After flurry of NBA dropouts, Canada's roster suddenly looks less formidable for World Cup
Canadian coach Nick Nurse's team will rely on international stalwarts at China tournament
A full roster of NBA players won't compete for Canada at the FIBA World Cup.
No RJ Barrett. No Andrew Wiggins. No Tristan Thompson. No Jamal Murray. No Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. How about Dwight Powell, Brandon Clarke, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dillon Brooks, Trey Lyles, Mfiondu Kabengele, Nik Stauskas? All gone, too.
Should Canada finish among the top two Americas teams at the upcoming tournament in China, it'll qualify for men's basketball at the Olympics for the first time since 2000. Failing that, the team will enter a last-chance qualifying tournament it must win next summer.
But before all that, head coach Nick Nurse, general manager Rowan Barrett and the rest of the Canada Basketball staff must choose its 12-player roster.
For his part, Nurse remains confident Canada can field a team that will contend for an Olympic spot.
"I know it's a hot topic but it hasn't entered my mind who isn't here. I can't function that way. I don't want to function that way," Nurse told Harrison Sanford, host of Inside the Green Room with former Toronto Raptor Danny Green.
"I've got to go with what we got and I'm excited. I keep using the word 'exhilarated.' This is a hell of an honour for me to be coaching the Canadian national team and with the chance to do well in the World Cup. We're going to the World Cup, man, that's a hell of a tournament and a chance to go to the Olympics. So it's a lifelong dream of mine."
Only 19 of the original 29 training camp invitees remain. Here's the full list we're working with.
Cory Joseph (Guard)
Suddenly, Joseph is Canada's best player, floor general and leader. Not known as a scorer in the NBA, it'll be crucial for the point guard to run a smooth, team-oriented offence in China. On Day 1 of training camp, Nurse already noted Canada's lack of one-on-one scoring. It'll be up to Joseph to facilitate an efficient offence, while also providing high-energy defence.
Joseph spent two years with Nurse on the Raptors and should enter with some knowledge of the systems Nurse likes to install on his teams. With Australia's Ben Simmons having withdrawn from the tournament, Joseph could be the best guard in Canada's group. He'll have to play like it for Canada to advance any further.
Brady Heslip (Guard)
One of the spins Canada can put on the mass exodus of NBA talent is that the remaining players can claim existing chemistry from previous years on the national team. Heslip, 29, has played 40 games for Canada and should be familiar with many of the other returnees.
Of course, Heslip also owns one of the sweetest shooting strokes in the world. His three-point shot will be crucial for a team that will seemingly be starved for offence. And in a tournament that could quickly become single knockouts, a Heslip heat-check game could make all the difference.
WATCH | Devin Heroux sits down with Nick Nurse ahead of his Canada Basketball debut:
Melvin Ejim (Forward)
The former Iowa State forward once scored 48 points and 18 rebounds in an NCAA game. Ejim is another player who can stretch the defence with his shooting, and he's played 28 games for Team Canada. At six-foot-six, the 28-year-old could wind up a key piece on the defensive end guarding opposing wing players. He shot 45 per cent from three in Italy's Serie A last season.
Kyle Wiltjer (Forward)
Wiltjer's father, Greg, played for Team Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that placed fourth. Kyle Wiltjer is a near lock to make the World Cup squad at this point, and could use it as an audition for a potential Olympic appearance at Tokyo 2020.
Wiltjer's inclusion in the starting lineup follows the theme of Heslip and Ejim. He has some size, he has a good shot and he's suited up in 22 games over four years with Team Canada. The six-foot-10 forward is currently plying his trade in Turkey.
Kelly Olynyk (Centre)
Olynyk, a Team Canada stalwart, will take on one of the most difficult group-stage roles in dealing with former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and Australian centres Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes. Despite his seven-foot, 240-pound stature, Olynyk has averaged just 4.9 rebounds per games in his NBA career. These starters have length throughout, but Olynyk must be better on the glass for Canada to succeed against its larger opponents.
Canada's bench will consist of players who've worn the red and white before and have helped build the program back up from the studs, to the point where it can attract an NBA champion head coach like Nick Nurse in the first place. Training camp and seven exhibition games will go a long way in determining who wins the final sevens spots on the bench, with the first two games at home looming as perhaps the most crucial. Watch those exhibitions live on CBCSports.ca.
Kevin Pangos, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch should make the core of the bench. Pangos fits a similar profile to Heslip, having played 38 games for Canada, but he's blocked by Joseph in the starting lineup. However, given Nurse's affinity for dual point-guard lineups in crunch time, Pangos should see the court a ton.
Boucher and Birch, meanwhile, are NBA talents Nurse can bring off the bench for different reason. While they're both big men, Boucher specializes in microwave scoring, rebounding and blocks while Birch comes in as a more defensively responsible, rim-running centre. One thing to look for in the exhibitions is Birch's pick-and-roll chemistry with the point guards.
The rest of the bench is really dealers' choice. Raptors camp invite Oshae Brissett perhaps holds a leg up with Nurse as coach, but he lacks the international experience of the Scrubb brothers — Phil and Thomas. Addison Patterson is a promising high school prospect, but Canada is probably leaning toward taking veterans at this point.
It's a shame Canada will be without its top talent. It's a testament to Canada Basketball that it can still field a pretty decent B-team.