By now it’s old news that Canada has become one of the world’s top countries for developing NBA-calibre talent.
Seemingly every year another group of impact players enters the league and opens eyes to the quality of Canada’s basketball pipeline. Now a number of those players will have a chance to impress an even larger audience on the sport’s biggest stage as the NBA post-season tips off Monday.
The quantity of Canadian content on the docket this summer took a hit with the Memphis Grizzlies falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in the play-in series, as Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke will have to wait another year to get their first tastes of the playoffs. Despite their absences, there are still plenty of Canucks to keep an eye on as they begin their quest to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Livestream the Raptors’ quest to defend their NBA title with select NBA playoff games on Sportsnet NOW.
Murray is the biggest household name on this list, dazzling fans with his unique blend of skill and flair. The 22-year-old has already established himself as an offensive threat and a leader for the Denver Nuggets, who have legitimate title hopes after finishing third in the gruelling Western Conference.
Now with four seasons under his belt, Murray continues to improve every year, averaging a career-best 18.5 points and 4.8 assists per game in 2019-20. The scoring numbers perhaps look a bit modest when compared to other star guards, but he’s capable of catching fire and single-handedly taking over a game.
While his talent speaks for itself, Murray isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers, and that makes him even more enjoyable to watch. The Kitchener, Ont., native cares not for your “unwritten rules,” preferring instead to entertain. We’ll see what Murray has up his sleeve this summer.
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) November 6, 2018
Murray may be the most established player of these five, but Gilgeous-Alexander is already nipping at his heels as a sophomore. The Toronto-born guard was part of the haul Oklahoma City landed by sending Paul George to the Clippers last off-season, and the Thunder are already thrilled with the returns.
Gilgeous-Alexander nearly doubled his scoring average from his freshman year, leading Oklahoma City with 19.0 points per game to go along with 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s already been tabbed as one of the NBA’s rising stars and was instrumental in helping the Thunder surprisingly lock up a playoff spot.
It’s too late for fans to get in on the ground floor of Gilgeous-Alexander stock, but the ceiling is so high it’s still very much worth buying at this point.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t the only young Canadian on the Thunder, as Dort established himself as a key member of their rotation when he was given an expanded role in January. The rookie carried that momentum into the bubble, averaging 9.1 points and 3.9 rebounds before being forced out of the Thunder’s seventh game with a knee sprain.
While his status for Game 1 against the Houston Rockets is uncertain as he recovers from that injury, he has the potential to be a difference-maker in the series if and when he’s able to suit up. The Montreal native’s calling card is his defence and he figures to see plenty of minutes as the primary defender on James Harden. While it’s impossible to completely shut down Harden, Dort has the tools to make life difficult for the three-time scoring champ.
The lone player on this list who already has a championship ring, Boucher and the Raptors will be looking to defend their title as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. While Boucher doesn’t figure to factor into Nick Nurse’s core seven-man rotation, he does have the chance to make in impact if an opportunity or the right matchup presents itself.
Boucher was impressive when given a larger role in Toronto’s final few seeding contests and is capable of changing games with his athleticism and three-point shooting, which were key parts of his success in the bubble.
If Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka suffer an injury or find themselves in foul trouble, Boucher could become a staple in the Raptors’ frontcourt.
The elder statesman on this list, Olynyk has been a fixture in the Canadian basketball scene for years and has carved out a very solid NBA career. The seven-year veteran is still seeking his first championship, and he’ll be hoping this year’s gritty Miami Heat team can go all the way.
Even though his numbers don’t jump off the page, Olynyk is a crucial piece of the Heat’s bench, scoring 8.2 points and grabbing 4.6 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game. His three-point shooting was lethal in 2019-20, as he converted at a 40 per cent clip from downtown.
Aside from the floor-spacing, the Gonzaga product provides value with his toughness, energy and high basketball IQ. That combination will always be coveted, especially on a team led by Jimmy Butler.