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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Feb 16 to Feb 22

1. Canada Splits Americup Qualifiers

In their first FIBA Americup qualifier, Canada came up victorious against a hungry and talented Dominican Republic squad. Led by Nicholson’s 16 points, Canada handily defeated the Dominican Republic and started the qualifiers off on the right foot.

Andrew Nicholson started out slow but when the second half came around, he was one of the most dominant players on the court. Although his shot wasn’t falling, he feasted in the paint and exploded for 3 thunderous dunks (and a filthy poster dunk). It’s good to see that Nicholson can still compete at a high level at the FIBA level and it makes him all the more important for Victoria this summer.

http://twitter.com/AmeriCup/status/1231042963234488321

Phil Scrubb also chipped in with 14 points and Kaza Kajami-Keane continues to impress me with his play. Played the role of the floor general and dished out a game high 8 assists. Keane also was also ultra efficient shooting 5-8 from the field for 12 points. From an afterthought a couple years ago, Keane has developed into a solid FIBA point guard and has all but locked down the a starting role for team Canada in these types of tournaments.

Also really wanted to highlight Klassen’s effectiveness in this game as a roll man. Had a couple of really nice sequences in the 2nd quarter. On this play Klassen sets a bone crushing screen. Check out Klassen’s ability to catch the ball on the roll and change his shot in midair. Love the fluidity on this play.

Again another sequence where Klassen sets a hard screen on the guard. I really like the spacing in this sequence from Canada and Klassen dives to the rim hard. Bell-Haynes leads him with the pass and Klassen slams it in. This play really shows Klassen’s value as a screener. His screens are like a brick wall and leave the defender so far behind the play. He rolls hard to the rim and more often than not, it ends up with a high percentage look.

One more play where Klassen is involved as the screener. Canada looked like they were trying to run a Spain pick and roll but Kassius Robertson completely misses his screen. Notice does a good job with the quick hesitation move and throws a gorgeous lob to you guessed it Klassen rolling hard to the rim.

In the second qualifiers, Canada fell to the Dominican Republic in OT in an entertaining back and forth game. The hostile Dominican Republic crowd definitely was a factor in the game and Nicholson’s cold shooting night didn’t do Canada any favors at all. By the time OT rolled along, 4 of Canada’s best bigs fouled out and leaving Conor Morgan as the lone big on the floor. When all seemed lost, Morgan hit the game tying jumper in the corner as time expired.

Despite the loss against a very strong Dominican Republic squad , Scrubb was lighting it up. Dropped 26 points and Canada also got strong games from Best and Kajami-Keane. All three of them have become cornerstones in the depth of Canada’s national program and continue to play well in these types of games.

In the short time head coach Gordie Herbert had with these guys, he was able to get them to play together as a team at a high level. I really liked some of the sets that Herbert ran on the offensive end in this game and loved how Canada was pushing the pace every change they got. It’s only been two games, but Herbert looks like an excellent coaching option when Nick Nurse is preoccupied.

Obviously losing any game, especially to a fellow Americas region team, hurts. Canada’s lowly FIBA ranking is going to stay in the 20s until we’re able to start taking care of business at all levels of competition, from the World Cup to the Olympics to the Americup. We have the depth and we’re now starting to foster the chemistry between guys to be consistent from tournament to tournament.

Power Rankings

        1. Jamal Murray 

All doubts that the all-star break would ruin the groove Murray was in can be put to rest. He picked up right where he left off after returning from injury and continues to shoot the lights out. In his past three games, Murray’s averaging 26.3 points on 51.6 FG%. In that span he’s also averaging close to 7 assists per game.

Murray’s scoring this year has changed dramatically. A career high 55.6% of his points this season have come as 2PT shots and he’s also attempting the most 2PT FGA of his career (at 65.4%). His %PTS off  of midrange jumpers has skyrocketed to 19.1% while his %PTS off of 3-pointers has plummeted to a career low 28.7%. Murray is having an uncharacteristically poor shooting year from three (he’s at a career low 33.4% on 4.2 attempts per game). If his threes start falling they have for the past two seasons, Murray could easily reach 20+ points per game.

Another interesting development is Murray’s %FGM that were unassisted. He’s at a career high 48.2% and yet he’s still recording his second best season in terms of EFG% and TS%.

Unfortunately, Murray cannot catch a break this season on the injury front. Just keeps getting hurt right after he recovers from a previous ailment. He’s played through so many injuries this season and I really applaud the “Murray Mentality” and strength he’s shown. However, as a Canadian basketball fan, all these little nagging injuries are beginning to worry me. At this rate, Murray’s going to be really banged up by the end of the year and it could keep him sidelined this summer. Here’s hoping (and knocking on wood) that Murray can begin to turn a corner on injuries and stay healthy for the rest of the year.

        2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai came really close this week to notching his second career triple double after a 11-9-9 effort in a win against the Denver Nuggets. Again his breakout season continues and OKC is solidifying itself as a playoff lock thanks in part to Shai’s development.

Shai’s slippery game has really allowed to blossom into a star. He’s still top 10 in the league in drivers per game at 16.3. And when he gets to the rim Shai is shooting an insane 56.2%.

That slipper nature of Shai is on full display here in this sequence. Against an elite perimeter defender in Gary Harris, Shai’s body control and elite change of pace leaves Gary Harris out of position from the beginning. Love the use of the body to shield the layup attempt. When Shai gets that close to the rim, his touch and finesse really shine and he’s really hard to stop, even from some difficult angles.

