in.  Few athletes have been able to say that they changed their sport for the better by the end of their careers. They are our heroes when we are children and grow into our role models as we mature into adulthood. Kobe Bryant was such an iconic athlete for the game of basketball. He was a cultural icon both on and off the court for me and millions across the world.

I remember the first time I got to watch Kobe Bryant play in the NBA. I was a wide-eyed 7-year old kid who, by chance, changed the TV channel to the 2008 NBA finals. I loved the free flowing nature of basketball and the high scoring games. I was fascinated and excited by the trio of Pierce, Allen and Garnett. But most of all, I was mesmerized by Kobe Bean Bryant. He dazzled like no other athlete I had ever seen before. It was like an aura was around his silhouette as he ran up and down the court and every time he got the ball, he would do something magical with it. From then on I fell in love with the game of basketball and everything it had to offer.

Over the next few years, I grew to become a fanatic of the Toronto Raptors. I watched as many Raptor games as I could and I played basketball whenever I had free time. I spent hours and hours binge watching games from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s on YouTube. When my family could not afford cable TV, I lay on my bed listening to Paul Jones and Eric Smith call Raptor games live on the radio. And every time the Raptors would face off against the Lakers, Kobe would make something special happen. Although I was too young for it, I learned off his 81 point outburst against the Raptors in ’06. I witnessed as he literally carried the Lakers to a victory against the Raptors in 2013 after hitting contested three after contested three. I had never seen a player take over a game like that live and despite it being against my favourite team, I felt a sense of excitement and glee that only these type of moments can bring. After all, the NBA is where amazing happens.

Though I was never the biggest Kobe fan (mainly because of the agony he caused Raptors fans like myself over the years), I always respected him as one of the all-time greats the league has ever seen. I watched as Kobe came back from the lowest of the lows to rattle off back to back championships. I watched his determination as he shot two free throws with a torn Achilles. I watched as he checked out of his last all star game in Toronto. I watched with tears in my eyes as he dropped 60 points in his last game of his career at the Staples Center. I watched as he dropped the mic and announced “Mamba Out”.

When Kobe retired, he became a successful businessman and even won an Academy Award for his touching short film “Dear Basketball”. To me, he was always an artist with the ball in his hands and his Oscar proved he was so much more than just a basketball player. By all accounts he was a loving father and I began to watch the videos of Gianna Bryant hooping. I remember the joy I felt as I saw the nuances of Kobe in her game. It was like rediscovering Kobe Bryant and basketball for the first time. The news of her passing made the tragedy so much more heartbreaking for me. She had a whole life in front of her, one that surely would’ve have made her father and mother proud. She was ready to inspire a generation of kids and adults alike just like her father had done before her.

http://twitter.com/overtime/status/1221586999989149697

Kobe was the one that made me fall in love with the game of basketball. At this point in my life, I honestly could not even fathom a reality where basketball was not a part of it. It’s become so important to me and has become intertwined with my identity.

Kobe made me dream of hitting the buzzer beating shots and then celebrate with the Mamba snarl and clenched fist. He made me want to fadeaway and scream “Kobe” on every shot. whether it was with a basketball or a crumpled piece of paper.

He taught me what it meant to have the heart of a champion and the competitive fire of a warrior. He gave me the Mamba Mentality and taught me what hard work truly looked like. For someone was always larger than life, he showed me that the smallest things in life are often where we find the most joy and happiness. And for all the lessons, dream and memories you’ve given me in my life, I say, THANK YOU KOBE.

My heart and all my prayers go out to all the families affected by the heartbreaking tragedy. I can only imagine the pain they are all going through. May their loved ones all rest in peace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_Ej9hWha3A

2. The Implications of Dwight Powell’s Injury

As your’re probably quite aware, Dwight Powell went down with a ruptured Achilles this week. It was a devastating injury for Powell who had just begun to round into form (he cracked the top 5 power rankings for the first time this season) and its left the Mavericks scrambling for another big (they just traded for Willie Cauley-Stein this past week). And with Powell’s injury, a similar void has been placed on Team Canada’s potential roster this summer.

