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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Feb 23 to Feb 29

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Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

1. Trey Lyles’s Transition into a Catch and Shoot 3pt Shooter

Trey Lyles, the former lottery pick, has slowly disappeared from media attention as he’s had a disappointing start to his NBA career. Once hailed as a sure fire prospect, Lyles just hasn’t been able to develop and reach his potential. After spending a couple seasons in an inconsistent role in Denver, Lyles signed a 2 year $11 million deal with the Spurs. San Antonio is one of the best organizations in all of sports and Lyles signing with a team like the Spurs is the best thing for his career at this point.

In his first season with the Spurs, Lyles’s game has changed dramatically. While his defense still leads a lot to be desired, it’s the rest of his game that has shocked me. Offensively, Lyles’s game has plummeted in production. Part of this is due to a much smaller offensive role in San Antonio as he’s averaging career lows in USG% at 13.2% and PPG at 5.5. Lyles is also taking the fewest shots per game in his career. You would think the significant drop in production was due to Lyles losing playing time. However, the opposite is true. Lyles is playing the second most MPG of his career and has already set a career high in starts in a season.

In addition, I wrote a couple weeks ago about Lyles’s development as a rebounder with the Spurs. His rebounding numbers have soared to career highs in ORB%, DRB% and TRB%. It’s honestly extremely surprising to see Lyles be so active on the boards. It just was never part of his game.

What I really wanted to talk about is Lyles 3pt shooting this season. Even though he’s only shooting 2.4 attempts behind the line per game, Lyles is shooting 36.6% from three, the 3rd best mark of his career. All of his 3pt attempts come almost exclusively as catch and shoot shots, and I found it remarkable that 100% of his 3 point makes were assisted this season. 40.3% of Lyles’s shot attempts have come as 3pt shots and 36.8% of them have come with 0 dribbles. Coming out of college, Lyles’s polished offensive game was one of his strengths. It’s crazy to see how much his game has changed from then.

Lyles is also lethal from the corner this season. He’s shooting 44.7% from the corners even though only 28.4% of his attempts come from the corner. If San Antonio can find more ways to get Lyles to space the floor and fill to the corner, his 3pt shooting could be more of an offensive weapon, in terms of points on the board and creating space for guys like Murray and DeRozan to operate.

This sequence really highlights the extent of Lyles’s offensive game this season. Aside from a couple drives to the baskets after being run off the line, he floats around the perimeter and waits for a catch and shoot three. Here Lyles moves a couple of steps along the 3pt line and takes the catch and shoot three when he gets the pass from DeRozan.

https://streamable.com/78i11

Again another offensive set where Lyles shuffles his feet for a good chunk of the offensive possession. When he catches the ball, Lyles has no hesitation and lets it go from downtown.

https://streamable.com/j88em

One more play where Lyles is barely involved in the offense until the end, where he shoots a catch and shoot three. This new version of Lyles is still a decent role player who can provide production from deep and on the boards.

https://streamable.com/12xx1

If Lyles can be this low usage on offense and provide his production on the boards, he could fit in perfectly on team Canada this summer. We have the guys to shoulder the offensive load in Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander and to an extent Brooks and we’ll need a group of players who know their roles and excel in them.

 

2. USports Final 8

Thus far in the Canadian Roundup, I haven’t really talked about USports, the Canadian University basketball league. While the overall talent in the league is lesser compared to most NCAA Div 1 programs, it’s a league that is growing rapidly. The USports Final 8 (the equivalent to March Madness tournament) is set to tip off Friday, March 5th in the nation’s capital.

http://twitter.com/USPORTSca/status/1234267624768524289

In the USports league, there are 4 conferences, the OUA (Ontario University Athletics), AUS (Atlantic University Sport), CW (Canada West Universities Athletic Association) and RSEQ ( Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec). Much like the NCAA March Madness tournament, each conference has their conference championship tournament beforehand and the champion gets an automatic birth to the Final 8. The teams in

In this year’s tournament, while Carleton is the clear favourite (they have the #1 offense and #1 defense in the country, there are some interesting surprises and storylines to talk about. First and foremost is the 1 vs 8 matchup in the quarterfinals. Two heavyweights in the Carleton Ravens (21-1) and the Calgary Dinos (18-2) collide in a rematch of last year’s championship. Calgary had another dominant season before being upset by the UBC Thunderbirds in the CW championship. And while possibly two of the best teams in the nation are squaring off in the first round, it seems UBC lucked out thanks to the selection committee. After being awarded the 3rd seed in the tournament (all thanks to their CW Championship), they will face off the 8-8 Bishop’s Gaiters (the RSEQ champions). The USports rule is that the conference championship must be seeded no lower than the 6th seed. Still though, it feels wrong that the #1 seed in the country has to play quite possible the 2nd best team in the nation while lower seeds are given lesser opponents.

And for the first time in history, the Women’s Final 8 will be hosted jointly in Ottawa this year. With Canada SWNT head coach Lisa Thomaidis leading the Saskatchewan Huskies to the 1st seed, they are the favourites to win it all. They are just in a class of their own, much like Carleton on the men’s side.

It’s an exciting time for basketball in Canada and the Usports Final 8 should only build on that momentum. Definitely will be worth to check out this weekend and see some of the best domestic collegiate talent in our country.