        3. Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins’s start in Golden State has been exciting for those still defiantly living on Wiggins Island. The defensive effort, the hustle and the efficient offense has been welcome signs to see for fans in the bay. I think the following sequence and comments from Minnesota Timberwolves beat writer Jon Krawczynski is really telling about Wiggins so far as a Warrior.

And Wiggins has been running the floor much harder in Golden State. Really making an effort to get out in transition that reminds me of his days in Kansas.

Much has been made of Wiggins’s defensive shortcomings in the past. While he’s never been the strongest off ball defender, the Warrior’s defensive system should help alleviate some of his weaknesses in that department. However, Wiggins has always been a good borderline-great on ball defender. In his first 4 games as a Warrior, Wiggins has 8 steals and 7 blocks! That production on the defensive end is absurd for Wiggins. Before arriving in San Francisco, Wiggins recorded 8 steals in his last 11 games and 7 blocks in his last 15 games in Minnesota.

Watching Wiggins be so engaged on the defensive end has been a sight to see. On this sequence, Wiggins does an excellent job moving his feet and staying with Booker. Love that he doesn’t bite on the shot fake and blocks the shot.

While the effort’s been better the last 4 games, Wiggins still relapses to his lackadaisical stretches. On this play, Wiggins starts out the defensive possession already behind the play. I like the sprint to contest the Robinson three. However, after the ball gets swung around Wiggins just gives up on the contest on Olynyk. He probably wasn’t going to get there in time, but it’s these types of plays that are frustrating. After watching the Raptors defensive rotations and hustle all season, it really stands out when other players don’t give 100% on that end and fly around the perimeter.

4. Brandon Clarke

No doubt the best Canadian rookie of this year’s class, Clarke continues his fantastic year. He had a real breakout game after dropping a career high tying 27 points to go along with 6 rebounds in a big win against the Trailblazers. Clarke was a +21 and was a jolt of energy into the Grizzlies rotation.

He followed up that huge outing with back to back double digit rebound games (and in one game he grabbed 8 offensive rebounds!). It was just the 5th and 6th time that Clarke has reached 10+ rebounds in the game and its a part of his game that trending up. Love the way he seeks out Whiteside to box out on this play. May get away with a little of a push but Clarke is beginning to adapt to the physicality of the NBA. For all the worries about his slender frame, Clarke is actively seeking out contact now.

Clarke’s rim protection has always been elite. He’s currently 6th among rookies in BLK% at 31.3% and players are shooting 54.5% at the rim when defended by Clarke. It’s easy to see why Clarke is such a good defender. His agility, athleticism and timing make him an elite rim protector. You can see his defense at the rim on full display here. Does an excellent job of contesting Carmelo’s shots not once but twice. He gets up so quickly on that second jump. The way Clarke is able to explode off the floor really is unlike anyone in the league at his size, save for Zion, whose in a league of his own.

With the Grizzlies and Pelicans fighting for the last playoff spot (along with the Spurs and Trailblazers), it’ll be interesting to see who gets in. The Grizzlies and Pelicans have a big home and home series later in March and one key matchup is going to be Zion Williamson vs Brandon Clarke. Williamson definitely has the strength advantage, but it’ll be interesting to see how these two athletic marvels play against each other and how it could decide the playoff hopes of their respective teams.

5. Tristan Thompson

After a rough stretch of games and Drummond arriving in Cleveland, it looked like Thompson’s production was going to plummet in the second half of the season. With his camp’s unwillingness to get a buyout, it seemed like Thompson was going to be stuck coming off the bench for the rest of the year.

However, while Thompson has come off the bench, he has had a brief resurgence over the past 2 weeks. He’s reached double figures in scoring in 3 of the past 4 games (including a 27 point outing) and recorded two double doubles. He’s now averaging a double double on the season for the second consecutive season.

The Cavs have been using Thompson as the initiator on offense. In this role he gets the ball at the top of the key or on the block. He’s become much more assertive this year at attacking the basket and its good to see his offensive game expanding.

Side note, I have no idea why the Cavs are playing Drummond and Thompson together on the floor. Absolutely no shooting from the two bigs and they really are redundant players. Maybe its just a case where both guys deserve to get minutes, but it is still puzzling.

Honourable Mention: Luguentz Dort 

Dort is still on his two way contract and OKC is set out on squeezing every last day out of the 45 days he’s allowed to be with the team. It’s been so extreme that Dort has not been practicing with the Thunder. Instead he just watches film at home and has one-on-one private sessions with coaches (which don’t count towards his day limit in the NBA). And yet, he continues to start for the Thunder and makes a big impact whenever he’s on the floor.

Dort plays with absolutely no fear on the court and is human wrecking ball on both ends of the floor. I covered his defense a couple of weeks ago and his offense is beginning to round into form. Dort is 9th among rookies in terms of defensive win shares and 8th in terms of defensive rating.

At this point in their respective careers, I think I would rather have Dort than Barrett on this year’s team in Victoria. Barrett is a high volume inefficient scorer with good defense and the occasional dose of good playmaking. With Canada securing commitments from guys like Murray, Shai and Brooks, RJ’s scoring won’t be as much of a need. However, you can never have enough guys who play with Dort’s tenacity and motor on the defensive end. He probably is already Canada’s best perimeter defender, especially considering his versatility. Dort won’t be a ball stopper on offense and we’ve already seen what Nurse can do with a team full of strong defenders.

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