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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Feb 2 to Feb 8

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Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

1. Dillon Brooks 3-year $35 Million Extension

As we inch ever more closely to June, the uncertainty around team Canada’s roster this summer is still rampant. However, one of the bigger question marks surrounding the roster this summer was answered this week.

Dillon Brooks, who has been playing out of his mind over the past month, did verbally commit early on at the beginning of the season. Despite his strong verbal commitment, with his upcoming free agency status, it was unlikely that Brooks would play and risk losing so much money, no matter how much he said he wanted to play.

Out of nowhere, when everyone was scouring the internet for trade deadline rumours, Woj tweeted the best news any Canadian basketball fan could hear.

In all honesty, I was skeptical that an extension would be completed before the tournament started this summer. After all, there had been no rumours of any contract talks between Brooks and the Grizzlies and I was almost certain that Brooks would test the open market after his stellar play over the past month. Even the dollar amount seemed a little low compared to what people were expecting Brooks to command.

Whatever it was that got this deal done so early, the implication for team Canada are immense. Brooks has quickly established himself as a top 5 Canadian in the NBA this season and he would undoubtedly be the best wing player on the team (unless a Mr. Wiggins decides to show up). Like I said last week in the power rankings, Brooks’s 39.4% shooting from three on 5.3 attempts a game is going to be vital for Canada’s spacing. Although I hope he reels in his shot selection when the summer comes, there’s no doubt that Brooks is a huge addition for Canada.

 

2. Andrew Wiggins- D’Angelo Russell Blockbuster

After I was pining for a new change of scenery for Wiggins last week, it seemed like the basketball gods listened. The Timberwolves continued their firesale during the deadline by engaging in the biggest deal of the day, parting ways with Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 protected first-round draft pick and a 2021 second-round pick in exchange for their crown jewel in D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans. There were rumours swirling since last summer of the Timberwolves interest in bringing Russell to Minnesota and I was honestly shocked it actually happened.

For Andrew Wiggins, this is the dream scenario. He’s now on a team with a championship culture, coached by a basketball savant and surrounded by stars to take pressure off of him. He no longer has to carry the offense of the team and instead can play within a proven system. Curry and Thompson’s ability to play off the ball will mean Wiggins will still get ample opportunity to score and I truly believe he’s going to fit right in with the Warriors fast pace, high octane offense.

As Steve Kerr said this week, Wiggins fills a positional need on the wing for the Warriors, one they needed to fill after Durant’s departure. While Wiggins is nowhere close the player Durant is, his athleticism, and natural ability to score the ball will give Kerr another element to add to their vaunted offense next season.

I’m just imagining what Wiggins will be able to do with so much space opened up for him. On this drive 4 out of 5 defenders are clogging up the paint and George (the lone defender not in paint), is a step away from entering the painted area. With so much defensive attention, Wiggins gets swallowed up and gets his shot blocked. Notice how the Clippers are content with leaving two Timberwolves wide open behind the line. With the Warriors personnel, you just cannot do this and the paint will be open season for Wiggins to attack

Another example of teams loading up and sending help when Wiggins blows by his defender and attacks the basket. I mean he has a triangle of defenders staring right at him while the screen is being set. In Minnesota, these drives were consistently met with help defense and without the shooting that Golden State has, Wiggins was unable to punish defenses for over helping.

He’s already 17th in the league at 14.7 drives per game and I’m expecting this number to jump next season when the Warriors get healthy again. And if you think Wiggins cannot make passes out of his drives, boy will you be in for a rude awakening. While he’s not the flashiest or most creative passer and he does sometimes miss windows for passing opportunities, Wiggins has developed into a pretty good passer when he’s on the move. He’s averaging a career high 3.7 assists per game and I also expect this number to increase in the Warriors system. He had this gorgeous feed to KAT early on in the season.

He’s also become quite adept at throwing these skip passes to the opposite corner when teams help from the weakside. Right on the money and I can already picture Wiggins feeding Klay and Steph  wide open corner threes on his drives.

