One of the most exciting up-and-coming hoops programs in the world wasn’t even at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Canada has a dynamic new wave of talent on the cusp of flourishing, and it could send a powerful squad to the 2020 Tokyo games.
General manager Steve Nash and head coach Jay Triano have a growing arsenal of NBA-caliber talent at their disposal. Most of the country’s young prospects haven’t reached their peak yet, but they’re poised to thrive in a few years. If Nash and Co. assemble the right mix of skill and chemistry, Canada will compete for a medal in Japan.
After narrowly missing out on the 2016 games, Canada’s exploding fan base yearns to see it contend on the planet’s biggest stage. Which prospects will give the 2020 squad the best chance to bring home hardware? We built the optimal roster based on skill level, versatility and international experience.
Just missed the cut: Khem Birch, Kyle Wiltjer, Anthony Bennett, Brady Heslip, Dillon Brooks, R.J. Barrett, Aaron Doornekamp
Guards and Wings
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets G (6’5”)
2020 Age: 23
Denver’s 2016 lottery prize is already the most dynamic dual-threat weapon in Canada’s backcourt. In four years, he’ll be a lethal combo guard at the height of his NBA powers.
The last time we saw Murray in FIBA play, he propelled Canada to the silver medal in the 2015 Pan American Games. He tallied 16.0 points, 2.4 assists and 41 percent shooting thanks to a devastating mix of perimeter shooting and slashing. Expect him to start at the 2-spot for Jay Triano in Tokyo.
Cory Joseph, Toronto Raptors PG (6’3”)
2020 Age: 28
Joseph owns the best mix of playmaking talent and savvy for Canada, and he’s likely to be the squad’s primary facilitator. He just turned 25 this week, but he has a lifetime’s worth of high-level experience from his five-year NBA career—most notably from the perennially contending San Antonio Spurs.
Joseph also gained some recent international exposure: he posted 19.2 points and 4.2 assists per game during the 2015 FIBA Americas tourney. He’ll empower Canada’s Olympic wings and forwards and continue to improve the program’s chemistry.
Nik Stauskas, Philadelphia 76ers SG (6’6″)
2020 Age: 26
While he’s still trying to gain his footing in the Association, Stauskas offers size and shooting on the wing. He’s not an efficient overall threat from the NBA arc yet, but he’s a solid spot-up shooter. Stauskas posted a 53 percent effective field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers in 2015-16, and he shot 50 percent (18-of-36) from the international three-point line at the FIBA Americas.
Tyler Ennis, Milwaukee Bucks PG (6’3″)
2020 Age: 26
Ennis has the smarts and skills to serve as Triano’s backup floor general. The two-year pro owns just enough shiftiness and plenty of playmaking poise to facilitate for Canada’s wings and forwards. Team USA’s speedy backcourt will give Ennis trouble, but he should be able to compete with pretty much any other country.
Olivier Hanlan, Le Mans Sarthe Basket G (6’4″)
2020 Age: 27
The San Antonio Spurs traded for the rights to Hanlan in the Boris Diaw trade, and they’re stashing him in Europe for another year or two. The Boston College product is coming off a promising 2015-16 campaign with Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas and will play next season for Le Mans of the French Pro A league. Hanlan’s ability to slash nimbly through the defense or pull up for jumpers gives Canada combo-guard insurance.
Melvin Ejim, Umana Venezia SF (6’6″)
2020 Age: 29
After a robust college career at Iowa State, Ejim has spent his pro career in the D-League and Italy. He plays strong around the rim, drives with either hand and sinks triples. Ejim averaged 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 48 percent shooting during July’s Olympic qualifying tournament, and he’d be a steady reserve for the 2020 Olympic unit.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves G/F (6’8”)
2020 Age: 25
Both Canadian and Wolves fans hope Andrew Wiggins has only scratched the surface of his hoops potential. He could be an absolute juggernaut in four years, with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and lock down three positions on defense.
Wiggins flashed some of his versatility at the FIBA Americas, creating a ton of opportunities off the bounce. He attacked the rim, shot exceptionally well from the international arc (52 percent) and dished 2.3 assists per game. The North’s favorite prodigy will be even more powerful on the Olympic stage in Japan.
Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz F (6’10”)
2020 Age: 24
Thanks to his long 6’10” frame and multi-positional skill set, Lyles will give Canada a bunch of lineup flexibility in Tokyo. He owns tremendous court awareness around the rim and already has a 38 percent three-point stroke. The Saskatoon native will continue to improve rapidly in Utah’s strong system and could flirt with stardom by the time the 2020 games arrive.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers PF/C (6’9”)
2020 Age: 29
Cleveland’s rebounding machine is coming off a superb NBA Finals. While his offensive skills are fairly limited, his all-around impact is colossal. He ferociously works the glass, attacks the rim in pick-and-rolls and competes for position on both ends of the floor.
He’d serve as Canada’s interior enforcer, someone who physically challenges the strong frontcourts of France, Australia and the United States. If he gradually upgrades his skills over the next four years, consider it a bonus.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics PF/C (7’0”)
2020 Age: 29
Olynyk will greatly enhance Canada’s three-point attack as a stretch-4 or stretch-5. Thanks to his 7’0” frame and fluid mechanics, he can shoot smoothly over almost any defender in any situation.
He’s not a gifted rebounder, nor is he fleet of foot, so Olynyk doesn’t offer much defensive interchangeability. However, he does a solid job of checking his man in the paint and mid-range, and he executes efficiently in team concepts. Olynyk will be one of Canada’s most vital big men.
Andrew Nicholson, Washington Wizards PF (6’9”)
2020 Age: 30
Nicholson’s one of the most under-appreciated players in the NBA, and he could fill a key role off the bench for Canada. What he lacks in quickness or above-the-rim acrobatics, he makes up for with elite footwork and a soft shooting touch. Nicholson has a devastating array of post moves and has a reliable three-point stroke (36 percent for Magic in 2015-16, 48 percent at FIBA Americas).
Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks PF (6’11”)
2020 Age: 29
Rounding out Canada’s frontcourt is an emerging, explosive asset who can challenge Team USA’s elite athletes. Powell is a monster in pick-and-rolls thanks to phenomenal agility and dexterity around the rim. He also has some mid-range shooting potential and is a quick, talented defender.