Canada: A Budding International Basketball Powerhouse

andrew-wiggins-nbaThroughout the history of international basketball competitions, Canada hasn’t exactly shined. While their American neighbors to the south have won 14 Olympic gold medals, Canada has managed just one – a sliver medal in the 1936 Olympics.

Now this isn’t to say that the Great White North has been the basketball world’s doormat. After all, they did produce 2-time NBA MVP Steve Nash along with role players like Todd MacCulloch and Samuel Dalembert. However, there just haven’t been enough talented players to bring Canada to any sort of international prominence.

But it looks like Canadians might soon have something to celebrate from a basketball perspective, based on several young players. For starters, Toronto lays claim to Andrew Wiggins, who’s the most coveted pro prospect since LeBron James. The 6’8″ small forward, who’s currently playing for West Virginia’s Huntington Prep, is the biggest reason why several teams wouldn’t mind tanking the 2013-2014 NBA season.

McDonalds All American Game- Powerade JamfestThe first thing that jumps out about Wiggins is his insane athleticism, which comes naturally when you consider his parents. Mitchell Wiggins was a former NBA player while Marita was an Olympic silver medalist. So it’s no wonder why the 18-year-old can sky over other players (44-inch vertical) and blow past his opponents with unparalleled quickness. Adding his excellent on-court skills into the equation, Wiggins is all but guaranteed to be the top pick when he finishes his freshman season at Kansas next year.

Of course, you can’t experience Olympic success without a team – especially when competing against the stacked Team USA. Luckily Wiggins has a nice future sidekick in Anthony Bennett, who recently became the first Canadian-born player to go number one overall in the NBA Draft.

Now it’s worth mentioning that Bennett was a surprise number one pick who’s not guaranteed stardom. However, the Cavaliers thought enough of the 6’7″ combo forward’s outside shooting, scoring ability and rebounding to take him with the top pick.

tristan-thompsonNext up is Bennett’s Cavaliers teammate, Tristan Thompson. These two players are a very interesting story because they grew up a mile away from each other in Toronto and went to the same US-based high school, Findlay Prep (Nevada), though not at the same time. In his second NBA season, Thompson put up very solid numbers after averaging 11.7 PPG and 9.4 RPG. The 6’8″ power forward will definitely give Team Canada a strong inside presence come Olympics time.

Another player who figures to star on the international stage is Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk. The British Columbia product starred for Gonzaga after posting averages of 17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 1.1 BPG last year. The 7-footer also showed some outside touch after shooting 44% and 30% from the 3-point line in his two collegiate seasons.

kelly-olynykDespite questions about how his game would translate to the NBA, Olynyk has silenced the critics thus far with a very strong summer league performance. And if he keeps playing like this, he’ll no doubt have a good career in both the NBA and on the international stage.

Cory Joseph is one more Canadian who shows a lot of promise. The 6’3″ San Antonio Spurs guard improved quite a bit from his dismal rookie season to last year’s NBA Finals run. He averaged 4.5 PPG, 1.9 APG and shot 85.7% from the free-throw line in his second year.

There’s definitely plenty of reason to get excited about Canadian basketball in the future. Sure the Olympics are three years away, but the FIBA Basketball World Cup is coming up in 2014. Canada has never won a medal in this competition, which takes place every four years. But based on all of the young talent that the Great White North has coming up through the ranks, they’re certainly ready to challenge current powerhouses like the United States, Argentina, Greece and Spain next year.

Mike Brown wants NBA’s Top Pick Anthony Bennett to be a PF

anthony-bennet-cavsWhen the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett number one overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, many speculated that the Cavs would use him at small forward. Sure Bennett mostly played power forward at UNLV, but there are a host of reasons why fans thought he’d play the 3 spot. Here’s a look at some of these reasons:

– The Cavs already have 6’9″ Tristan Thompson at power forward. The Texas product more than proved himself capable of handing starting NBA duties by averaging 11.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG and 0.9 BPG. Thompson already shares a similar background with Bennett since the two grew up a mile apart in Toronto and went to the same high school in Nevada’s Findlay Prep (though not at the same time). Now both players will be sharing minutes at the 4 spot.

– Cleveland has a big hole at the small forward position. Alonzo Gee was a serviceable player at this position last year after averaging 10.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 1.3 SPG. But he’s also got some deficiencies here, as can be seen in his shooting (41%) and size (6’6″, 219 pounds). Upgrading the starting 3 seems like it would be a good priority.

anthony-bennett-unlv– Bennett doesn’t have the prototypical size of a 4. Sure his 239-pound weight is about average for the position. However, he’s listed at a generous 6’7″, which isn’t ideal.

