Canadian Roundup: Summer Core Check-In

Checking in with each member of Canada's Summer Core.

With over half of the NBA season in the books, and the FIBA 2023 World Cup inching closer and closer, it’s the perfect time to catch up and check in with each member of the Core 14. Who has been playing well? Who has been underperforming? Are injuries a concern?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

A breakout season in 2022-2023, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has officially arrived. His scoring this season has been historic and Shai ranks second in the league with 26 30+ point games, behind only Luka Doncic. His elite proficiency from the midrange, free throw line and rim pressure combined with his growing playmaking have turned Shai into one of the league’s best offensive engines. The signs of this leap were evident when he played with the SMNT this summer.

And with his incredible play, the general NBA media has finally paid attention. The Ringer’s top 100 list currently has Shai ranked 14th in the NBA. At this point in the year, it’s no longer a question if Shai will be named an All-Star. Instead, the question should shift to his chances for an All-NBA nomination.

SGA is undoubtedly the face of this cycle’s summer core and future cores should he commit. The roster construction for this World Cup needs to be built to with Shai in mind, amplifying his strengths while covering for his weaknesses. Canada has finally found its superstar once again.

Also, side note I wanted to showcase this pass again because it was truly basketball wizardry.

Jamal Murray

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

In an earlier edition of the Canadian Roundup, I said I was going to be patient with Jamal Murray this season and that has not changed. As the season has come along, he’s been slowly rounding into form. This tweet below is from January 14th, and the overall trend it’s showing has been encouraging. Murray’s Per-36 numbers look about as good as where he was pre-ACL injury with only the shooting efficiency numbers dipping. In fact, he’s taken quite a step forward as a facilitator this year!

It’s hard to tell what’s the main cause of the dip in efficiency for Murray. His drives per game (9.3) this season are slightly up from where they were in 2020-2021 (8.9) and his shot diet remains relatively the same as well (if anything he’s taking more shots from closer distances this year). Perhaps rust or injury management has played a factor, but this is something to keep an eye on.

At Rim3 to <10 ft10ft to < 16 ft16ft to < 3pt 3pt
2020-20212.04 FGA/game (81.6%)2.34 FGA/game (46.5%)2.40 FGA/game (49.6%)3.10 FGA/game (39.6%)6.58 FGA/game (40.8%)
2022-20232.36 FGA/game
2.79 FGA/game
2.00 FGA/game
2.41 FGA/game
5.56 FGA/game

In the month of January (his last 10 games), Jamal has really started to turn it up (20.4/4.9/5.3 on 45.0/48.3/93.8 shooting splits), and even recorded his first career triple double! Things are starting to click for Murray and the top seeded Denver Nuggets.

Kelly Olynyk

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contact Status: Partially Guaranteed For 2023-2024

Kelly Olynyk, whose currently sidelined with an ankle injury, has had a resurgent season with the Utah Jazz. Olynyk’s role on the Jazz has arguably been the largest he’s had in the NBA, especially when only factoring in competitive NBA teams. He’s started every game he’s played in and logged a career high tying 28.5 minutes per game.

Offensively, the return of his elite 3pt shooting (a career high 41.3% from 3 on 3.5 attempts per game) has been a huge reason for his scoring output increases this year. And not only has Olynyk seen his scoring averages increase to 12.2 PPG (the 2nd highest of his career), he’s also been remarkably more efficient this season. Kelly’s 64.7% TS% currently ranks in the 90th percentile (among all players with at least 100 minutes).

On the defensive end, Olynyk doesn’t have the best reputation but his rim defense has been decent this season. He doesn’t block a ton of shots at the rim, but opponents are shooting -2.8% worse at the rim when Olynyk is defending this year, ranking him in the 77th percentile. Utah has him typically guarding opponents’ centers and playing drop coverage on the majority of ball screens, like he does here to wall off Bogdanovic. In FIBA, with the smaller court and increased physicality (Olynyk current leads the league in fouls committed), I would expect Olynyk’s defensive impact to grow.

Kelly Olynyk, with his size and offensive skill is a unique player, whose game translates perfectly to FIBA. To me he’s clearly, at minimum, the 3rd most important player for this edition of Canada’s SMNT. He does have a partially guaranteed contract for 2023-24 ($3,000,000 guaranteed, becomes fully guaranteed on later of 6/28/23 or 3 days before 2023-24 league year), so hopefully he’ll have it all sorted out before the World Cup kicks off.

RJ Barrett

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

Fresh off of signing a 4 year-$107 million contract this season, there are certainly expectations for RJ Barrett to take some major steps forward in his development. After starting the season terribly, he’s slowly picked it up as of late.

