CanCon

Canadians in the NBA: Which players will make the biggest impact in the 2021-22 NBA season?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Andrew Wiggins FTR
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Andrew Wiggins [NBA Getty Images]

Over the previous two seasons, there were a record-setting 20 Canadians that made opening day NBA rosters.

Ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season, which is set to tip off on Tuesday, Oct. 19, that record will be broken, with 21 Canadians cracking a roster spot.

The game of basketball is evergrowing in Canada, as evidence of the country having the most representatives in the NBA outside of the United States.

From star players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andrew Wiggins to rookies like Joshua Primo, take a look at each Canadians' role on their respective team heading into the new season.

Canadian preview for 2021-22 NBA season

Starters

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans

From: Toronto, ON

Alexander-Walker is becoming a favourite to have a breakout season in Year 3, expected to crack the Opening Day starting lineup for the first time under a new head coach in Willie Green. Averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 13 starts last season, Alexander-Walker showed flashes of being productive when given the minutes and he'll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself as a scoring playmaker this year.

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

From: Mississauga, ON

In his sophomore season, Barrett's success had a direct impact on the Knicks' surprise year in grabbing a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Averaging 17.6 points on much-improved .441/.401/.746 shooting splits, he became a solid No. 2 option to first-time All-Star Julius Randle. With high expectations surrounding New York to replicate last year's magic, Barrett will need to continue his development this season to keep the Knicks in the playoff picture.

Khem Birch, Toronto Raptors

From: Montreal, QC

Birch latched on with the Raptors at the end of last season and thrived in his role, taking over full-time starting center duties while earning himself a three-year, $20 million contract this offseason. He averaged11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 blocks over 19 games with the Raptors, recording three double-doubles. He'll resume his role as the team's starting center, looking to make the most of his first real opportunity to play consistent minutes throughout an entire season.

Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies

From: Mississauga, ON

Brooks made a name for himself as an intense on-ball defender at the end of the season last year, most notably playing lockdown defence on DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry in the Grizzlies' two Play-In games. Brooks will miss the start of the season this year as he recovers from a fractured left hand that he suffered over the summer. Once he returns to the floor, he will be expected to resume his role as the starting shooting guard for a Memphis team looking to return to the playoffs.

Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

From: Montreal, QC

Dort's capabilities on defence are known, but he was starting to break through on the other side of the ball at the end of the year last year. He dropped a career-high 42 points with seven 3-pointers against the first-place Utah Jazz and had five games with 20 or more points after the All-Star break. Nagging injuries and rest caused Dort to only appear in 17 games during the unofficial second half of the season, but he'll be ready to assume his spot in the Thunder's starting lineup come Opening Night.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

From: Hamilton, ON

Gilgeous-Alexander only appeared in 35 games last season but his superstar potential was on full display. Averaging a career-best 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game, it's clear that the Thunder have found their franchise player to shape their rebuild. Gilgeous-Alexander will be in line for another monster season this year, being handed the keys to OKC's offence.

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

From: Kitchener, ON

Prior to a season-ending ACL injury last April, Murray was averaging career-highs of 21.2 points, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 40.8 percent from 3. Alongside MVP Nikola Jokic, he had the Nuggets looking like a threat to contend for the NBA title before the injury derailed his season. Murray is said to be out indefinitely entering this upcoming season, and with ACL recoveries typically taking a full year, it's safe to assume he'll remain sidelined until April at the earliest.

Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks

From: Toronto, ON

Powell had an up-and-down season last year in his return to play from suffering a torn Achilles in 2020. With inconsistent playing time, only averaging 16.7 minutes per game, it was tough for the Canadian big man to find his footing. However, he is expected to take over as the Mavericks' starting center heading into the 2021-22 season, meaning a bounce-back year could be on the way for the 30-year-old.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

From: Toronto, ON

Wiggins' first full season with the Warriors was a successful one, averaging 18.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game while shooting career-bests from the field (47.7%) and from 3 (38.0%). His progression on the defensive end may have been his biggest improvement, taking on challenging assignments every night for Golden State. He'll remain a starter this season, even when Klay Thompson eventually returns from injury, meaning it will be our first chance to see the Warriors' core at full strength.

