A big year for Canada Basketball is set to intensify very soon.
With the 2020-21 NBA season officially coming to an end for each of the Canadians in the league, the focus now shifts to the 14 NBA players who accepted invitations to training camp with the Canadian Senior Men's National Team, set to begin on Wednesday, June 16, at the Toronto Raptors temporary training facilities in Tampa, FL.
Leading the charge is Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who took over as Canada's head coach in 2019 ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, where the roster was comprised of just two NBA players, one of whom was current Raptor Khem Birch, who has expressed the ways in which Nurse's system is conducive to getting the most out of players.
With much more NBA talent in tow, there are three players in particular that stand out as prime candidates for Nurse to push to another level, which will not only be beneficial for Canada, but their respective NBA teams in the coming years.
Alexander-Walker, who was selected with a mid-first round pick in 2019, made an impressive leap in his sophomore season.
The 22-year-old Toronto native nearly doubled his scoring from his rookie campaign, finishing the season with averages of 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists over 46 games (13 starts).
Listed at 6-foot-6, Alexander-Walker is the quintessential combo guard with the ability to create for himself and others off of the bounce. And as we've seen in the past, he's no stranger to making plays.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) March 22, 2021
Nickeil Alexander-Walker | vs. Denver
3 THREE POINTERS
2 BLOCKS#WontBowDown | @pelicansNBA pic.twitter.com/yCayfHR2JQ
Alexander-Walker stepped in for 13 starts with New Orleans this past season, increasing his averages to 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in those games while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3, including a career-best 37 points in a narrow loss to the LA Clippers.
In Nurse's free-flowing offensive system, Alexander-Walker has an opportunity to thrive as a scorer and showcase more of his playmaking skills, something he did throughout his first Summer League experience in 2019.
With Cory Joseph as the only pure NBA point guard on the team, Alexander-Walker will inevitably take on plenty of responsibility at the 1.
How about some familiarity?
After spending his rookie season on a two-way contract under Nurse with the Raptors, knee injuries resulted in a late training camp cut that saw Brissett on the brink of falling out of the NBA. Brissett was then presented with an opportunity to showcase his talent in the G League Bubble after being drafted by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the affiliate of the Indiana Pacers, and he capitalized.
After an impressive showing in the bubble, Brissett signed a 10-day deal with the Pacers, who are led by a former Nurse assistant in Nate Bjorkgren, who will reprise his role under Nurse this summer with the Canadian Men's National Team.
Injuries and absences provided Brissett with more opportunity in Indiana, where he averaged 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds over his final 16 games, including a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double in the season finale against Toronto.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) May 17, 2021
Oshae Brissett | vs. Toronto
31 POINTS (CH)
5 THREE POINTERS
3 ASSISTS#AlwaysGame | @Pacers pic.twitter.com/gQyqUzj1uF
Now, Brissett can parlay this success with the Pacers to the international game, where he can thrive as a small-ball big man with a developing ability to stretch the floor.
At 6-foot-7, Brissett played some centre for Indiana this past season and did more than hold his own, as evidenced by his rebounding numbers. He's grown as a shooter, knocking down 2.0 3s at a 42.1 percent clip in the aforementioned 16-game span.
Factor in the preexisting relationship between Brissett, Nurse and Bjorkgren, and you've got a player who is comfortable within the system, has an understanding of the terminology used and can be a jack-of-all-trades on both ends of the floor.
It's gonna be a big summer for Olynyk.
Not only is Olynyk one of Canada's training camp invitees, but he is also due for a pretty nice payday after a midseason trade to the Houston Rockets resulted in some of the best basketball of his professional career.
Over 27 games with the Rockets, Olynyk averaged 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from deep. That's something that could translate over to Nurse's system with ease.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) May 15, 2021
Kelly Olynyk | vs. LA Clippers
3 STEALS#Rockets | @HoustonRockets pic.twitter.com/b8rHTwAp6D
At 6-foot-11, we know Olynyk to be the quintessential stretch big man, a staple of the offences installed by Nurse. We were robbed of an opportunity to see Olynyk in Nurse's system in 2019, as a knee injury held him out of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
That being said, Olynyk was on hand for training camp and participated in an exhibition competition with Canada prior to sustaining the injury, meaning the familiarity is there once again.
Expect Olynyk and his camp to take a cautious approach to the summer because of his impending free agency, but accepting a training camp invitation is a positive sign that he will indeed join Canada as it looks to compete in the Olympics for the first time since 2000.
For an idea of what Olynyk could be looked upon to do, look directly to Kyle Wiltjer, another stretch big (and Gonzaga product) who averaged 16.4 points on 41.7 percent shooting from deep under Nurse in 2019.
In a very similar role, Olynyk can build upon his momentum from this past season to do more of the same at an even higher level.
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