The NBA’s Canadian Invasion: A Primer

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Anthony Bennett, Canada’s first ever number one draft pick, is leading a new crop of young stars onto the sport’s biggest stage.

Let’s face it. Basketball has been fighting an uphill battle in Canada when it comes to capturing the country’s collective sports psyche. We’re a hockey country, after all – it’s a part of our history, a part of our heritage, and a great way to assert our dominance over our southern rivals every few years (I got three words for you, U.S.A.: Iginla to Crosby).

But that might be changing. For the first time ever in our country’s history, the number of Canadians in the National Basketball Association has reached double digits. For those hockey-conditioned fans, that might not seem like much, but consider this: since 1946, only twenty-three Canadians have ever made the big stage. Twenty-three. That’s it. For a country more interested in dunking donuts than basketballs, things have certainly changed north of the 49th parallel.  And that’s before we get to talking about Andrew Wiggins, the prohibitive favourite to be the league’s number one draft pick next year, and someone who’s already drawing headlines like “The next LeBron James?

In short, it’s an exciting time to be a Canadian basketball fan. And with the 2013/2014 season just kicking off (the first games were played October 29th), what better time then to go through a quick rundown of all the Canadian content you’ll see in the league this season? With our handy guide, you’ll be able to be the patriotic basketball fan you always thought you could be.

Or impress your friends at the bar. Whatever.

Joel Anthony, Miami Heat (Montreal)

anthony_1The only member of the “Canadian Ten” to win an NBA title thus far, Anthony’s claim to fame is being a member of LeBron James’ defending champion Miami squad. One of Canada’s elder statesmen at 31, Anthony will see sparse minutes for the Heat this season, but is most well known as a bruising defensive center, who makes up for his lack of height (he’s tiny for the position at 6 foot 9) with tenacity and good fundamentals. He doesn’t play the prettiest game, but he gets the job done – how much more Canadian can you get?

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers (Toronto)

rank2_400_070713A sweet-shooting forward who played his college basketball at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Bennett shocked the basketball world (listen to ESPN columnist Bill Simmons’ reaction to the pick) by being the first Canadian chosen first overall at last year’s draft. Bennett’s career has gotten off to a slow start thus far – he only managed two points in his debut – but being selected first overall in the draft signifies that the Cavaliers think they might have a star in the making.

Samuel Dalembert, Dallas Mavericks (Montreal)

hi-res-184068788-close-up-shot-of-samuel-dalembert-of-the-dallas_display_imageOriginally from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Dalembert moved to Montreal at a young age and officially became a Canadian citizen in 2007. A veteran shot-blocking center, Dalembert is perhaps best known north of the border for being kicked off the Canadian national team. According to then-coach Leo Rautins, Dalembert “put himself before the team,” which necessitated his dismissal. Well, of course it did. We Canadians are a polite bunch.

Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs (Toronto)

120103_joseph_300x400After being drafted by the perennially-contending San Antonio Spurs in 2011, Joseph has spent the last two years backing up superstar point guard Tony Parker (seen here rapping in French). The Spurs are known around the league for their ability to find talent through the draft, though, and Joseph has proven he’s ready to take a bigger role on the team. This 22-year-old is one to watch.

Kris Joseph, Recently Waived, Orlando Magic (Montreal)

os-pictures-2013-orlando-magic-media-day-20130-152The second cousin of Cory (and watch out for Cory’s brother Devoe, a former college star at Oregon who’s currently plying his trade overseas), Kris Joseph is another lunchpail forward who’s looking to carve out a spot for himself in the league after sparse appearances the past two seasons. On October 25, he was waived by the Orlando Magic as they trimmed their roster, so he’ll just get back to doing what he does: working hard, staying in shape, and searching for that perfect opportunity to stick in the ‘Association.

Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers (Victoria)

fe6fc44e838fc8675eecdef76b1f3308You’ve all heard of this guy. A Canadian legend and surefire hall-of-famer (and the current oldest player in the NBA), the 39-year-old point guard has the unique distinction of not only being the only Canadian to win the NBA’s MVP award, but to win it twice back-to-back. To put that achievement into context, only ten players in the history of the league have managed to do it: a list that includes legends like Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. Now in the twilight of his career, Nash has already begun the transition to the front office: he might be retired from international competition, but he was named the general manager of Canada’s senior national team last year. Now that’s aging gracefully.

Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic (Mississauga)

Andrew+Nicholson+2012+NBA+Rookie+Photo+Shoot+KNe69dejMlylA 23-year-old power forward who was selected in the 2012 NBA draft, Nicholson’s poised to break out in his second year after a big summer on the Canadian national team – one game in, he’s already being described in superlatives like “unstoppable.” A former college star at Saint Bonaventure, Nicholson’s versatile offensive game is a joy to watch – unfortunately, his lowly Magic team is not. Still young and improving, Nicholson is going to be key to both Orlando and Canada basketball as they build toward eventual contention. Don’t be surprised to hear him generating some “Most Improved Player” buzz this season.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (Toronto)

2013 NBA Rookie Photo ShootA breakout star during last year’s college season, Olynyk used a high-energy, high-motor game to make sure that the first thing basketball fans say about him isn’t: “hey, that guy looks like Jay, from Jay and Silent Bob.” Olynyk was a breakout star of the NBA’s Summer League and will likely see heavy minutes for the Celtics this year as they rebuild – giving him plenty of leeway to learn on the job and continue his already promising development. In this case, the hockey hair is just a bonus. But, oh, what a bonus it is.

Robert Sacre, Los Angeles Lakers (Vancouver)

robert-sacre-adidas-pro-modelThe last overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft (it’s not as sad as it seems – the NBA draft is only two rounds), the seven-foot tall Sacre hasn’t had much of a chance to prove his worth in the NBA just yet: he spent his first two seasons backing up All-Stars Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That hasn’t stopped Sacre from carving out his niche in the league, though: he’s currently the NBA’s reigning towel waver extraordinaire. Hey, we’ve all gotta be good at something.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers (Toronto)

tristan-thompson-profile-pictureThe best bet among the current crop to be Steve Nash’s heir apparent as Canada’s next hoops star, Thompson’s added a scoring tough to his excellent defence and rebounding in his third season in the league. With the Cavaliers looking to contend sooner rather than later, the 22-year-old is a key cog in what they hope will be a vastly improved core this season. Perhaps most unbelievably, his shooting touch may have come from a decision he made this summer: Thompson actually switched his shooting hand from the left to the right after struggling in his first two NBA seasons. Thinking outside the box with success? That’s a true Canadian right there.

So, there you have it: these ten guys, along with Canada’s lone team, the Toronto Raptors (shameless plug time: I’m also a writer for ESPN TrueHoop’s Raptors Republic), are this great nation’s contribution to the great league that is the National Basketball Association.

Now go forth, friends and watch the NBA – the Canadian way.

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Featured images sourced on Google.

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