The major concern with Barrett thus far in the NBA has been his putrid efficiency scoring the ball. While there are still major concerns, he’s slowly showing some signs of improvement. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still inefficient, but this season he is averaging just as many points as last year (20.1 vs 20.0), on better shooting numbers (48.3 2P%, 32.6 3P%, 75.9 FT%, 53.4 TS% this season compared to 44.2 2P%, 34.2 3P%, 71.4 FT%, 51.1 TS% last year). Progress, no matter how small is still progress.

Barrett is still heavily reliant on finishing with his left hand. I know it, you know it and opposing teams certainly know it. Even when he’s driving right, he’s usually doing it to set up a spin back to his left-hand for the finish.

I’ve hand tracked every single “driving layup” action type from RJ this season just to see how left-hand dominant he is. Out of 134 driving layup shot attempts, Barrett has attempted just 23 with his right hand!

Dillon Brooks

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

It’s a contract year for Dillon Brooks and he has continued to play a key role on an elite Memphis Grizzlies team. You might be wondering, how does the contract situation affect Brooks’s availability for the World Cup? Fellow Raptors Republic writer Oren Weisfeld spoke with Brooks and he said, “you never know what happens. It’s a cutthroat league, and I gotta take care of my family and my friends first. If my contract comes first then I’ll be playing for sure, repping for my country.”

There’s been a lot of talk about Dillon’s questionable shot selection (from myself included), but I think not enough time is spent on what Dillon brings to the table. This season, Dillon Brooks has cemented himself as an elite NBA defender, worthy of potential All-Defense consideration. He’s an extremely physical, unwavering and versatile defender (according to Crafted NBA, he has a versatility rating of 80, ranking in the 79th percentile). And of course, he had that impressive game-saving defensive stand against Darius Garland to extend the Grizzlies win streak to 11.

Dillon Brooks is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA for me purely for the chaos he causes on the court, for opposing teams as well as his own. One minute he’ll have you ripping your hair out and the next he’ll have the FedEx Forum up on its feet in pandemonium. Never a dull moment when it comes to Dillon Brooks.

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Dwight Powell

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

Dwight Powell has had a more tumultuous season compared to the last couple of years. He’s been a consistent option in the Dallas Maverick’s regular season rotation, soaking up an average of 20.3 minutes per game the last 7 seasons.

However, at the start of the 2022-2023 season, Dwight Powell was on the outside looking in. For the first time in years, Powell, the veteran NBA role player, was getting DNP-CD’s. Oren Weisfeld did a great profile on Powell’s professionalism throughout the first couple games of the season. Well worth a read!

Offensively, Dwight Powell is still limited and relies heavily on other players to create scoring opportunities for himself. Per PBP stats, Powell’s non putback 2-pt AST% is at a whopping 98.77%. In other words, he’s almost always being set up by a teammate to score. He has been an elite PNR roll man in the NBA the last few seasons, but that probably has more to do with Luka Doncic being his PNR partner. This year has been no different as Powell is scoring 1.57 PPP as the roll man, putting Powell in the 94.3 percentile!

Luguentz Dort

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

Before signing the 5 year-$82.5 million contract, Lu Dort was probably on the most team-friendly contract in the NBA. With the new contract, there comes new expectations for Dort’s game.

At this point in his career, Dort’s defensive reputation is already well established. What’s probably gone under the radar with Dort’s defense is his ability to draw offensive fouls. According to OKC Thunder beat writer Brandon Rahbar, Dort has led the league in offensive fouls drawn over the past 3 seasons. What makes this feat even more impressive is the majority of these fouls drawn are not charges! This season alone, he’s drawn 58 (!) non charge offensive fouls (and just 4 charges), many on moving screens, which is already a career high.

The offensive end is a pretty different story. All credit to Dort for turning himself into an average 3-pt shooter on healthy volume. Though he’s poor from above the break, he’s actually been incredibly efficient from the left corner for his whole career compared to every other spot behind the line. According to Shot Tracker, the average PPS (points per shot) from 1998-2018 on above the break 3’s is 1.05 and corner 3’s is 1.16. Here’s a table of Dort’s PPS on 3’s this season and for his career. His shooting from the left corner is really pulling all the weight to make him an average 3-pt shooter.

Above the Break 3 PPSRight Corner PPSLeft Corner 3 PPS

Kevin Pangos

Serie A – Italy

bolded numbers indicate career highs


bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

For those unfamiliar with Kevin Pangos, he has been Canada’s best overseas pro for quite a number of years, playing consistently at the EuroLeague level since the 2016-2017 season. Last season, Kevin Pangos finally made the move to the NBA, signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, he never found his footing in the Cavs rotation and was waived later that year.