With Tristan Thompson set to enter free agency this summer and Kelly Olynyk’s uncertain contract situation in Miami, Canada’s bigmen rotation was already quite thin. However, with verbal commitments from Birch, Powell and Boucher, it seemed like maybe Canada could make do without their two best bigs. With Powell’s season ending injury, the roster’s uncertainty has only become intensified.

So who are some potential replacements for Powell? Well for one I think its important to mention that with the way things stand right now, Birch and Boucher are going to be key members of the team in Victoria. Even Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs who verbally committed a couple months ago would be another big body that Canada desperately needs (by the way Lyles has become an excellent rebounder this season, though his offense has fallen off a cliff). Another key player to get would be Brandon Clarke. I imagine that when the Grizzlies are in town, the media is going to ask him about his commitment this summer. While he did say he would love to represent Canada during the draft process last season, Clarke has not said anything so far this season. Clarke’s offensive efficiency and defensive activity would give Nurse some much needed flexibility from the 4/5 position.

Looking to Europe, Powell’s injury means Kyle Wiltjer’s chances of making this team are much better. While his defense is atrocious, his shooting and overall offensive prowess would give the team consistent secondary scoring. Wiltjer’s one of those guys that can get hot and completely change a game with his shooting. His ability to space the floor would open up so much space for guys like Shai and Murray to attack. At the World Cup this summer, Wiltjer averaged a team high 16.4 points per game on a sizzling 41.7% from three (on 7.2 attempts per game)!

Beyond those guys I think Canada has to give Oshae Brissett, Mifondu Kabengele and Kyle Alexander a look. All three have been playing extremely well in the G league and Alexander recently just signed a two-way contract with the Heat. Though their all young and inexperienced (especially when it comes to FIBA), they could be an option as the 5th big (if Canada decides to carry that many).

3. Luguentz Dort’s Elite Defence

Luguentz Dort got his first start of his career this week and boy did he take advantage of it. In his 4 starts this week, Dort has been tasked with defending the team’s best perimeter scorer. In those games, OKC is 4-0!. If Rockets, Magic, Hawks and Timberwolves fans didn’t know before, they definitely will be having nightmares of Dort clamping up their primary scorers now.

I first got the opportunity to watch Dort play at the inaugural Signature All-Canadian Showcase in April of 2018. I was blown away by his strength and athleticism. I mean there were times where he would drive into the lane and barrel past three defenders en route to a layup. He looked like the second best player on the court after RJ Barrett and ever since then I’ve been keeping a close eye on him.

In the early stages of his career, Dort has been making a name for himself on defense as a tenacious and physical defender. He uses his stocky frame and quick feet to keep even the best offensive players in front of him. Just look at the defensive possession where he stays with Harden until the tail end of the possession. Watch how he move his feet with every Harden counter move and keeps a hand in the hair in case Harden shoots it. Though he does eventually get beat, Dort’s defensive effort eats up so much time off the shot clock that the Rockets are forced to hoist a bad shot up.

Another incredible defensive sequence from Dort. With under 2 minutes to play in such a closely contest game, Dort navigates around the Capela screen hustles back into position and takes a clutch charge against James Harden. Just some special stuff from Dort.

Once again anther excellent defensive possession from Dort. Shuffles his feet and turns his hips with the Mitchell spin move and forces a contested floater. I love how Dort was able to play so up on Mitchell, one of the quickest guards in the league, be physical without fouling and still have the footspeed to stay with Mitchell on the drive. Very few NBA defenders are on this level and Dort is already there in his rookie year.

Dort is a dog on the defensive end and his hustle has made him a rotational player for Billy Donovan and the Thunder. Watch as he sprints after Napier and then dives for a ball he has no business getting his hands on. This was from Dort’s debut in the NBA and it has really set the tone for him as a contributor for a playoff team.

If you take a look at the numbers Dort’s defence looks that much better. He’s currently sitting at a whopping +5.6 in terms of overall Def RAPTOR!. Oh and check out his opponent’s shooting numbers when defended by Dort this year. Quite the list of scorers that Dort has contained or shut down.

