Invented by a Canadian, but never our game. Basketball won’t ever be stamped with a maple leaf. The world has claimed it, the United States have spent decades dominating it, and Canada’s Men’s Team — despite its decent output of NBAers, proximity to the United States’ competition, and status as a first world country with money to invest into the sport — has underperformed expectations on the world stage for years and years. This year’s team, built with NBA journeymen, program loyalists, and the undeniable, first team All-NBA talent of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – well, they might do something of consequence.
The credit for this teams success so far, and forthcoming (hopefully), will be spread to many different players. Kelly Olynyk is an underrated playmaker and player at the NBA level who shouldn’t just be understood as a stretch big. Dillon Brooks’ on-court impact far outpaces his on-court antics (despite a team underperforming their talent scapegoating him). RJ Barrett is a vital cog in a successful Knicks team, and has upside upon upside. More players, more credit etc. it’s all true, and will be covered. However, when the games get sticky (sticky in the way you remember them being during past Canadian collapses or disappointments) Gilgeous-Alexander has been both the North Star (get it? hehe) and the survivalist charting his course with it.
Basketball is a team game, to be sure, but its stars can drive winning more than any other sport. No other sporting medium allows for the sheer amount of control and dominion that a star player can have over a basketball game. For the first time in nearly two decades, Team Canada is led by an All-NBA talent. In 2004’s FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Nash was the MVP (shortly before he became league MVP), but the talent around him was lacking. Despite having one of the world’s best players, the team fell one spot short of Olympic qualifying, Jay Triano was fired, and Nash never suited up again.
Here we are years later, with Gilgeous-Alexander (All-NBA 1st team) leading a Canadian roster that is the culmination of Jack Donohue, the grassroots Canadian basketball movement, the Vince Carter Effect, and the slow grind of a country’s efforts to establish a foothold on the world stage. Even without Jamal Murray (a top-30 NBA player) and Andrew Wiggins (one of the best 2-way wings in the world), it feels momentous.
It’s not just that Gilgeous-Alexander is tremendous. It’s that he’s the malleable, slithery, shot-maker kind of tremendous. He is the big guard, in big moments, who creates big advantages.
15 seconds into the second half against France, Gilgeous-Alexander collapses a whole side of the floor and creates a chasm of space for Brooks to hit a 3-point shot. Team Canada extends their lead from 3 points to 15 over the next 6 minutes of gameplay. Of the 16 points they scored, 13 were by Gilgeous-Alexander, and his 1 assist to Brooks for three. It’s a team game and Canada defended like hell, but ‘SGA’s all-world talent can tip the scales like few Canadians before him.
Twirling into faders, managing pace in transition, probing for any lane that might open up, navigating Rudy Gobert’s massive presence, and canning triples. Inevitable. Unstoppable.
When Latvia was sprinting off of handoffs and pin-downs, raining fire from downtown in the unsustainable sort of way, the defense did their best to contain it. Gilgeous-Alexander, of course, paced the offense. When the paint was clogged and threes weren’t falling, he poured it in from the mid-range to the tune of 80% (4-5). Uber-efficient in the only shot that defenses can’t scheme away from you. The most famous of his mid-range shots, the one heard around the world of social media:
That jittery, explosive first-step that transports ‘SGA’ wherever he wants on the floor, put Artūrs Žagars in the mood to propose. And that explosiveness is contrasted by Gilgeous-Alexander’s long, loping steps that outlast and outreach defenders who attempt to catch up. He hit 329 shots from the mid-range this past season (shooting 46% on them, an elite number), what’s a few more?
The tests will start to get tougher, there’s no doubt about that. There’s a lot left to accomplish. Years of work, in fact. I’m not trying to write a prescient piece, predicting more accolades and successes for ‘SGA’ and Team Canada. This is the first time Canada has had this mixture of stardom with a well-rounded roster and some excitement seems warranted, and that’s what this is. Although, I’m happy to bet on this rendition of the team making their country extremely proud this time around.
Keep watching this team. You, the reader, have probably already told friends and family that this seems like the Canadian Men’s team you’ve been waiting for. Let’s hope it is.
Have a blessed day.