Reserves

Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

From: Montreal, QC

Boucher was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season, breaking out to the tune of 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.5 3s per game - all of which were career-highs. He played a crucial role off the bench for the Raptors, a role he will regain this season once he returns from a fractured finger. Boucher is expected to miss the first two or so weeks of the season but will continue to be a microwave scorer and rim protector for Toronto in his fifth NBA season.

Ignas Brazdeikis, Orlando Magic

From: Oakville, ON

Brazdeikis is on a two-way contract for the Magic, meaning he'll spend the majority of his time with the reigning G League champion Lakeland Magic. He averaged 11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for Orlando at the end of last season, making the most of his opportunity on a 10-day contract to help him earn his two-way deal this offseason.

Oshae Brissett, Indiana Pacers

From: Mississauga, ON

Brissett played a major role in helping the Pacers qualify for the Play-In Tournament, filling in as a starter in the absence of Myles Turner. In 16 starts he averaged 13.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals, capped off by a career performance to end the season with 31 points and 10 rebounds against his native Toronto Raptors. His play helped him earn a three-year deal during the home stretch of last season and he should continue to be a key reserve for Indiana this year.

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

From: Vancouver, BC

Nagging injuries resulted in a bit of a regression for Clarke in Year 2 but the athletic big man will look to get back on track this upcoming season. He'll be fighting for minutes with newly acquired center Steven Adams, the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. and with last year's second-round pick Xavier Tillman Sr., but his versatility on the defensive end should help his case for playing time.

Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons

From: Toronto, ON

Back-up point guards don't get much more reliable than Joseph. The veteran was as solid as can be once he was traded to the Pistons last season, averaging 12.0 points and 5.5 assists per game. He'll continue to play in a reserve role behind young guys Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, but his presence will be invaluable in leading the locker room of a youthful team amidst a rebuild.

Trey Lyles, Detroit Pistons

From: Saskatoon, SK

Lyles was signed by the Pistons this offseason to add some depth to the roster. He averaged 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for the Spurs last season.

Kelly Olynyk, Detroit Pistons

From: Kamloops, BC

Olynyk had arguably the best stretch of his career once he was traded to the Rockets last season, stuffing the stat sheet with 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals over 27 games. Playing with as much freedom as he has ever had, Olynyk proved to be well worth the three-year, $37 million deal he signed with Detroit this offseason. Olynyk lands on the reserves here because Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart are expected to start, but he could be a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate if he can maintain his production from Houston.

Tristan Thompson, Sacramento Kings

From: Brampton, ON

Thompson was traded to the Kings this offseason to try and add a veteran leader to a team trying to snap a 15-year playoff drought. He played a physical interior role for the Celtics last season, averaging 7.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He'll fight with Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley III for playing time, but Thompson will provide a similar attitude to Sacramento's second unit this season.

Rookies

Dalano Banton, Toronto Raptors

From: Toronto, ON

Despite being a second-round pick, the Raptors signed Banton to a full-time contract with the Raptors this season. Intrigued by his length and versatility, don't be surprised to see the Canada native used in spurts off the bench for his hometown team.

Eugene Omoruyi, Dallas Mavericks

From: Orangeville, ON

Omoruyi's strong play in Summer League and preseason earned him a two-way contract with the Mavericks after going undrafted. His physicality and versatility provide something Dallas could use, and he could be a candidate to have his two-way contract converted if he thrives when given a chance this season.

Kevin Pangos, Cleveland Cavaliers

From: Holland Landing, ON

Even at 28-years-old, Pangos lands on the rookie list here, set to appear in his first real NBA action this season. Long regarded as one of Canada's best point guards, Pangos will back up the young duo of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in Cleveland.

Joshua Primo, San Antonio Spurs

From: Toronto, ON

Primo was the surprise pick of the draft when the Spurs selected him 12th overall, but the youngest player in the NBA is ready to prove himself for a rebuilding team this season. He had a strong showing in the preseason and with plenty of minutes up for grabs, don't be surprised to see Primo crack the everyday rotation in his very first season.

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