Even as the presence of Canadians in the NBA has exploded in the past 20 years with lottery picks, all-star teams, maximum contracts and championship rings as touch points for how far it all has come, one fact seemed forever unassailable: Steve Nash was and always will be the best basketball player Canada has ever produced.
No one before and seemingly no one since looked like they could pull together a resume that included eight all-star game appearances, seven All-NBA teams, six assist titles, two Most Valuable Player awards, a spot on the NBA’s 75thAnniversary team and induction into the Hall-of-Fame.
For perspective, no other Canadian player has even received a vote to be on an All-NBA team, let alone be included in an MVP conversation. Nash was a late bloomer and played until he was 40, so there is plenty of time for Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett or maybe one day a Ben Mathurin or Shaedon Sharpe to reach the peaks of the sport.
But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t waiting, and he isn’t late-blooming. His time is now.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder star takes the floor against the Toronto Raptors Thursday night he will be giving a local audience a first-hand look at – arguably – the best season a Canadian NBA player has ever had.
His is a hardwood masterpiece, on par with any of Nash’s best seasons, even his MVP years in 2004-05 and 2005-06 – we’ll get to that in a minute – and beyond what any other Canadian has managed otherwise.
At 24 he’s already the youngest of the four Canadians to have ever appeared in an all-star game, and at the end of the season, Gilgeous-Alexander will almost certainly join Nash as just the second Canadian to earn All-NBA recognition. Presuming it happens, the achievement would come four years and a season before Nash was named third team All-NBA in 2001-02 as a 28-year-old in his sixth season and then playing with the Dallas Mavericks.
But Nash himself saw it coming. In 2020-21 Nash was in his first season as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets when he looked at what Gilgeous-Alexander was doing that season – his third – and identified that something special was brewing.
“He’s taken another step — his scoring, his feel, his passing, pick-and-roll, and isolation situations … He’s shooting better off the bounce than (he) has been historically. He just continues to grow and prove he’s a very clever player,” Nash said then. “For such a young career, you can see him evolving into a perennial All-Star.”
That was the year Gilgeous-Alexander put up 23.7 points and 5.9 assists a game while shooting 50.8 per cent from the floor and 41.8 per cent from three. That he was limited by injury to just 35 games playing for the rebuilding Thunder meant that he more than doubled his production from his rookie season in 2017-18 largely went unnoticed. Last season there were more signs, as Gilgeous Alexander put up 24.5 points a game but again had his season cut short by injuries, plus the fact the Thunder were happy to finish in the lottery again.
But this season has been – without exaggeration – unprecedented, and not just for Canadian.
Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.3 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks while shooting 50.9 per cent from the floor for a young OKC team that was projected to be lottery-bound. But instead, the Thunder arrive in Toronto in eighth place in the Western Conference (prior to games Wednesday night), one game under .500 and – with 34 wins – having already well exceeded their win totals from the past two seasons with 13 games left to play.
The point guard from Hamilton is on pace to shatter the previous high in points per game for a Canadian (23.6 by Wiggins in 2016-17) and total points (also Wiggins) and be the first to score 2000 points in a season. Gilgeous-Alexander is in a neck-and-neck race with Murray to become the first Canadian since Nash to have 400 assists in a season.
And he does it all with a style that’s his own as he uses his 6-foot-6 frame, long arms a tight handle and a mesmerizing ability to change pace and leave defenders grasping at air as he camps out in the paint, collapsing defences from the inside out.
“He’s got an incredible first step, incredible quickness, incredible tempo to the way he can get his defender off balance and he’s by him and into the paint,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who also coached Gilgeous-Alexander this past summer for the national team and is hoping to have him at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball this coming summer. “He’s really just smooth and quick with that move and he can kinda do it in bunch of different ways so you can’t really catch his rhythm on it, if there’s a rhythm …. he’s hard to keep in front of anyone with the ball in his hands.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s breakout has s been building season by season since he was drafted 11th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2018 and then traded after a successful rookie season to OKC in the deal for Paul George.
