Down in Orlando at “The Most Magical Place on Earth”, NBA players are readying to create some magic themselves. And unless Doc Rivers keeps dialing up the anonymous hotline, we’ll be back to watching NBA basketball starting on Thursday, July 30.
It’s been nearly 20 weeks since the infamous March 11th game between the Jazz and Thunder was cancelled moments before tip off as fans unnervingly left the stadium. So much has changed since then. And at first, games might feel eerily weird with no fans in the stands—but the bottom line is basketball will be on TV. The Raptors will be defending their title. Lebron and AD will be going for their first with the Lakers. Kawhi will be trying to carry another team to a ‘ship. The storylines are endless.
And yes, of course, we’ll be watching the biggest names but we’ll also be keeping an eye on those players who could be playing in Victoria next summer at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Canada, Greece, and Turkey—three of the six teams in the tournament—currently have players competing in the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
Here’s our definitive “must-watch” list of players fighting for an NBA Championship who could be doing the same for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
8. Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat/Canada)
Kelly Olynyk has been one of the few NBA players to suit up for Team Canada in recent years and the Kamloops native is expected to do so once again in Victoria. His season with the Heat hasn’t gone the way he’d liked it to with injury bugs keeping him out of a handful of games. Expect Olynyk to come off the bench and provide a three-point option for the Heat as they look to solidify their playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
7. Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks/Turkey)
Turkish-born Ersan Ilyasova is back in Milwaukee after spending his first seven NBA seasons with the Bucks. It’d take a massive slide (they’d have to lose every seeding game) for the Bucks to fall out of first place in the east so an even spread of playing time looks likely. The big Turk is looking to leave his stamp on the Bucks organization as he could move into the top five for games played for the franchise by playing in seven of the eight seeding games.
6. Chris Boucher (Toronto Raptors/Canada)
We’d be remiss to not include a Raptors players on this list. Boucher may not get many minutes with the Raptors strong starting lineup but he’s made a difference when he’s come off the bench this year. Back in December he checked into the game with four and a half minutes left in the third quarter and posted a career-high 21 points and four blocks. Bouch will try and help the Raptors lock up second place in the East with first all but out of reach.
5. Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers/Turkey)
The second Turk on our list, Furkan Korkmaz, has been a staple in the Sixers rotation this year. Going into the NBA’s restart he knows he’ll have to battle Ryan Broekhoff for minutes. That doesn’t bother the shooting specialist though as he notes that when it comes to the playoffs you need to have a deep bench and plenty of shooting options on the floor. The Sixers cannot fall further than where they sit now—sixth place in the East—but have their eyes set on moving up the standings as far as third or fourth place.
4. Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies/Canada)
After an injury-shortened campaign in 2018/19, Dillon Brooks started all 65 games for the Grizzlies this season. The shooting guard averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game while also improving his steals and rebounds per game. The third-year pro will look to help Memphis secure a spot in the Western Conference playoffs as they currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot, just three games above the Portland Trail Blazers.
3. Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets/Canada)
Jamal Murray, one of Canada’s best NBA players, had the best season of his four-year career with the Denver Nuggets, setting career highs in points, assists, and steals. Murray spent his lockdown in Denver training with fellow Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and believes the pair can carry their team all the way through a tight Western Conference.
When me and Joker are on, I don’t think there is anybody that is going to stop us,” said Murray on a Zoom call with the media. “And if they do, then good game.”
The Nuggets sit fourth in and will have to stay sharp in their seeding games to remain there with the likes of the Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets looking to leapfrog them.
2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder/Canada)
22-year-old Canadian phenom Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has quickly become a cornerstone of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s franchise alongside all-star veteran Chris Paul. After being shipped over from the Clippers in a massive trade for Paul George last offseason, Shai hasn’t missed a beat. He’s started every game for the Thunder this season while nearly doubling his point total from last year to an impressive 19.3 points per game. The Thunder sit in fifth in the West and will look to climb up the standings during the seeding games. As Shai goes, so do the Thunder.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks/Greece)
Forget topping the list of FOQT-eligible players to watch during the NBA restart, Giannis Antetokounmpo could top the list of NBA players to watch period. "The Greek Freak" is the league’s reigning MVP and has carried the Milwaukee Bucks to a comfortable first-place position in the Eastern Conference. After an insane 2018/19 season, he’s even improved his points per game by two—scary. The Bucks sit seven games above the Raptors so it will be interesting to see how much he is used in the seeding games. Rest assured that he will be back to full minutes come playoff time with his eyes set on beating out the rest of the league’s greats for his first NBA Championship.