And who knows, maybe Draymond Green will be able to get Wiggins to start playing defense at a high level on a consistent basis. He’s no longer a horrible defender, but he does have his frustrating mental lapses. Playing in a defensive system like Golden State with high level defenders like Thompson, Green and Looney should help Wiggins turn a corner. In his Golden State debut, Wiggins played some really good defense and was even tasked with being the primary defender on Lebron James. He’s shown these types of flashes before, there’s just new hope that a franchise like Golden State will be able to squeeze every last drop of potential out of Wiggins.

One final underrated aspect of Wiggins’s game that fits perfectly with Golden State is his cutting ability. He’s currently at 1.53 PPP on cuts to the basket, putting him in the 86.3 percentile. This is really where his athleticism shines and Kerr’s offense is filled with off ball screens and back door cut sequences. Wiggins ran a cut just 5.6% of the time, another number that will surely go up when he suits up in the Bay.

I could definitely see Wiggins in Thompson’s position here on a hard backdoor cut. Thompson has had only one season above 70th percentile in points off of cuts and with Wiggins’s athleticism, this should be easy buckets for the Warriors. Before the arrival of Durant, the Warriors had some of the most active and beautiful off ball sequences. Getting Wiggins to utilize his athleticism and actually move without the ball (and stay engaged in the offense) could be the key to unlocking his potential and impact.

Golden State seems like the perfect opportunity for Wiggins to put behind his frustrating past in Minnesota. The Warriors seem to believe in Wiggins and it’s time for Wiggins to show how good he can really be. Because if it doesn’t click here, I doubt it clicks anywhere for Wiggins.

 

3. Women’s National Team Books Ticket to Tokyo

If you weren’t paying attention last week, you probably missed out on the Canadian women competing in the Olympic qualifying tournament. The Canadians, who looked great throughout the tournament, went a perfect 3-0, defeating Belgium (9th in FIBA rankings), Sweden (22nd in FIBA rankings) and Japan (10th in FIBA rankings).

Heading into the tournament, the 4th ranked Canadians were definitely the favourites, but punching a ticket to Tokyo 2020 was by no means a certainty. Led by WNBA star Kia Nurse, rising star Bridget Carleton and vets in Natalie Achonwa and Miranda Ayim, Canada once again proved to the world that they are a legit medal contender at this year’s Olympics. Belgium and Japan are very strong countries in the women’s game and Canada was able to pull out two nail-biting wins over them.

This will be head coach Lisa Thomaidis’s 3rd time at the Olympics (twice as a head coach) and she’s really done an incredible job building a strong basketball program on the women’s side. The Canadian women have gone to 3 straight Olympics and have been far more successful than their male counterparts.

On a side note, Drake’s OVO brand was unveiled as one of the partners of Canada basketball and the branding even showed up on the official jerseys. Aside from being real nice on the eyes, this is definitely a signal of Drake beginning to work his influence for Canada basketball. Back in 2018, the Raptors and OVO announced they would be investing $3 million in Canada basketball and refurbishing community courts across the country. There’s no question Drake and his brand has upped the “cool” factor of the Raptors among the youth internationally and maybe he can work that magic again, this time growing interest in our national basketball programs.

Power Rankings

        1. Jamal Murray

Since returning from his ankle injury, Jamal Murray has been playing on another level. He dropped 36 points, on 14-17 shooting against the Suns this week, one of the most efficient 30+ outings I’ve seen in my life. In his 3 games back, he’s averaging 29.0 PPG on 61.5% shooting from the field and 56.5% shooting from three. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Murray is playing better than he has been all season. This week marked the first time this year that he’s scored 30+ in back to back games. Murray’s finally hitting his stride and showing signs that he’s made a leap this season, even if it took more than half a season for us to realize.

Also just wanted to highlight his maturing decision making in pick and roll situations. The chemistry that Murray’s developed with Jokic is on another level and sometimes it really does look like the two are telepathically linked. On this sequence, I love the use of the hesitation to move to freeze the help defender. Murray’s patient with the ball and waits to read what Ayton does. Ayton doesn’t want to leave Jokic alone at the perimeter and moves towards the three point line, and Murray takes advantage and darts to the rim. It’s this type of subtle manipulation that you usually see from veteran star guards and Murray’s already begun to show flashes he can do the same thing at such a young age.

