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Keeping Up With The Canadians: Surprise teams, career-highs and Rising Stars selections highlight a busy January

Keeping Up With The Canadians
Keeping Up With The Canadians (NBA.com)

Seventeen.

17 Canadians saw NBA action in the month of January, making their presence felt in various ways across the league.

Three, in particular, stood out thanks to their roles with a few of the league's most pleasantly surprising teams.

The Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors have each exceeded expectations placed upon them heading into the season; each team has two Canadians on their respective rosters.

Let's start with Memphis.

While Brandon Clarke received most of the focus in our 2020 lookahead, it's Dillon Brooks that will get the focus for his play in the month of January.

Keeping Up With the Canadians: Biggest storylines for 2020

This past month, Brooks led all Canadians with 20.5 points per game while shooting 45.5% from beyond the arc and 86.4% from the charity stripe. The Mississauga native scored 20 or more points 10 times and the Grizzlies were 9-1 in those games.

This season, Memphis is 17-1 when Brooks scores 20 or more points, emphasizing his key role to the team's success. After winning just 33 games in 2018-19, the Grizzlies entered February as the West's No. 8 seed and will rely on Brooks' scoring as they continue their playoff push.

The CanCon is heavy in OKC as well, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues his ascension into stardom for a squad that has solidified itself as a playoff team.

In January, he wasn't the only Canadian to make his mark with the Thunder.

Two-way player Luguentz Dort kicked off the new year by stepping up in a major way, appearing in eight games with the Thunder.

He didn't see minimal action, either.

Dort started in seven of the eight games he appeared in and averaged 9.0 points while playing in over 25 minutes per game. OKC's record when Dort was a starter? 6-1.

The 20-year-old Montreal native had the best game of his young NBA career in a Jan. 29 win over the Sacramento Kings, as he scored a career-high 23 points while shooting 8-for-12 from the field and 5-for-6 from beyond the arc.

The parameters of Dort's two-way contract will prevent him from postseason play but his performance this season serves as a reminder that he'll have a place in this league for years to come.

Raptors forward Chris Boucher is the perfect example of grinding through the G League to get to the highest level.

In January, no Canadian blocked more shots per game than Boucher, who continues to prove he is ready whenever his name is called.

After a whirlwind of an offseason, not many expected the Raptors to be right back atop the Eastern Conference but they went 12-3 in the month of January to move to second in the standings.

This past month, Boucher continued to show his promise as he averaged 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over 10 games. With a recent injury to starting centre Marc Gasol, Boucher will see an increased role as the Raptors look to continue to build heading into the All-Star break.

Rising Stars

With All-Star Weekend on the horizon, January meant that the participants for a number of events would be announced.

The roster for Team World in the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge is yet another reminder that the future of basketball in Canada is very bright.

Of the 10 players selected to play for Team World, four are Canadian: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett, Brandon Clarke and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are each slated to suit up in this year's game. It's a big moment for all players selected but especially for cousins Alexander-Walker and Gilgeous-Alexander.

It's safe to assume that this is the first of many times we'll see these guys at All-Star Weekend.

Powell's setback

Similar to OKC, Memphis and Toronto, Dallas has surprised many this season by establishing itself as a legitimate playoff contender thanks in part to the play of Dwight Powell.

Powell was dealt an unfortunate blow on Jan. 21 as he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon that will sideline him for the remainder of the 2019-20 season and likely the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

Mavs guard JJ Barea, who has come back from the same injury, told ESPN's Tim MacMahon that he has no doubt Powell will be able to do the same: "(There's) nobody better or mentally stronger to come back from this than him. Nobody has ever and will ever work as hard as he is going to do."

Look for Powell to pick up right where he left off once he's back in action.

Murray misses time

While it isn't nearly as serious as Powell's injury, Jamal Murray missed the final nine games of January with a sprained left ankle.

To put that in perspective, Murray had missed just eight games in his career leading into this season.

Injuries are a part of the game and the Denver Nuggets have remained afloat without their prolific point guard but his offensive output is key to their success as it appears his return may be imminent.

January's stats leaders

Points Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies 20.5 ppg
Rebounds Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers 10.9 rpg
Assists Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves 4.5 apg
Steals Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder 1.4 spg
Blocks Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors 1.3 bpg

Wiggins' development as a playmaker this season is worth noting as he's averaging a career-best 3.7 assists per game. That he led all Canadians in assists in January is a testament to this development.

Thompson is also having a career year as a scorer and rebounder - he averaged 10.3 points this past month to go along with his boards, including a career-high 35 points in a Jan. 9 win over the Detroit Pistons.

100% chance of celebratory showers for @realtristan13's career-high. ☔️

A post shared by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

Around the G League

Who's got next? Look no further than the Candian G League standouts.

While on assignment from the New York Knicks, Ignas Brazdeikis averaged 24.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists with Westchester.

LA Clippers rookie Mfiondu Kabengele made the most of his assignment to the Agua Caliente Clippers, as he averaged 22.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in January.

Marial Shayok, who is on a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists with the Delaware Blue Coats.

Sioux Falls Skyforce guard Mychal Mulder averaged 20.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He's been joined in Sioux Falls by Kyle Alexander, who signed a two-way contract with the Heat on Jan. 15.

Raptors 905 enjoyed the play of two Canadians in particular as Oshae Brissett (17.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Tyler Ennis (16.6 ppg, 6.8 apg and 4.9 rpg) each made their mark in January.

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