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NBA

Canadian Round-Up: Record number of Canadians put on a show in their 2019-20 season openers

CanRoundup

The NBA's regular-season finally got underway this week and it was a huge one for Canadians.

Not only did Canada's team - the Toronto Raptors - received their rings and raise their championship banner but Canada broke a record for most non-American players in the NBA with 20 (four two-way players) from the North on opening night rosters.

Let's take a look at who stood out in their first game of the year:

RJ Barrett

Forgive me if you've heard this before, but RJ Barrett is the highest New York Knick draft pick since Pat Ewing went number one overall in 1985.

There's a ton of pressure on Barrett to produce and live up to the hype heading into his rookie season. But he's had pressure to deliver his entire basketball life. In high school at Monteverde Academy in Florida - a perennial U.S. powerhouse. At Duke University, one of the blue bloods of college basketball. So it was no surprise that Barrett impressed in his NBA debut.

Barrett posted 21 points, five rebounds shooting 9-for-13 from the field in the Knicks' 120-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

At 19 years old the Mississauga native became the second-youngest player to record 21-plus points in his first career NBA game. Only the hall of fame bound LeBron James did it at a younger age in his debut.

Anytime you can be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James, that's special. To do it after playing just one game - that's otherworldly. Barrett has a long way to go, but after his debut, even the doubters are starting to take notice.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

New city, new year, same Shai. Last season, SGA stepped onto the scene and opened up a lot of eyes as a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers.

This year, he's in a new role, playing alongside future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul with an Oklahoma City Thunder team that may or may not be rebuilding.

SGA wasn't asked to score much last year with the Clippers, but he'll likely have to score more now with the Thunder if they plan on being competitive - and he's capable. He proved that on opening night as he finished with a career-high 26 points in OKC's 100-95 loss to the Jazz.

It wasn't just that SGA was scoring, it was the way he was getting his buckets that leads you to believe this isn't just a one-off performance. This basket, in particular, shows that Gilgeous-Alexander is slippery enough to get to the rim - and he was doing it against one of the top defensive teams in the league.

No one likes being traded unexpectedly, but playing beside CP3 on a team where you're one of the likely scoring options - that isn't a bad scenario for a second-year player poised to have a breakout year.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves got a hard-fought 127-126 overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets on opening night.

Wiggins finished the game with 21 points, eight rebounds on 10-for-27 shooting from the field. While the shooting numbers aren't something Wiggins and the Twolves fans would want to be replicated on a nightly basis, Wiggins' aggressiveness was exactly what many hope to see from him game-to-game.

"I liked how he finished," Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders told NBA.com. "I thought he got better as the game went on.

"A lot of his drives to the basket were later in the game, he was aggressive - he had that mindset and we need him to continue that."

According to NBA Stats, eight of Wiggins' 10 baskets came within five feet of the goal and nearly 60% of his shot attempts were within that same range as well.

If teams have to pay more attention to an attacking Andrew Wiggins we may see that assist per game average finally go up for the 24-year-old this season.

Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray became the highest-paid Canadian athlete over the summer after signing a five-year $170 million maximum contract extension with the Nuggets. Although Murray will play this year on his rookie deal before the extension kicks in next season, expectations for a big year out of the Kitchener Ontario native are through the roof.

In game one, he finished with 14 points, six assists, five rebounds going 3-for-6 from three-point range.

The scoring numbers will come with Murray - that's what he does, he's a professional bucket getter. What's encouraging was his three-point shooting and assists number. Look, the 22-year-old won't shoot 50% from three-point range all season long, but if he can keep that number in the high 30s it will only force defences to scramble out to him on the arc. According to basketball reference's season average projections for 2019-20, Murray is on his way to having a career year from deep. If he can couple good shooting with the ability to help Nikola Jokic play-make on offence, the Nuggets may very well be title contenders.

Other notables

Dillon Brooks is back and healthy for the Memphis Grizzlies. Brooks was moving well and fluid in his first game back since January after having surgery to fix a ruptured ligament in his right big toe.

Brandon Clarke made his debut with the aforementioned Grizzlies and was his usual efficient self. Clarke finished with eight points, seven boards, one block shooting 50% from the field in 23 minutes. After claiming summer league MVP he still might be the steal of the draft.

Trey Lyles quietly played well for the Spurs in his debut. Lyles is often one of the forgotten Canadians but with the Spurs and a chance to possibly start consistently this season that may change.

Tristan Thompson is in a contract year, he'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. So you know what that means...Thompson is about to put up big-time numbers. Night one of the Thompson stat packing, he put up a double-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds going 8-for-11 from the field. There might be a playoff team or two interested in Thompson come December.

A lot was made over the summer of who didn't play for Team Canada at the FIBA World Cup and not enough was made of who did. Kelly Olynyk was one of the NBAers who was ready to represent his country, however, an injury kept him off the roster. In his season debut for Miami, he chipped in with 7 points, 8 rebounds as the Heat blew out the Grizz 120-101.

Cory Joseph is on the left coast this season after signing with the Kings in July. He and former Ryerson Rams' head coach Roy Rana will provide some CanCon for those who decide to stay up late on the east coast and watch what should be an exciting Sacramento team this summer. Joseph came off the bench for 10 points, four assists in the Kings upset loss to the Suns.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker told NBA.com that he doesn't want to be complacent. Although his shots didn't fall, he came out firing in his first NBA game and he'll continue to fire all season long for the Pelicans.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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