But this season has been an explosion and Gilgeous-Alexander is on the short list of favourites for the Most Improved Player Award, which would be one more Canadian first.
Another way to capture how momentous a season Gilgeous-Alexander is having?
The only other NBA player to average at least 31 points, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game for a season is Michael Jordan – yeah, that Michael Jordan — and Gilgeous-Alexander is the first to do it with a True Shooting percentage (a measure of scoring efficiency that captures two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws) of 62.5 or better.
And then there’s Nash. When the Victoria, B.C. star won his first MVP award in 2004-04 he averaged 15.5 points, 11.5 assists with a True Shooting percentage of 60.6 as he lifted the Suns from 29 wins the season before to an NBA-best 62 wins in his first year back with the Phoenix, where he had played for two seasons before being traded to Dallas.
Nash wasn’t a hugely impactful defender, but he did average a steal per game that season.
The advanced or ‘catch all’ measures are in Gilgeous-Alexander’s favour. His PER (player efficiency rating) is 27.1, the best ever by a Canadian and compares well with Nash’s 22.0 during his first MVP year. Similarly, Gilgeous-Alexander’s WinShares per 48 minutes of .229 is elite for a guard, and ahead of Nash at .203. Even Nash’s numbers in his most statistically dominant season in 2006-07 (18.5 points, 11.5 assists and 65.4 TS%; 23.8 PER and .225 WS/48) when the Suns star finished second in the MVP voting, don’t quite match up with Gilgeous-Alexander’s overall production this year.
Those who know him well will say they knew they had this kind of level in him, but to get to it this soon in his career?
“I mean, he was real good last year. He’s always been really good,” Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk – a teammate of Gilgeous-Alexander’s on the Canadian national team this past summer told me recently. “He’s just got a lot of tools in his bag, but I didn’t know he’d be this good, this fast, I guess. But even his rookie year, you knew he was going to be something special in this league for sure. He’s got size for a guard, length, long arms. Can shoot it, put on the floor, go by people, and has a knack for getting fouled and he can pass, so he’s a real tough cover.”
Gilgeous-Alexander had it all on display when he suited up for three games for the senior team during World Cup qualifying last summer and was casually dominant in leading Canada to three wins while averaging 26.3 points, 4.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks.
“This summer you could see it for sure. He was scoring at will,” said Olynyk. “When he was with us he was the best guy in the gym 99 per cent of the time.”
And if he doesn’t come across with the kind of snarl often associated with NBA alphas – just the other day he made a case for being nicer to referees – it’s not because he’s lacking edge or confidence. The opposite maybe.
“He’s kind of cool, calm, collected, but I think he’s got a killer instinct in his head, but he doesn’t make it known,” said Olynyk. “He just believes in himself to the utmost degree and you’re watching it unfold.”
Gilgeous Alexander signalled he was on a mission earlier this year when he hit a pair of walk-off game-winners to cap off huge nights – one on Nov. 16th against the Washington Wizards and another on Dec. 19th against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nothing new, says his cousin and national team backcourt mate Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who will be in Toronto on Saturday with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Watching all these game winner, I’m like, ‘I’ve seen this a thousand times.’ I’ve seen it go from People’s Church [in Hamilton] to an NBA arena, and it’s the same result,” said the four-year veteran. “And there’s days I believe in him more than I believe in my own self. I’ve learned a lot from him, and to see what he’s doing is no surprise to me. People think it has been just this past summer, but this has been compounded from all the summers of work going back to high school. He’s worked tremendously hard, and I knew one day this is what we’d be seeing.”
What we’re seeing is Canadian basketball greatness, with Gilgeous-Alexander playing the game as well or better than anyone from this country ever has, with a future limited only by his health and imagination.
Nash set an impossibly high bar for Canadians with NBA dreams to reach. At 24 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander is showing that he might the person to clear it.
By: Michael Grange
Title: Canada’s Gilgeous-Alexander is matching Nash’s greatness, but could he surpass it?
Sourced From: www.sportsnet.ca/nba/article/thunders-gilgeous-alexander-is-matching-nashs-greatness-but-could-he-surpass-it/
Published Date: 03-16-2023
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Canada home to many NBA teams?
