Canadian Roundup: 2023 BioSteel All-Canadian Boys Game

Breaking down some BioSteel standout players and offensive sets.

The BioSteel All-Canadian Game has become a highlight event in the Canadian high school basketball calendar. The 2023 edition was a high-scoring, competitive duel between some of Canada’s top high school players in the class of 2023 & 2024, with Team Red coming through with the 121-113 victory. And, as always, there was also quite the contingent of scouts and front office people (including Masai Ujiri!) at the Goldering Centre to take in the BioSteel game.

If you’re curious, the next time to catch some of the BioSteel All-Canadians in action will be at the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup in Hungary. The invite list for assessment camps were released by Canada Basketball yesterday, with a healthy amount of BioSteel All-Canadians on the list.

Chris Tadjo: The Dominant Driver

The BioSteel 2023 game was my first opportunity to watch Chris Tadjo and he was thoroughly impressive, winning Team Red MVP after a 25 point,16 rebound performance.

Currently playing at the NBA Academy Latin America (that should ring a bell as it’s the same high school program that Bennedict Mathurin and Olivier-Maxence Propser attended), Tadjo stands at 6’8″ and as a class of 2024 player, he was one of the younger guys in the All-Canadian showcase. Despite his age, Tadjo was without a doubt the most physically imposing player in the game.

The thing that stood out to me from Tadjo’s game is his incredible “grab-and-go” ability in transition. Tadjo has the ideal blend of physical tools and basketball skill to be a transition nightmare. His strength and frame make it hard to bump him while bringing the ball up, he’s remarkably fast in the open court and his ball handling is good enough that it doesn’t slow him down. This all allows Tadjo to continue to gain momentum as he flies down the court, and by the time he’s at the rim, he’s finishing with so much power.

In half-court settings, Tadjo remained a dominant driver. To me, Tadjo is explosive in certain situations, but I think his dominance as a driver comes mainly from two other factors: once again his strong frame. and his ability to get low on drives.

Having a strong frame is Tadjo’s primary weapon on drives. In every drive in the above clip, Tadjo’s strength plays a major role, either to create an advantage or maintain one his explosiveness and burst created. This is important because it means Tadjo doesn’t have to rely on cleanly beating his defenders with an explosive first step every time. Once Tadjo gets his shoulder level with his defender, Tadjo’s strength, broad shoulders and length take over. If he doesn’t completely shed the defender on initial contact (which he usually did at the BioSteel game), remember he’s still 6’8″ and can easily shield the ball and extend for the finish.

The second factor is on full display in the last sequence (clip #5) from above. In fact, Tadjo’s ability to get low is the main reason he creates an advantage in the first place. Just look at how low Tadjo is to the floor compared to his defender, Evbagharu (#9 white). And of course, the strength and frame comes in handy to maintain the advantage and draw the foul.

The one nitpick I have for Tadjo is he is currently very reliant on his dominant right hand. All but one drive I have clipped in this piece has Tadjo going to his right, dribbling mostly with his right hand and finishing with the right hand. The lone drive to his left, ended up in a spin move back to his right. Now this is the only game I have watched of Tadjo, so I don’t know how comfortable he is going to his left, or what counters he has developed. Still overall, on first viewing, I came away impressed with Chris Tadjo’s driving and physical tools.

Bubu Benjamin: Movement Skills Wonder

Unlike his teammate Chris Tadjo, I was more familiar with Bubu Benjamin’s game as he had been a big part of the U18 team last summer. In that U18 Americas tournament, Benjamin had impressed as one of the most fluid 6’7″ wing players on the team, even if the efficiency wasn’t quite there yet. This fluidity shows up in every aspect of his game, from attacking (and beating) closeouts in 1 motion, offensive craft in the midrange and defense (point of attack, screen navigation stuff). Seriously, these plays are so impressive.

Fast forward about 10 months to the BioSteel game, and Bubu Benjamin’s movement continued to catch my eye. Take this offensive sequence for instance from Benjamin (#4 red). Operates in a triple threat position off the catch, before throwing the defender off with a jab and shot fake, all before ripping and going baseline. Not as clean of an advantage as the closeout from above, but you can see how much his movement skills help Benjamin’s offensive craft.

Speaking of offensive craft, Benjamin showcased some excellent ball handling and footwork, especially in the midrange. These next 2 plays you can really see how Benjamin’s ball handling doesn’t limit his fluidity, instead it harmonizes with it to make Benjamin a symphonic and dynamic scorer.

This following sequence is another perfect encapsulation of how Benjamin’s handle enables his elite movement fluidity. Compare the “in & out” dribble that Benjamin flows into directly after the catch with Jaiden Cole’s “in & out” dribble. The extra dribble taken by Cole to set it up slows him down and makes the move much less effective than Benjamin’s.

Defensively, Benjamin slides his feet beautifully on the perimeter. Check out how quickly he’s able to to come to a stop and reverse the direction he’s sliding in multiple times on this posession. Just completely shuts down this drive.

X’s and O’s Breakdown

The majority of the 2023 BioSteel All-Canadian Boys Game was free-flowing, with both teams just running a single pick-and-roll (PnR) per offensive possession. These possessions would often break down into isolation attempts and defensive schemes were pretty basic (man-to-man, few rotations), which is to be expected. The coaches haven’t had many practices with their teams to establish team identities and at the end of the day this is an exhibition game. That being said, there were some interesting sets run by both teams.

To start the game, Team White, led by head coach Dave DeAveiro (TMU Bold Men’s Basketball Head Coach), brought out some “screen-the-screener” (STS) action. Jalik Dunkley-Distant (#0 white) ghosts the initial ball screen, before looping around the screen set by Thomas Ndong (#10 white). Excellent play design to get Dunkley-Distant (the BioSteel slam dunk champion) downhill and utilize his vertical explosiveness.

Team White fell back on “Pistol” action quite often as a quick hitter throughout the game. Specifically, some “Pinch Post Pistol” action, opening up the whole strongside of the floor for their guards to attack.

The most involved set that Team White ran was this “Motion Strong Twirl” set. This action starts off with double drag screens for Baraka Okojie (#4 white), before some “Twirl” action ending in a Jordan Dumont (#6 white) catch-and-shoot 3. Great process, decent execution and great result, especially given Dumont’s shooting ability.

Interesting tidbit, this exact set (with just an additional dribble handoff or DHO) was actually run by Canada’s SMNT as well, back in 2019.

And one final set that I picked up on for Team White was “Horns Flare”. Michael Evbagharu (#9 white) first sets a ball screen for the ball handler, before receiving a flare screen from Jovan Milicevic (#10 white). From this alignment, Team White flowed into a high PnR. The execution itself was shaky but it was cool to see a really popular set show up in this game.

How popular you might ask? Well, let’s just say Canada’s Winter Core (coached by Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren) ran the same set on numerous possessions to close the 1st half in the final World Cup Qualifier game and the Toronto Raptors go to it as well. Credit to Samson Folk for clipping and commentating over the 2nd clip below. The full YouTube video he did on Jakob Poeltl’s 4th quarter impact can be found here.

Team Red was coached by Patrick Tatham, the head coach of the McMaster University Men’s Basketball Program and coincidently both the U17 and U18 Canadian teams last summer. Their most run action by far in this game was a zipper screen (or a down screen) flowing into a PnR, which they signaled by having the ball handler tap their elbow as they bring it up the court.

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