Power Rankings

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai reclaims the top spot in this week’s power rankings after a strong showing this week. The Thunder have been one of the hottest teams in the league and are all of a sudden 1 game behind the Utah Jazz for the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Coming into the season, if you told anyone OKC was going to be comfortably in a playoff spot, people would think you were joking or just insane. And yet, here we are. Under the tutelage of CP3, Shai has blossomed into a fantastic player and the rest of the team has stepped up. From Schroder, Adams, Ferguson, Gallinari and the emergence of Luguentz Dort, OKC ‘s “rebuild” is light years ahead of where they’re supposed to be.

Shai’s offensive production remains incredible this season. In 3 of 4 games this week, Shai reached 20+ points while shooting over 52.5% from the field over those three games. In addition, Shai’s 3pt shooting is trending upwards. In the month of February he’s shooting 40.5% from three on nearly 4 attempts per game. He’s also shooting a blistering 44.8% from corner threes this season. Shai’s development as a shooter, despite his wonky shot mechanics, has opened his game and raised his ceiling. He can get to the rim almost at ease and if he adds a consistent jumper off the dribble, we could be looking at the first perennial Canadian all-star since Steve Nash.

2. Jamal Murray 

A decent showing from Jamal last week has him coming in at the 2nd spot in this week’s power rankings. In the first two games of the week, Murray played pretty well as the Nuggets continued to rack up wins. But like the rest of the team, Murray really struggled against the Clippers on Feb 28th.

Murray was scorching in February and really showed some improvement and development in his game. In the month of Februrary, Murray averaged 23.6 PPG on 53.9% FG% and 40.7% from three (which is a good sign considering his struggles shooting the three ball this year). He also chipped in with 5.7 assists per game over this stretch and really began to become a better facilitator. If last month was any indication of Murray’s future game, Canada will be in good hands for years to come.

Also, I found this twitter thread really interesting. Adam Fromal looked at some of the guys who dribble and pass the ball a lot but get to the free throw line at an extremely low rate. What really surprises me is Jamal Murray being on the list.

Murray only gets to the line 3.3 times a game, which is really low for a guy whose scoring is the biggest strength of their game. I’m starting to think this lack of “easy buckets” is the reason Murray’s been so inconsistent scoring this season. When his shot isn’t falling he can’t rely on picking up points at the charity stripe and instead is forced to keep taking more field goals. Murray’s 3.3 FTA are a career high so watch to see if this number continues to grow over the next few months and seasons. Getting his free throw trips up would increase Murray’s scoring output and consistency.

3. Dillon Brooks

After an extremely rough couple of weeks, Dillon Brooks’s play this week perfectly encapsulated his Jekyll and Hyde nature. After shooting 1-7 in a poor 4-point outing, Brooks responded with three straight 20+point games.

Brooks really struggled in his previous nine games before this week (coincidentally came after he signed his contract extension). He took 13.7 FG per game in those 9 games and shot a horrendous 28.5% from the field, 58.8% from the free throw line and 17.5% from three. Brooks has always been an inconsistent and volatile scorer but those 9 games were turning really ugly.

Here’s another clip you can add to the Dillon Brooks poor shot selection. The offense completely comes to a standstill for Brooks’s iso and he takes this step back mid-range jumper with 8 seconds left on the clock. He hits this shot but it’s not something you can rely on, especially from Dillon Brooks.

https://streamable.com/46mba

4. Andrew Wiggins

Rough week for Wiggins scoring the ball but I love that he continues to contribute in other areas of the game. Wiggins has been much more active on the defensive end with the Warriors and it really shows. He had a 3 steal, 2 block outing outing and is already become a more impactful defender. Wiggins has now recorded at least 1 block and 1 steal in 5 out of his first 7 games as a Warrior.

Since the all star break, Wiggins has struggled shooting the ball. He’s taking 16.8(!) shots per game and hitting on just 37.3% of them. He also shooting a disastrous 18.8% from three over the stretch. It’s been really tough to watch Wiggins on the offensive end lately. Maybe the return of Steph Curry can help get Wiggins some easier shots and get back in rhythm.

5. Tristan Thompson

With Drummond sidelined for 2 games this week, Thompson regained his starting role and continues his productive season.

He’s now at 25 double doubles on the season, the highest mark since his 3rd season in the NBA. It’s going to be a huge offseason for Thompson. At this point of his career, it could be his last chance to get a big contract and I definitely could see him leaving Cleveland for a playoff contender. It’s a shame he didn’t get a buyout because Thompson would have been so effective for playoff teams in need of another big (Celtics, Clippers, etc.).

Honourable Mention: Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk has finally made his way back into the power rankings. It’s been a disappointing season for Olynyk to say the least, though it seems Olynyk may be turning a corner, at just the right time.

This week, Olynyk was re-inserted into the starting lineup, albeit for just 2 games. Still after falling out of the rotation for a couple of games, it’s good to see Olynyk finding a more consistent role with the Heat now. Also, Olynyk very nearly recorded a triple double off the bench with a 13-9-7 outing against the Mavs.

Olynyk is now up to 42.0% shooting from three on the season on 3.3 attempts per game, a dramatic increase from the last few seasons (just the second time in his career he’s shooting over 40% from deep).

This sequence perfectly showcases why Olynyk is undoubtedly the best FIBA Canadian big man. The versatility and confidence to go from a dribble handoff to calling his own number and driving to the basket in the 4th quarter is just something that no other Canadian big can offer. Olynyk significantly raises the ceiling of team Canada in Victoria and a potential medal run in Tokyo this summer.

https://streamable.com/mqum3

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