It is the NBA Draft observers of Canadian basketball have been waiting for since at least 2011.
It's also a deep pool that the game's media machine has unfairly compared to the talent troves of 2003 and 1996.
Whichever way we look back at this class years from now, it will go down as a landmark in the history of the sport in Canada. As many as eight Canucks could hear their names called during the two rounds Thursday night in Brooklyn, one more than the total number of Canadians taken in the past three drafts. Yet eight is a stretch if you believe the chatter and assortment of mock drafts out there; six is a good bet.
Early 1st-round picks
- 1. Cleveland
- 2. Milwaukee
- 3. Philadelphia
- 4. Orlando
- 5. Utah
- 20. TORONTO
This follows speculation the Cavs were intent on trading the selection, perhaps in concert with an effort to bring newly-declared free agent LeBron James
back to northern Ohio. Throw in the foot injury
of Wiggins' Kansas teammate Joel Embiid (the consensus No. 1 for months), and you've got draft chaos that trying to predict is akin to nailing Jell-O to a wall.
Take this to the bank however: Barring catastrophe, Wiggins, the most hyped non-hockey teenage athlete in Canadian history, will not drop below No. 2.
He will be plying his professional trade in one of the rust belt burgs of Cleveland (unless the Cavs pick him for somebody else and deal him) or Milwaukee. If the latter happens, in an entertaining twist of historical irony, the countdown will immediately begin among many Toronto Raptors fans for Wiggins' ultimate return to his hometown after the expiration of his entry-level contract.
That's not to say the same fantasizing won't occur if he lands in Cleveland, but there are intangibles with the Cavaliers. Could Wiggins end up apprenticing behind LeBron? That's a juicy storyline, even considering the perceived knocks on Wiggins. It's understood the suburban Toronto native has the higher ceiling, but Parker may be more ready to play in the NBA today (for the record, I would expect James to return to Miami once Pat Riley toys with the Heat roster).
So what about the other Canadians currently on Cleveland's roster? While last year's surprise No. 1 Anthony Bennett
had a terrible rookie season, a theoretical Cavs small-ball front line could be Team Canada's future starting front in international play -- Wiggins at the 3, Bennett a stretch-4 and Tristan Thompson in the middle. It's a thought that while he was reluctant to delve into given all the moving parts, intrigues Canada Basketball senior men's assistant GM Rowan Barrett.
"Obviously having three on one team, and having the camaraderie and all of that ... you'd like to think so," Steve Nash's right-hand man with the national program told me a few weeks ago. "You know how [past USA Basketball team] pairs worked with having teammates on the squad."
Whatever develops with Cleveland or LeBron, if Wiggins goes first, Toronto -- not renowned hoops hotbeds like New York, Philadelphia or Chicago -- would become the first metropolitan area to ever produce consecutive NBA No. 1 draft picks.
Stauskas on the rise?
"We're doing something historic here when you think of our country and our sport," Barrett said.
But back to those mocks.
Since the NCAA season drew to a close, the stocks of Canadians Tyler Ennis (point guard, Syracuse) and Nik Stauskas (shooting guard, Michigan) have seemingly flipped. With Stauskas, now projected to go anywhere between inside the top-10 and 16, the rise isn't surprising. The Mississauga, Ont., native has the shot and physical dimensions coveted in the NBA. And if there's an intangible that scouts favour, it's being a gym rat.
"The thing you probably don't see, which I think is going to make him the most successful, is he is extremely driven," Barrett said of Stauskas. "Going back to his days with the Mississauga Monarchs. He's a type-A [personality]. An alpha, this kid."
With Ennis on the other hand, the drop is harder to figure. The Brampton, Ont., native was Syracuse's catalyst in his one year in orange, although his gaudy late-game numbers tailed off soon after his storied buzzer-beater at Pittsburgh.
Barrett, who was at the draft combine in Chicago, says hype is too often constructed and deconstructed at the event.
"All of a sudden, a kid who was six-foot-seven is now six-four," he joked. "But Tyler is what he's billed to be."
There's no question Ennis is still regarded as a potentially great pro point guard -- it's just that his projection has gone from the lottery to as low as No. 25.
One byproduct of that drop is the fact he may end up in the wheelhouse of his hometown Raptors. If he's available when Toronto selects at No. 20, could it be too much for Masai Ujiri to pass up
? If the Raps were to succeed in their full-court press to retain Kyle Lowry, backup point guard Greivis Vasquez's restricted free agency then poses a question about money.
Yet the Raptors also have to take into account the restricted free agency of forward Patrick Patterson, and the fact their needs lie more in another wing player or a big man.
Of course, speculation means nothing.
"The funny thing is after the draft," Barrett said, "teams will tell you, 'that was our guy.'"
The rest of the Canadians
- Khem Birch, F, UNLV (Montreal)
Has added muscle to his 6'9 frame, much-needed and necessary because his pro position is power forward.
- Dwight Powell, F, Stanford (Toronto)
Barrett said the 6'11 power forward showed very well at the combine.
On the bubble
- Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona State (Calgary)
Seven-foot-two PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year could very well go in Round 2.
- Melvin Ejim, F, Iowa State (Toronto)
Big 12 Player of the Year (the NCAA conference that contained both Wiggins, Embiid and Marcus Smart).
- Sim Bhullar, C, New Mexico State (Toronto)
The 7-foot-5, 350-pound giant could have stayed with the Aggies and played with his also-huge brother Tanveer next season, but Bhullar told me there was nothing left he could achieve in college.
"I am going to get the training I need [in the league]," he said, adding that the prospect of becoming the first NBA player of Indian descent would be a major point of pride for him.
If he's not selected, Bhullar will get looks as a free agent based purely on his size. He was also "drafted" by the Harlem Globetrotters Tuesday (along with Andrew Wiggins' brother Nick).
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