        2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai falling a spot on the power rankings has more to do with Murray’s unconscious week rather than his own play. In fact, Shai’s play has begun to trend upwards again after a brief 4-game lull where he failed to reach 20 points. Also, the weekly Shai rebounding report is in and he continues to do well on the boards. Shai reached double digits in rebounds for just the 7th time this season and what’s really been good to see is his three point stroke come back. After making just 6 threes in his last 8 games, Shai made 6 threes in 3 games this week and shot an incredible 50.0% from three. Again, small sample size but Shai’s breakout season continues and I’m here for every part of it.

        3. Andrew Wiggins

Of course the talk about Wiggins this week is centered around the blockbuster deal he was apart of, but he quietly put up a strong week. He had a really good debut with Golden State, defended at a high level and shot the ball with a lot of confidence.

With Wiggins’s inconsistency over the years, I know I can’t get too far ahead of myself (especially since he always plays well against Lebron James). However, Golden State is just a perfect environment for him to succeed and I’m cautiously optimistic for what the future holds.

One untalked about potential consequence of the move is Wiggins now has an excuse to sit out this summer and not suit up for Canada. Wiggins could say he needs the summer to get acquainted with the team in Golden State and leave It’s not a great excuse, but certainly it’ll be the elephant in the room.

        4. Brandon Clarke

Brandon Clarke had a stellar week scoring the ball. Clarke’s first game was pretty bad, but he bounced back with 18 and 11 point outings to finish off the week. The rebounding numbers are a little lower than I would have expected this season, but a lot of that can be attributed to playing alongside other bigs like Valanciunas and JJJ (Clarke’s two most played lineups are alongside them).

I really loved this wrinkle in the Memphis offense. Having Clarke screen for Jackson Jr on the perimeter is a really interesting set. While I never envisioned Jackson Jr. as a great ball handling big, he’s able to make the right read and throw a bounce pass right on the money. And then Clarke elevates and just unleashes at the rim. Clarke’s athleticism on these dunks is jaw-dropping and it really looks like he floats in the air for an extra couple seconds before coming down.

Also, the advanced metrics continue to rate him highly. He’s in the high defensive TPA range and high offensive TPA range, making him one of the most impactful rookies this season. He’s 1st among rookies and 5th overall in the NBA in FG% and 1st among rookies (6th overall) in eFG%. And if that wasn’t enough, Clarke is 1st among rookies in PER with a staggering 21.20 and 1st among rookies in VA (value added) at 160.2. His efficiency continues to blow me away and I really do not understand how he fell to the 21st pick in the draft.

        5. Dillon Brooks

Not the greatest week for Brooks, and it’s really been the first time in over a month that Brooks has had a poor week of basketball. Failed to reach 20 points in any of the games and shot below 47% from the field in all 3 games.

The biggest news for Brooks is that contract extension he signed earlier this week. Makes him available to suit up for Team Canada and fill a gaping hole we have at the wing position. He’s shown this year in Memphis that he can be a vocal leader on and off the court and bringing that type of leadership to the Canadian team would be invaluable for Nurse and the other guys on the team.

Also, Brooks showed that competitive fire in him when he verbally called out Andre Iguodala for purposefully sitting out. Even Ja Morant and Steph Curry got in on the action in a brief twitter beef. All I know is if I’m a Memphis Grizzlies fan, Brooks and Morant have become that much more endearing to me. It’s really a shame that the Grizzlies and Heat don’t play again until next season because there would definitely be some fire works if the two teams met later his year.

       Honourable Mention: Trey Lyles

Trey Lyles makes his first appearance on this power rankings list for the season, and it’s really because of his huge 23 point 10 rebound performance.

Lyles has had a really weird season. He’s attempting a career low 4.7 FG per game and it’s seemed he’s completely lost faith in his jump shot and smooth offensive game we saw from college. And then there’s his improvement on the glass. He’s averaging a career high 5.6 rebounds per game (he’s never even got to 5 rebounds a game in his career) and both his ORB% anad DRB% are at a career high. Whether he’s been told to fill a role in San Antonio or this is really the new Lyles, he’s going to be an important factor for team Canada this summer. Our frontcourt depth is so much thinner than we expected and we’re going to need any talent we can get.

 

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