On the floor, Pangos is a masterful offensive player. He’s an excellent shooter, especially off the dribble, and a maestro in the PNR. Scott Rafferty wrote a nice short profile on his PNR capabilities last year.

Kevin Pangos has been sidelined since late November with a partial PCL tear. Initial reporting was re-evaluation for Pangos would take place in 6 weeks and we got an update on Jan 13 (see tweet below). With the World Cup starting in late August, I’m hoping ~4 months is a lengthy enough ramp up time for Pangos, Canada’s most experienced FIBA guard.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent

While his Utah Jazz teammate Kelly Olynyk has had a fantastic season, NAW has once again experienced turbulence in his young NBA career. At the beginning of the season he was in a logjam in Utah’s backcourt and struggled to crack the rotation consistently. As the season has progressed though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how NAW has been playing.

With NAW playing 15.7 MPG, the fewest since his rookie season, it’s not surprising to see the majority of his raw averages down. Even his Per-36 PPG (15.6) is the lowest of his career. However, Nickeil’s efficiency this season has been much improved. Throughout his career thus far, NAW has been prone to being too trigger-happy. This year though he’s embraced the “connector” role a lot more and his FG% and 3P% are all at career highs. The caveat with the efficiency jump of course is the volume of shot attempts has gone down. However, the volume is similar to NAW’s rookie year and he’s still more efficient so at least some progress has been made.

The reason I have always been high on NAW is his playmaking flashes. What I have found is he’s much more comfortable slinging one-handed passes with his left. As a result, he favours going to his left on PNR’s as it allows him to throw all kinds of passes with his left hand (pocket passes, wrap-around passes, skip passes, etc.). The zip and accuracy on this skip is incredible.

Defensively, NAW’s physical tools, especially his length (6’5″ height, 6’9″ wingspan) would have you think he would be a capable wing defender. However, with his slender frame, he’s much better suited to guard down, where his length can wreck some havoc for opposing point guards and small shooting guards. Will Hardy has NAW doing exactly that, guarding PG’s 32.3% of the time and SG’s 38.3% this season according to Crafted NBA. Here he does a great job staying attached with Braun, before his length takes over with a swipe to Braun’s outside hip!

NAW does hit restricted free agency this summer after not signing an extension with Utah last offseason. It’s only been a couple of games, but I really enjoy NAW’s performances with the SMNT, and I hope that it continues this World Cup.

Oshae Brissett

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

The 2022-2023 NBA season has been Oshae Brissett’s first opportunity to contribute to a competitive NBA team. In a pretty crowded front court, Brissett has been able to carve out a consistent role as the year has gone by, averaging 16.6 MPG, the 10th highest on the Pacers.

Since the injury to Tyrese Haliburton, the Indiana Pacers have been not good (currently on a 6 game losing streak), and unfortunately Brissett’s play has really trailed off. In the first 36 games of the season, Brissett was averaging 5.9 PPG on 41.9/36.5/66.7 shooting splits. In the last 5 games however, Brissett is at 6.4 PPG on 30.6/11.8/88.9 splits. Though this 5 game slump has really tanked Brissett’s efficiency this year, he’s still been more efficient across the board when compared to his final year at Syracuse! Steps are being taken in the right direction.

2018-2019 Syracuse39.327.044.566.047.5

What I have been impressed with is Brissett’s free throw rate this season. It is currently at a career high 44.0%, which would put him in the 90th+ percentile this season. With his improvements as a 3-pt shooter in the NBA, Brissett has more opportunities to utilize his fluid athleticism as leverage to attack closeouts and draw fouls, which he’s been great at. The ankle flexibility to explode after stepping beyond the arc is incredible and you can see his fluidity with the ball take over afterwards.

On this sequence, he even shows some craft to fake Markkanen out before exploding from the dotted circle!

And here’s some more craft attacking closeouts as Brissett executes a stampede cut before the elongated step to veer back and block Portis on the recovery.

Zach Edey

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: N/A?

Zach Edey, at 7’4″ has been dominating college basketball, and that is an understatement. If you’re unfamiliar with Zach Edey’s game, I highly recommend Hair Canada’s (who is THE expert on Canadian prospects) piece on Edey from early 2022. Hair was extremely high on Zach Edey then and the wild thing is Edey has become even better.

The only non-pro player in the Summer Core, Edey’s breakout junior season was a pretty obvious one to predict, especially with his rapid development curve over the past few years. At the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup, Edey was by far the most effective Canadian (and that team included 2022 draft picks Ben Mathurin and Caleb Houstan) and earned a tournament All-Star nod. I’m sure keen eyes will be able to recognize all the other players on the team as well.