Since 2001, the Toronto Raptors have been the only Canadian NBA team. The Vancouver Grizzlies were an NBA team from 1995 to 2001 but relocated to Memphis and became the Memphis Grizzlies. Canada did have two NBA teams for a while, the Vancouver Grizzlies in Canada and the Toronto Raptors in Canada. But there is currently no NBA team in Canada. Canadian basketball fans are still passionate, even though Canada does not have an NBA team. Many Canadians travel to the United States to see games. Since 1995, the Toronto Raptors have been a well-known team and draw large crowds to their Scotiabank Arena home games. Each year, hundreds of Canadians travel to America for the NBA All-Star Weekend. Canada is home to more than one NBA franchise, thanks to its population of 38 million. Many North American basketball fans debate the possibility of having a second NBA team. The Toronto Raptors will continue to be the only Canadian representative in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) is a professional basketball league based in Canada. This league features six teams from Canadian cities and towns, including Fraser Valley Bandits (Abbotsford, BC), Edmonton Stingers (Edmonton, Alberta), Guelph Nighthawks (Guelph, Ontario), Hamilton Honey Badgers (Hamilton, Ontario), Saskatchewan Rattlers (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), and Niagara River Lions (St. Catharines, Ontario). The CEBL is Canada's only professional league for basketball.
From 2011 to 2020, there was a professional male basketball league called the National Basketball League of Canada. It featured eight teams from Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Cape Breton, Summerside, London, Windsor and Kitchener. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBLC was forced to cease operations in 2020.
Canada has several junior basketball leagues. One example is the Canadian National Basketball League (CNB), which is a semi-professional men’s league that is based in Vancouver. CNB teams come from British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. Canadian Elite Development League is another Canadian junior basketball league. It consists mainly of teams from the Greater Toronto Area. AC) or the Canadian Youth Basketball League. These leagues give young basketball players an opportunity to learn and compete in a competitive setting.
Why did NBA leave Vancouver?
NBA left Vancouver after a dispute regarding arena financing. The City had planned to contribute $40 million toward the construction of a new basketball arena. It would have 12 luxury suites, two restaurants and a bar. The City Council decided to give $60 million to the team owners to help pay off existing debt. This meant that the city had to borrow $200m to construct the arena. But the team owners would only have to pay back $20m. This would mean that the city's taxpayers would be responsible for paying back the rest of the loan.
The City Council stated that they would be open to the plan if the NBA agreed not to leave Rogers Arena until the new facility opens. The league refused to sign on, claiming that the arena was no longer large enough. They were not interested in playing there anymore, as it was too small. They felt it was unfair to ask them to keep playing in a smaller venue when they were not getting more revenue.
The City Council then asked the province to step in and help out by offering financial assistance. Although the province offered $150 million to the project, the City Council needed $100 million more. The City then decided to abandon its plans and instead focus on building a new downtown arena.
What does "We The North", mean?
The phrase "We The North," also known as We The North Nation, is an anthem used by the Toronto Raptors. It was written by Drake and Noah Shebib, a producer.
Drake wrote the song while staying at his friend's apartment in Toronto. He completed his album Take Care with Kanye West. Drake also wrote some lyrics about his hometown during the recording process. Drake wanted it to be universally applicable. It speaks of unity, pride and hope.
Drake began work on the melody of We The North's single "Nice For What" when he went to London to film the video. He recorded the instrumental version in just one take.
While Drake was writing the lyrics for the track, 40 came up with the chorus. Drake loved the hook and asked to record it. Together, they came up with the final product.
The official music video for "We The North Anthem," was released on October 5, 2018. The video featured Shawn Mendes, a Canadian singer-songwriter, performing with Drake and other musicians.
When was the Raptors their first game?
The Raptors played the New Jersey Nets in their first regular season at the SkyDome on November 3, 1995. Alvin Robertson scored the first point in franchise history, drawing 33,306 spectators. The Raptors defeated Nets 94-79% with contributions from Damon Stoudamire (with 10 points and 10 assists) as well Robertson (30pts).
