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Canada basketball
Matt Johnson

What to watch for: A Canadian primer as the 2023-24 NBA season tips off



Oct 25, 2023

Another season of the NBA officially arrived on Tuesday night, and once again, Canada is well represented.

After one of the most successful summers in Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team’s history, which saw the program qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and reach the podium at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023, there will be no shortage of eyeballs following the long list of the Canadians set to star in the Association this season.

Twenty-six players from Canada are a part of Opening Night rosters for the 2023-24 NBA campaign — the most everas the path to Paris winds along with basketball at the Olympic Games set to tip-off in nearly nine months time.


At the front of it all is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. After being named an All-NBA First-Team guard for the first time in his career last season, the 25-year-old from Hamilton, Ont. put the world on notice this summer at the World Cup. Gilgeous-Alexander was instrumental in Canada’s bronze medal win, averaging 24.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game.  After coming oh so close to the playoffs last season with the Thunder when they were dispelled by the Minnesota Timberwolves in play-in action, expectations are high for Gilgeous-Alexander and Oklahoma City. The Thunder are arguably one of the most anticipated teams entering this season, as Shai joins forces with a young core, including rookie Chet Holmgren, with the hopes of bringing a perennial contender back to Oklahoma City.

While Gilgeous-Alexander pursues the postseason, that’s a feeling all too familiar to Jamal Murray. Fresh off a magical run to winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, Murray is back for more in 2023-24. He was brilliant in the Nuggets postseason run last summer, after averaging 26.1 points, 7.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds per gameand helping Denver to a 16-4 record en route to the title. The Kitchener, Ont. product decided not to join the Senior Men’s National Team for the World Cup this past summer to focus on recovery from a long season as he pursues back-to-back NBA championships. After not fully finding his stride until the latter stages of the 2022-23 season, the question is what a healthy Murray can help the Nuggets accomplish in the regular season this year, as a pursuit of another title is the goal in Denver.

Summer standouts

Joining Gilgeous-Alexander among the seven Canadian NBA’ers to suit up this past summer with the Senior Men’s National Team are Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Lugentz Dort, Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell.

Alexander-Walker inked a two-year $9 million deal with the Timberwolves this summer, providing the fifth-year vet with a sense of security as he officially settles in with his new squad. The Virginia Tech alumnus found his groove with Minnesota down the stretch after being acquired in a deadline deal and played a large role in the Thunderwolves postseason appearance after averaging 29.8 minutes per game in the Western Conference quarter-finals against Denver.

Barrett and the Knicks fizzled out in the postseason in 2022-23, falling short to the eventual NBA finalist Miami Heat in a six-game series. The Mississauga, Ont. product had three games in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Miami in which he totalled 24-plus points. The Duke Blue Devils alumnus, who played a big role for Canada this summer, will look to settle in and bring the Knicks over the hump in his fifth NBA season.

Perhaps no player made headlines during NBA Free Agency quite like ‘Dillon the Villain’ when he signed a 4-year, $80 million deal with the Houston Rockets, but he certainly backed up the lucrative signing this summer when he shined on the world stage. Brooks was an x-factor all World Cup long for Canada, punctuating his dominant showing with the Senior Men’s National Team by scoring 39 points in a bronze medal game win against the USA. Brooks brings his pedigree to Houston after being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive 2nd Team in 2022-23, as he and former Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet look to reset the culture in Houston and provide veteran leadership to a young Rockets team with an eye toward making strides in the Western Conference.

Joining Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City is Dort, who once again figures to play a large role in the Thunder’s pursuit of the team’s first playoff pursuit since the pair of Canadians' first season together back in 2019-20. Known as one of the NBA’s premier defensive stoppers, Dort brings hustle and heart to a Thunder team that figures to have no issue scoring the ball with a Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey backcourt. The Montreal product has averaged 14.9 points per game over the last three seasons with Oklahoma City and will once again be counted upon to be a secondary scoring option this season.

Olynyk was instrumental for the Senior Men’s National Team this past summer, captaining the squad while averaging more than 10 points per game. Now entering the final year of a three-year deal he inked with his previous team, the Detroit Pistons, the 33-year-old is ready for his 11th NBA season. Olynyk started all 68 games he appeared in last season with the Jazz in what was his first season in Utah. He will once again line up alongside the likes of fellow World Cup contributors Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler this summer, as he looks to lead the Jazz back to the postseason.