Taking all of this into account, it was a little surprising when Cleveland head coach Mike Brown came out and said that Bennett will be used at power forward for the immediate future. He stated:

I got it figured. His ability to score in a lot of different ways is intriguing. His explosiveness is intriguing. His standing reach is higher than lot of guys playing power forward in the league, including Kevin Love. He’s got long arms. There’s a desire to want to be better. He has a lot of upside.

Despite Brown saying that he has it all figured out, one can’t help but question the idea of putting Bennett at small forward. Besides already having Thompson, who started all 82 games last season, Cleveland also acquired Earl Clark this offseason. Last year with the Lakers, Clark played solid off the bench after averaging 7.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG in 23 MPG.

Perhaps the Cavaliers plan on bringing Bennett along slowly while starting Thompson and using Clark sparsely. Or maybe Brown is just saying that he wants to use Bennett exclusively as a 4 to surprise everybody.

The latter would make just about as much sense as anything else at this point. After all, Cleveland has created a logjam at the power forward position while they have little else at small forward. Perhaps as the season progresses, we’ll see the number one pick used in different roles. But for now, it’s tough seeing how this situation will work.

2013 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

anthony-bennett-nba-draft-1At this point, most NBA executives and coaches don’t see the 2013 NBA Draft as one that will produce lots of future All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the 2013 Draft wasn’t exciting because there were some high-profile trades and surprising picks. That said, let’s talk about who made out with these trades and picks along with which teams/players ended up losers after draft night.

Winner #1: Anthony Bennett

Seeing as how this wasn’t a talent-rich draft, the number one pick was up in the air. Even still, few people saw 6’7″ UNLV forward Anthony Bennett going as the top pick. In unbelievable fashion, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Bennett with the first overall selection and see him as their swingman of the future.

The Mountain West Player of the Year was just as shocked as anybody when David Stern called him up to the podium. “I’m just really as surprised as everyone else,” Bennett said. “I didn’t have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just real happy, glad I have this opportunity.”

Loser #1: Nerlens Noel

nerlens-noelRail-thin Kentucky center Nerlens Noel was about as close to a clear-cut number one pick as anybody entering last night’s draft. Not only did the Cavs pass on him, but so did four teams after Cleveland. Noel’s freefall ended when the New Orleans Pelicans chose him with the sixth pick, although it wasn’t for them.

The Pelicans traded Noel along with a first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday and second round pick PG Pierre Jackson. The 7-footer probably won’t play until at least November, following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered at Kentucky. And this definitely contributed to his descent on the draft board.

Winner #2: New Orleans

The Pelicans brought in one of the NBA’s most talented point guards to usher in a new era that includes a name change and different look. Holiday averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.0 APG last year on a Philadelphia team that didn’t exactly have many weapons. New Orleans is now hoping he can put up similar or better numbers for them.

The only problem will be deciding what to do with their loaded backcourt, which includes PG Greivis Vasquez and SG Eric Gordon. The latter isn’t happy in the Big Easy right now and could be trade bait this offseason.

Loser #2: Ben McLemore

ben-mclemore-draftMany thought that Kansas guard Ben McLemore was a lock to be selected in the top three. After all, he’s already a great shooter and gifted scorer following one year of college seasoning. However, he ended up going to the Sacramento Kings at pick number 7, which surprised many draft fans.

Scouts saw McLemore as a very good all-around player who can create shots for himself off the dribble. But as the draft drew closer, there were talks of him not being aggressive enough to take over games and justify a top-three pick. Now he’ll spend his rookie campaign on the hapless Kings, who’ve been non-competitive for years.

Winner #3: Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ aging core of coach Doc Rivers, PF Kevin Garnett and SF Paul Pierce clearly wanted out of Boston. Meanwhile, the Celtics, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo, seem like they’re better off rebuilding, rather than taking one or two more hopeless shots at a title.

On draft night, all parties got what they wanted as Pierce and Garnett were shipped off to a better team in New Jersey, while Boston unloaded big salaries and got several draft picks. The Celtics will now have New Jersey’s first round picks in 2014, ’16 and ’18, along with the option to trade picks in ’17. The ’14 pick is key since next year’s draft should be loaded with talent.

Loser #3: Both the Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns

cody-zeller-draftThe Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns aren’t playoff teams, which would make one think that they’d be gunning for players with tremendous upside. However, both clubs dropped the ball when they passed on Noel and McLemore at the fourth and fifth picks.

