We’re over a month into the NBA season and there has been no shortage of massive headlines. James Harden got his wish and is now cookin' in Brooklyn, the Raptors struggled out of the gate, Doc Rivers has the Sixers buzzing, the Warriors are back, and the Lakers look destined for another Championship.
But those aren’t the headlines that have us stoked on NBA basketball. This one is: A record 17 Canadian players were on opening-night NBA rosters. Next to Americans, that’s the most of any nationality in the league. And not only is there quantity but also quality. Canadian players have been contributing to their teams’ success while working on career-high personal bests across points, shooting percentage, and blocks.
With the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on the horizon and Team Canada’s talent pool more potent than ever before, we’ll be ranking the top five Canadian NBA players at the end of each month. Taking into account personal performance, pre-season expectations, and team success, here are the top five Canadians in the NBA as of the end of January.
5. Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors
What started out as a nightmare season for the Toronto Tampa Bay Raptors is starting to turn around in the past two weeks as they’ve won five of their past seven games. And hey, they’re playing in a new environment and as many can relate to recently, working remotely is a bit of an adjustment.
But not for Chris Boucher. The big man from Montreal has been a bright spot so far for the Raptors. He’s already in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award conversations as the most valuable player off the bench. What’s propelled him into that conversation? He’s scored more than 20 points seven times this season (shattering his previous best of three), he’s fourth in the league in blocks per game (one spot above Anthony Davis), and he’s converting 46.9% of his three-point attempts.
Chris Boucher has been a beast for the Raptors this season and we wouldn’t be surprised if he rose up these rankings next month.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins may not be the phenom he was touted as coming into the league back in 2014 but he’s carving out a vital role with his new team. His points per game aren’t too far off his career average and rank second on the team while his three-point shooting has rocketed up to 38.6%.
And while you obviously want to see offensive numbers climb, it’s what he’s doing at the other end of the court that nets him the number four spot on our power rankings. Wiggins is on pace to set career-highs in blocks even while being matched up with some of the best players in the league. Over two games against the Clippers Wiggins contained Kawhi, limiting him to 21 and 24 points—both of which are below his season average.
3. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
RJ Barrett has been hyped as the next great Canadian Basketball player long before he made his debut with the Knicks as a 19-year-old rookie. No, his rookie season may not have lived up to some analysts’ expectations but that’s just year one of many.
Barrett already looks more comfortable this season as the game seems to have slowed down for him. He’s reading defences better, making smart decisions with the ball, and has no hesitation when taking it to the rim. All of this has accumulated to career-highs in points, assists, and rebounds. But more importantly for him and fans of the losing-plagued Knicks, his play has resulted in wins. Sure, they sit below .500 at 8-10 but they’re in the mix for a playoff spot at the quarter-mark of the season and that is uniting the Knicks community.
2. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray. King of the bubble fifty burger. Destroyer of Clippers. Leader of Nuggets.
No, Murray hasn’t hit fifty points in a game so far this season but expecting monstrous performances on the regular like he had in last year’s playoffs is a little unrealistic (but don’t tell him that). He’s still averaging career-highs in points and along with Nikola Jokić has led the Nuggets to a 10-7 record—good enough for fourth in the Western Conference.
He’s on pace to double his thirty-point performances from last year and has recently found more consistency in his game. There were reports he was battling a few nagging injuries and if that’s the case, watch out. If this is what Murray can do while injured the rest of the NBA best worry about what he’ll do at full health. We predict at least a couple of fifty burgers.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai has been on fire to start the season and has quickly become the cornerstone of the Thunder in only his third NBA season and second with the franchise. He’s well on his way to smashing his career-high points per game while also currently doubling his previous career best in assists.
His coach, Mark Daigneault, sums up Shai’s season best. "He's taking on a different level of responsibility," Daigneault said. "He's playing a different role on this team than he has so far in his career, and he's not shying away from that."
On top of all his on-court success, Shai remains the undisputed most-stylish Canadian in the NBA.