Rounding out the seven is Powell, who returns to the NBA following another successful stint with the Senior Men’s National Team this past summer. The Toronto product started 64 of his 76 games with the Mavericks last season and has been a reliable presence in the Dallas frontcourt since being acquired in 2014-15. Now entering his tenth season with the team, he, alongside Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, face the pressures of bringing Dallas back into the playoffs after a disappointing end to the 2022-23 season, which saw them falter down the stretch before finishing 38-44 and 11th in the Western Conference. In a loaded Western Conference, pressure is on Powell and the Mavericks to start strong, beginning with a season-opening meeting with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

Sophomores to watch

With a new look roster and the departure of Trail Blazers legend Damian Lillard, opportunity knocks in Portland for Shaedon Sharpe. The London, Ont. product showed flashes and why he was selected seventh overall in the 2022 NBA Draft to close the 2022-23 campaign. Sharpe totalled 20-plus points in eight of Portland’s final 10 games last season, including a 30-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist performance against the Kings. Sharpe will be hoping to carry such momentum into the new season, which gets underway for the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Both Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard shined in their rookie seasons in Indiana, as the pair of guards averaged 16.7 and 9.5 points per game, respectively, in their first seasons in the NBA. The two are now tasked with helping the Pacers return to the postseason for the first time since 2020 as they look to improve on the team’s 35-47 record this past season.

Joining Sharpe, Mathurin and Nembhard in the sophomore class is second-year Orlando Magic forward Caleb Houstan. The Michigan Wolverines alumnus averaged 15.9 minutes per game in 2022-23 for the Magic after being selected 32nd overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Houstan will look to continue to grow into his role in the Association with a Magic squad with playoff ambitions as they chase after the organization's first postseason appearance since 2020.

Fresh faces in new places

After spending parts of the last three seasons in Detroit, Cory Joseph reunites with fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins in the Bay Area with the Golden State Warriors. After averaging nearly 20 minutes per game in 2022-23, Joseph will now share a backcourt with the likes of Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, who also joined the Warriors in the offseason.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper was the highest-selected Canadian in this year’s NBA Draft after being taken 24th overall and landing in Dallas with the Mavericks. Prosper, the brother of Canadian Senior Women’s National Team forward Cassandre Prosper, figures to have opportunities to emerge in the Mavericks after averaging 16 minutes per game in the team’s four preseason contests. He joins fellow Canadian Dwight Powell in Dallas as the pair unite in a playoff pursuit.

Leonard Miller made his fair share of noise in the preseason in Minnesota. The 19-year-old, who joins the NBA after a season with G-League Ignite, exploded for 22 points on 10-14 shooting and 15 rebounds in a Minnesota preseason win over Maccabi Ra'anana earlier this month. The 33rd overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, who starred in GLOBL JAM in 2022 with Team Canada, figures to have a chip on his shoulder after slipping past the first round on draft day this past June.

After going undrafted in the 2023 NBA Draft after a productive two years with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Charles Bediako signed an Exhibit 10 contract in the summer for Summer League, before the deal was converted to a two-way contract earlier this week. Like Miller, the seven-foot-two centre last suited up for Canada at GLOBL JAM in 2022, following up numerous appearances for the National Team. He was a part of Canada's bronze medal winning squad at the FIBA U19 Men's Basketball World Cup 2021 where he starred alongside the likes of Houstan, Mathurin and fellow big man Zach Edey.

Below is the full list of Canadian-born players on 2023-24 opening-night rosters (active and inactive)

Dalano Banton - Boston Celtics

Oshae Brissett - Boston Celtics

Tristan Thompson - Cleveland Cavaliers

AJ Lawson - Dallas Mavericks

Dwight Powell - Dallas Mavericks

Olivier-Maxence Prosper - Dallas Mavericks

Jamal Murray - Denver Nuggets

Cory Joseph - Golden State Warriors

Andrew Wiggins - Golden State Warriors

Dillon Brooks - Houston Rockets

Andrew Nembhard - Indiana Pacers

Bennedict Mathurin - Indiana Pacers

Joshua Primo - LA Clippers

Brandon Clarke - Memphis Grizzlies

Lindell Wigginton - Milwaukee Bucks

Nickeil Alexander-Walker - Minnesota Timberwolves

Leonard Miller - Minnesota Timberwolves

RJ Barrett - New York Knicks

Luguentz Dort - Oklahoma City Thunder

Caleb Houstan - Orlando Magic

Shaedon Sharpe - Portland Trail Blazers

Trey Lyles - Sacramento Kings

Charles Bediako - San Antonio Spurs

Kelly Olynyk - Utah Jazz

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Oklahoma City Thunder

Eugene Omoruyi - Washington Wizards