Canada Basketball has recently announced the 21 players that have accepted invites to camp for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament this summer, and there’s a few surprising names that could help bolster their chances of an Olympic berth. Andrew Wiggins and Trey Lyles are a few of the names that weren’t necessarily expected to feature on the team, while Raptors big man Chris Boucher and young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be missing due to injury, alongside Jamal Murray who suffered a season ending setback a few months ago. Canada hasn’t qualified for the Olympics since 2000, and this year’s group will try to change that against stiff competition in Greece, China, Czech Republic, Turkey and Uruguay. With the tournament only being about a month way, it’s a great time to look at some of the players to watch during the June camp, and highlight the players that are most likely to make the final roster and make a difference come tournament time.
F – Andrew Wiggins-Golden State Warriors
Many were surprised to hear Andrew Wiggins declare his commitment to the 2021 Canada camp last week, but the announcement was some of the best news possible for Canadian basketball fans. With Jamal Murray and a few of the other aforementioned names being missing, Canada needed a star to make the trip, and they got exactly that in the form of Wiggins. Despite Golden State’s play-in tournament loss to the Grizzlies, Wiggins individually was excellent down the stretch as he began to find comfort in his teammates and the system. If Canada want to have a chance of qualification, Wiggins is going to need to perform like he did late in the season, playing tough defence and finding his shots in rhythm without forcing looks. His shooting percentages dramatically increased later on in the NBA campaign, and it would serve Canada well if he could keep those percentages at around the same clip through camp and into the qualifying tournament.
G – RJ Barrett-NY Knicks
RJ Barrett has shined in his second season with the Knicks, putting up career highs across the board. Barrett is averaging 17.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 3.0 APG alongside 44% shooting from the floor, and has been the second most important option for a young New York team that qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Four games into his playoff career, Barrett didn’t explode offensively until game 4 scoring 21 points, but has played well positionally considering his playoffs inexperience. The Knicks’ playoff run will definitely speed up Barrett’s development, and should he enter training camp for the FIBA Qualifiers this summer, he will be fresh off the most important games of his career. Barrett will be a crucial piece on this Canadian squad, and will be relied on heavily in order to get back to the Olympics.
G – Nickeil Alexander-Walker-New Orleans Pelicans
Nickeil Alexander-Walker suffered a pretty severe ankle injury earlier this season, and had a few separate stints where he wasn’t active consistently. In the games that he did play though, Alexander-Walker showed how dangerous he can be for such a young player. Especially in the last few games of the year, Alexander-Walker looked sharp, including a 30-point explosion against the Golden State Warriors. Even without the consistent court time, Alexander-Walker still managed to average 11 points, and he will be an important piece for Canada this summer. Assuming he’s fully healthy and playing like he was at the tail end of the NBA season, Alexander-Walker will be an X-factor in whatever role Nick Nurse gives him, especially given his ability to turn a game on its head at the blink of an eye.
F – Dillon Brooks-Memphis Grizzlies
Recently making headlines after Charles Barkley confused him for an American on TNT, Canadian Dillon Brooks has been having a career year across the board in his 4th season with Memphis. Brooks averaged 17.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG and 2.3 APG over his 67 starts this season, and was one of the most important players on a young Grizzlies roster that has stormed into the playoffs through the play-in tournament, and won a game against the top seeded Jazz. Brooks’ game has matured considerably, and his presence will be important on a Canadian team that isn’t familiar playing with each other. Both on and off the court, Brooks will be a difference maker, and hopefully the playoff experience this season will propel his growth even quicker.
G – Luguentz Dort
Luguentz Dort has emerged as a player to watch this season, as the Montreal native made improvements everywhere in his second season with OKC. Dort had his fair share of injury troubles this year, but managed to rack up impressive averages in his 52 starts. The Thunder are a team in flux, which obviously isn’t great for winning basketball games, but it has been good for the development of Dort who has been given a large opportunity to prove himself. Dort averaged 14.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG and 1.7 APG in his sophomore year, and had a few dominant showings such as a 42-point outburst against the Jazz back in April. Dort is a young player with extreme potential and impressive ability on the defensive end, and even at the age of 22, he’s likely to be a massive part of Team Canada’s success this summer, as he’s sure to feature in some sort of prominent role come late June.
*analysis is based on these players making the final Team Canada roster.
Photo courtesy Canada Basketball