Power Rankings

        1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

While the scoring has cooled down, Shai’s rebounding numbers were off the chart this past week. He grabbed at least 7 boards in two of the four games this week and reached double digits in rebounds twice. All season long he’s only reached 10+ rebounds three times, so this is definitely a big deal for Shai. Even when his shot is not falling and he’s not scoring, he’s still finding ways to contribute to the team.

I talked briefly last week about how Shai’s added strength and muscle from the offseason has done wonders for his development this season. In college, Shai was very skin standing at 6’6” and weighing just 180 pounds (he’s still listed at this but I doubt it’s accurate). Watch as he gets shoved out of the way so easily at the end of this drive. You can see how even in college, Shai would be pushed around a little too easily.

However, fast forward to this season and Shai is doing this to grown men in the NBA.

        2. Dillon Brooks 

With Jamal Murray still sidelined with an ankle injury and guys like Wiggins and Thompson struggling, Dillon Brooks has reached his season high in these power rankings. And with the way he started the week, he was a real competitor for the top spot.

In the first game of the week, Dillon Brooks came out guns blazing and dropped an absurd 31 points 12-25 shooting. I repeat Brooks took 25 shots in a game! And unfortunately the Grizzlies finally lost a game when Brooks scores 20+. Oh well, at least he gave us this ridiculous deep shot with 12 seconds left on the shot clock. One thing Brooks never lacks is confidence.

While this is clearly not the shot you want to be generating in an offensive system, when Brooks has been as hot as he’s been over the past couple weeks, I guess you just shrug it off.

Brooks followed up his scoring explosion with a 6-point dud. But in typical icy-hot Brooks fashion he came right back and dropped 27 points en route to another Memphis victory.

3. Andrew Wiggins

As the Timberwolves continue to lose games, Wiggins continues his improved season. His scoring was actually decently efficient this week as he averaged 22.5 points per game on 47.9% from the field and 34.3% from three. Again Wiggins’s efficiency numbers are never going to blow you away, but at least its better than the previous few seasons.

Just want to highlight a really good defensive stop from Wiggins in a game this past week. Matched up against James Harden, Wiggins is able to stand his ground and actually stay with Harden throughout his dribble combo. Great job to move his feet and force this weird looking shot. If only Wiggins could play like this on the defensive end more consistently.

4. Kelly Olynyk

Guess who’s back into the Heat rotation. After getting completely pulled from the Heat rotation, Spoelstra has given Olynyk minutes again. This past week, Olynyk has logged more than 18 minutes in three of the four games, which is the most he’s played since December 20th, over a full month ago.

Olynyk has taken full advantage of the extended playing time and his play is trending upwards for the first time in a long time. In his most recent game (where he played 22 minutes), Olynyk dropped 19 points to go along with 9 rebounds on 6-11 shooting. He was a +6 in the game and along with Dion Waiters (another guy who has barely played this season) gave the Heat a huge lift off the bench. Olynyk even played in crunch time as the Heat made a final push against the Clippers.

One of the problems with Olynyk’s game this season is he’s fallen in love with taking off balance three point shots. Though he’s a good shooter, off balanced contested threes is a one way ticket to the bench and Olynyk has experienced this first hand. Rather, I think Olynyk is so much more effective when he’s able to keep defenses honest and use his ball handling to attack the rim. Love the deceleration on the drive here and the tough finish in the paint. If Olynyk is able to keep being aggressive and not settle, he’s going to quickly find himself back in the Heat’s rotation, and this time for good.

  5. Brandon Clarke

After a couple weeks off the list, Brandon Clarke has returned to the power rankings. After struggling in the first two games of the week, Clarke bounced back with a huge double double performance. It’s just his 3rd double double of the year, although this may be due to the fact he’s almost always on the floor with another big (either JV or JJJ)

And in case you forgot, Brandon Clarke’s vertical is among the best in the league. This alley-oop flush made my jaw drop. Clarke and Anderson have been developing some chemistry as the season has progressed and this sequence is a great example of it.

Honorable Mention: Tristan Thompson

Thompson desperately needs a change of scenery and he could be a key contributor on a playoff contender with his defense and offensive rebounding. Unfortunately, until then Canadian basketball fans are going to have to deal with a Thompson who is not nearly as motivated as he once was in his career. At least he had this historic outing this week.

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