Who owns Toronto Raptors
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) owns the team. MLSE also owns Toronto FC's NHL team, Toronto FC's MLS team, and the Toronto Argonauts CFL team.
Who are the top five per-game scorers in the Raptor's history?
Kawhi Leonard is the most prolific scorer of the team with 26.6 per game. Vince Carter follows with 23.4, Mike James (with 20.3), Chris Bosh (20.2), and DeMar DeRozan (20.2).
Which was the Raptors' best year?
The 2019 NBA Championship season was the Toronto Raptors best year. It was a thrilling, memorable season for Toronto Raptors. The Raptors won their first NBA Championship in franchise history. The team posted a 58-24 record during the regular season, with Kawhi Leonard named Finals MVP. The Golden State Warriors were defeated in six games by the team to win the title.
The Toronto Raptors reorganized their front office in 2013, replacing Bryan Colangelo with Masaiujiri. This was a major change for the franchise, and would lead to a new era that would see them one of the most successful teams in the NBA.
The Raptors experienced a revival under Ujiri. They reached the playoffs for the first-time since 2008, and were back in the top five Divisions. They have won five Division titles since then. Their most successful regular season was in 2018. Ujiri was also able to make a risky yet successful trade that sent DeMar DeRozan from the San Antonio Spurs to get Kawhi Leonard.
The Raptors had a phenomenal 2019, winning their first conference crown and making it to NBA finals. In total, they beat the Golden State Warriors six times.
Ujiri’s tenure with Raptors has been a tremendous success. It is worth recognizing him as the one who changed the team’s fortunes. The Raptors are one of the top teams in the NBA thanks to his leadership and appear poised to remain contenders for many more years.
The 2019 championship season will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best years in the Raptors' history.
Ujiri and other members of the Toronto Raptors team should keep their eyes on the future and work hard to create a winning culture that supports both players and employees. This team's future is bright if they continue to strive for excellence. The Toronto Raptors have set the bar high for 2019 with their championship season. Now, it is up to Ujiri's team to build on this success.
- This improved during the 2006–07 regular season to an average of 18,258 fans (13th in the league), 92.2 percent capacity at the Air Canada Centre. (en.wikipedia.org)
- As predicted by analysts, the team easily secured a berth in the 2001 NBA playoffs with a franchise-high 47 wins. (en.wikipedia.org)
- In November of the 1996–97 season, Bitove sold his ownership interest in the team to Slaight for $65 million after Slaight had activated a shotgun clause in their partnership agreement, giving Slaight 79 percent control of the team,  (en.wikipedia.org)
- Thomas named Raptors' GM NBA superstar to have 10% stake in the new franchise". (en.wikipedia.org)
- After Thomas attempted to execute a letter of intent with Slaight to purchase the team failed, he resigned from his position in November and sold his 9 percent stake in the team to Slaight. (en.wikipedia.org)
- Tip In: Toronto Raptors' Game Post Game: Not Just Any Williams
- Raptors HQ, a Toronto Raptors community
Can I bring my photo camera to a Raptors match?
If you follow the rules and plan, you'll be fine. It is acceptable to bring a camera to an NBA match. There is nothing illegal about this. However, you need to be aware about the potential dangers.
Before you start taking pictures of the game, consider whether it is allowed. You don't need a heavy DSLR or smartphone to take great photos as long as you are near the court.
But if you've got a serious interest in sports photography and want to make sure you score a few more photos for your portfolio, then you need to check out these tips for better basketball snapshots.
The second thing you must think about is which camera you are going to be using. If you want to shoot action shots, or share memorable moments with others, you need a professional grade camera.
Also, consider how much you're willing and able to spend on setting up your shot. You might consider buying a tripod and remote release if you plan to shoot hoops with your children.
You must also decide where you will store your gear. You can't just set up shop in the arena and expect that someone will give you a card. You'll need to bring extra batteries and cables or have somewhere to store your things while you watch the game.
It is important to plan ahead if you want high quality photos at sporting events. It will allow you to capture amazing images that you can share with others.