The Bobcats took Indiana center Cody Zeller with the fourth selection. And while Zeller is a mobile 7-footer with good all-around skills, he’s hardly the game-changer that Noel or McLemore could be. The same goes for the Suns and picking Alex Lens at the number five slot. On a team that needs so much, opting for a center who figures to have a solid, but unspectacular career isn’t going to get it done.

Winner #4: Victor Oladipo

Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo was projected by many to be a top five pick. However, most of these projections had him at the latter end of this range, and guys like Noel, McLemore and Otto Porter Jr. tabbed in the top three spots. So when Oladipo went number two overall to the Orlando Magic, some analysts were a bit surprised.

However, it’s not so crazy when you consider that he’s extremely athletic, has a great first step, takes high-percentage shots, and above all, plays defense better than any guard in the draft. Sure he’s a little short for a shooting guard (6’4″) and isn’t the greatest passer, but Oladipo should definitely make a big impact in Orlando with his shooting and defense.

Loser #4: Shabazz Muhammad

shabazz-muhammadLast year many people saw Shabazz Muhammad as a potential number one pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. And why not since he’s a 6’6″ shooting guard with a 6’11” wingspan, a good three-point shooter, and a player who’s already got the strength to compete with veterans.

However, none of this was enough to overshadow Muhammad’s subpar defense, character questions and lack of an all-around game. He was still a lottery pick, but just barely as the Utah Jazz picked him at number 14, then traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Cavaliers shock Basketball World by taking Bennett No. 1

anthony-bennett-nba-draftThe 2013 NBA Draft isn’t even halfway finished yet, but no matter what happens tonight, people are mainly going to be talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers number one pick. The Cavs shocked pretty much everybody involved in the basketball world by taking UNLV forward Anthony Bennett first overall.

Bennett, who won the Mountain West Player of the Year award as a freshman, becomes the first Canadian to go number one in the NBA Draft. He’s also the second UNLV player to be selected with the top pick, an honor he now shares with retired forward Larry Johnson.

Many people who attended the draft were baffled when Bennett was first off the board. According to the DraftExpress mock draft, the 6’7″, 239-pounder was expected to go with the eighth pick. He definitely showed a good overall game by averaging 15.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, and shooting 38.3% from the three-point line. However, he wasn’t exactly considered number one overall pick material coming into tonight. CBS Sports NBA writer Zach Harper summed this up pretty good when he wrote:

Bennett is a big-time scoring prospect, but doesn’t exactly have the cachet of someone you’d expect taken with the top pick. Bennett has a really good face-up game with range out to the 3-point line.

nerlens-noelMany experts thought that the Cavaliers were leaning towards selecting either Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Maryland center Alex Len. After all, Cleveland has a solid young nucleus with PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters and PF Tristan Thompson. So adding a good defensive center would’ve given them another piece to building a future contender. However, they chose to go with Bennett, who’s expected to fill a hole at the starting small forward spot.

Nerlens was another surprise among the 2013 NBA Lottery selections because, not only did he not get taken first, but he also tumbled down to the sixth pick. The New Orleans Pelicans ended his freefall and quickly traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package that includes All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

Nerlens didn’t seem too dispirited about falling down the board as he hugged his mom and smiled at the podium after being picked. “I thought everything was in the air, so I wasn’t thinking I was the No. 1 pick,” the 7-foot shot-blocking specialist said.

victor-oladipoThe Orlando Magic avoided going with a center as well since they took Indiana guard Victor Oladipo with the second overall pick. After getting selected, Oladipo said, “It’s like a weight vest you took off after running five miles. It’s relaxing, man. But at the same time, you know it’s just getting started.”

The Washington Wizards kept Georgetown swingman Otto Porter Jr. in town by taking him with the third pick, while the Charlotte Bobcats took Oladipo’s Indiana teammate, PF Cody Zeller, with the fourth selection. Len rounded out the top five when he was taken fifth by the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.

Besides Noel, another surprising fall in the draft was former Kansas freshman guard Ben McLemore. Many mock drafts had him going within the top three picks, but he wasn’t taken off the board until the Sacramento Kings grabbed him with the seventh choice.

Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to the Detroit Pistons with the eighth draft pick. And Michigan guard/2013 Final Four hero Trey Burke was picked by the Minnesota Timberwolves at ninth, then traded to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks.

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum was the first mid-major player to be selected as he rounded out the top 10. The Portland Trailblazers love the point guard’s sharp shooting, as McCollum averaged 23.9 PPG while shooting 51.8% from the three-point arc.