This season, Edey is absolutely breaking NCAA basketball. His conditioning has improved immensely allowing him to play 31.4 MPG! His PER of 39.49 is currently the second highest recorded in the NCAA since 2009-2010, trailing only Zion Williamson. His physical attributes (size, agility and athleticism) combined with his skill and touch is truly overwhelming at the collegiate level. Even against pros, Zach Edey’s is a towering and overwhelming force, especially in the dunker spot. After Olynyk and Powell, I really think Edey should be the next big to make the final 12. We saw how much Canada struggled with the physicality of Czech Republic’s Ondrej Balvin at the Victoria Olympic Qualifiers in 2019. The rugged, physical bigman is a hallmark of the FIBA game and Canada has a way to match that with Zach Edey.

I have his current status down as “N/A?” because I’m not entirely sure what Edey will do this offseason. He could declare for the NBA draft, which would most likely put his World Cup availability in jeopardy. Perhaps he stays at Purdue for his senior season instead. Either way, with March Madness right around the corner, I highly urge you to catch a few Purdue games this year. You’ll be watching Canada’s center of the future. And if it were up to me, you would also be watching Canada’s center of the present.

Cory Joseph

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

At 31 years of age, Cory Joseph’s best days in the NBA are behind him. His minutes per game have dipped below 20 for the first time since 2014-2015, and the majority of his shooting accuracy numbers (FG%, 3P%, FT%) have dropped as well.

Cory has always been a pretty steady decision maker and that’s remained true this season. He currently has a 3.1:0.7 assist to turnover ratio and his TOV% of 12.4 is the lowest mark for Joseph since 2018-2019. Considering that he’s a pretty risk-averse passer and not really manipulating defenses consistently with the majority of these passes, the ratio isn’t the most impressive thing in the world. But you can never have too many steady ball handlers!

Cory Joseph has shown an unwavering loyalty to the SMNT the past 7 years, routinely being one of the few NBA guys to consistently show up. That deserves an immense amount of respect and praise. I’ll always be a fan.

Melvin Ejim

Liga ACB – Spain

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Basketball Champions League

bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Free Agent

The ultimate Canada Basketball glue guy for the last few cycles, Melvin Ejim is 1 of 3 players in the Summer Core who are not in the NBA. This offseason, Ejim returned to Unicaja Malaga, a team playing in Spain’s very competitive domestic league, Liga ACB, (currently sit in 5th with a record of 11-5) and the Basketball Champions League.

Like Cory Joseph, Melvin Ejim is also 31 years of age and starting to show some signs of decline. He’s averaging a career low 13.7 MPG and 5.6 PPG this year with Unicaja. Thus far in the World Cup qualifiers, Ejim’s numbers have also been pretty muted. He’s played in 6 games thus far (4 with the Summer Core, 2 with the Winter Core) and performed much better recently in the November window.

Summer Windows (July 2022- August 2022), 4 games14.
Winter Windows (November 2022), 2 games15.

It’s an extremely small sample size, but the averages are pretty inline with his current season averages with Unicaja. The 3P% has me a little more concerned with his fit with the Summer Core, but his FIBA experience alone would certainly be invaluable.

Khem Birch

MPGPPGREBAST STLBLKFG%3P%FT%TS% 0.30.359.450.080.062.9
bolded numbers indicate career highs

Contract Status: Under Contract

The 2022-2023 NBA season has unfortunately been the worst statistical season of Khem Birch’s NBA career. All his traditional numbers are down and Birch has fallen completely out of the Raptors rotation.

While he’s never been a starter-level NBA center, I did feel Birch was at the very least a replacement-level role player in the NBA in my 2020-2021 player review, with some potential room to grow. With Birch’s flashes of touch on push shots, there was a pathway to consistent minutes on a playoff contender. Unfortunately, since those first 19 games with the Raptors, Birch has dealt with nagging injuries (including a torn meniscus that required surgery last offseason) and never replicated the offensive capabilities he flashed.

Diving into his PNR roll man numbers (his most frequent action), and his PPP has consistently declined as his career progressed (this season, he doesn’t even reach the 10 min/game & 10 possessions/play type threshold to qualify for tracking).

There’s some contextual factors missing by just looking at his PPP trends (i.e. ball handler skill differences, offensive schemes, etc.), but the fact that his POSS (number of possessions per game) has stayed relatively stable is a sign of his decline as a PNR roller. I think it’s fair to say Birch’s offensive game has taken a step back when considering the context of POSS.

Overall, Khem Birch is in the worst form of his career right now. With his path to minutes unclear, it’ll be hard for Birch to play himself back into form.

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