As Team Canada, 15th in FIBA rankings, prepares for the Basketball World Cup next week, their roster is headlined by All-NBA 1st Team member, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; who is joined by fellow NBA players Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, LuGuentz Dort, Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell.
Although without NBA champion, Jamal Murray, the “Road Warriors” participated in three prep games that took place in Germany last week to fine-tune their approach for the tournament:
vs. Germany (1)
vs. New Zealand
vs. Germany (2)
Takeaways and Outlook
The 2nd game vs Germany should be considered the best outlook for Canada as they played a short rotation with their main guys getting a lot of minutes, using just 10 players (Zach Edey was the 11th man) against the Eurobasket 2022 Bronze medalist, Germany, with 4 NBA and 6 Euroleague players on their roster.
Guards: With the uncertainty around Jamal Murray, SGA led Team Canada in all games as the point guard, and showed that his NBA production translates: he averaged 25.5 PTs, 4 REBs & 4.5 ASTs.
Zaragosa´s Trae Bell-Haynes played back-up point guard in limited minutes with Nickeil Alexander-Walker helping out with ball-handling duties, assuming the primary defensive assignments (Dennis Schröder), and providing instant offense.
Canada also has the luxury of rotating down some of their forwards to the shooting guard position for size and defense (Dort, Brooks, Barrett).
Forwards: Canada has a very balanced group on the wings.
RJ Barrett started and was unstoppable against Germany on Sunday, while Dillon Brooks was his usual self, playing super intense defense and getting under the skin of opponents.
Lu Dort was very good in all three games, providing a spark off the bench while using his physical attributes, and veteran Melvin Ejim assumed the final forward spot, simply doing what he is/was asked to do.
All forwards can guard multiple positions and switch a lot on defense and cover multiple spots in the team´s rotation.
Bigs: During the test games, Dwight Powell started at center, with Kelly Olynyk at power forward.
Powell plays defense, rim-runs, and is physical around the rim, while Olynyk is used primarily as a shooter who also handles the ball at times with guards setting screens for him.
The backup center, Hapoel Tel-Aviv´s Kyle Alexander, plays similarly to Powell – once Olynyk goes to the bench, their forwards are used at the 4, allowing Canada to switch a lot on defense, be quick and with mismatches on offense.
With the roster’s flexibility, expect a lot of lineups with Olynyk at the 5 and then Dort, Brooks, Barrett, or Ejim at the 4.
Canada starts the tournament against France, #5 in FIBA rankings, and a big test right away.
On paper, the remaining teams in the group Lebanon and Latvia (with Kristaps Porzingis) are less formidable, and the Canadians should advance from the group, but they must execute.
With the current roster, expectations for Team Canada are high, and a medal is in the realm of possibility. If they have success and finish as one of the best two teams from the Americas, they would receive automatic qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.