This could be Canada's best NBA draft ever
Led by likely No. 3 pick RJ Barrett, a record number of Canadians should be chosen
One week after the Toronto Raptors won their first championship, Canadian basketball is poised for another big night.
The NBA draft is on Thursday, and Canada's RJ Barrett is expected to be picked third overall. Two more Canadians could go in the top half of the first round, and two others are projected as late-first or early-second-round choices. Another two might get picked before the draft wraps up after round 2. The most Canadians ever chosen in a single NBA draft is four (that was in 2014, when Andrew Wiggins went first overall), so it's shaping up to be a record-setting night.
Here's some more stuff to know about the Canadians and this year's draft in general:
Zion Williamson will be the No. 1 pick
The American is one of the best prospects to come along in years — a generational talent. Zion made a name for himself in high school with his mix-tape-worthy dunks, and he more than lived up to the hype in his only college season, at Duke. If you haven't seen him play, check out this curated collection of his college dunks. A man of his size should just not be able to do what he does. Remember how big a story it was when his shoe exploded and he hurt his knee during a regular-season game? It's rare these days for a college basketball player to become this much of a celebrity. But Zion (he's already a first-name-only guy, like Kawhi or LeBron) is that exciting.
Barrett will probably go to the New York Knicks at No. 3
Heading into his first (and last) college season last fall, a lot of people thought the Canadian might be the top pick in this draft. He looked like a more polished player than Zion. But Barrett has since been surpassed by his Duke teammate and electrifying Murray State point guard Ja Morant, who will likely go No. 2 to Memphis. There's no shame in getting picked behind those guys, and Barrett is still considered an excellent NBA prospect. The scouting report on the 6-foot-7 wing from the Toronto area: he's a good athlete who can handle the ball, get to the rim, shoot from mid-range, rebound, pass and play solid defence. But he's still a bit raw and needs to work on his decision-making, three-point-shooting and free throws, which were shaky in college. He's known as a hard worker, though, so there's reason to believe he'll improve on his weaknesses.
The Knicks are a very interesting team for Barrett to go to
They've been awful for years, but they might be a sleeping giant that's about to wake up. The Knicks are still one of the NBA's marquee franchises. They play in the biggest American city, in a historic arena (Madison Square Garden), and they have probably the most passionate fan base in the league. New York hopes those selling points will be enough to land multiple superstars in free agency. The Knicks have been eyeing this summer for awhile, and they've cleared the salary-cap space to sign multiple high-end players like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker — if they can convince any of them to come to New York, which is looking dicey at the moment. So there's a chance Barrett is playing on a championship contender next year — or a lottery team. There's just no telling with the Knicks.
Two other Canadians are slam-dunk first-round picks
Brandon Clarke (a Vancouver-born forward who grew up in the States) was the No. 2 scorer and No. 1 rebounder for Gonzaga, one of the top college programs. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (a guard from Toronto) was the leading scorer on a Virgina Tech team that made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. He's also the cousin of Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who plays for the L.A. Clippers. Clarke and Alexander-Walker are both expected to go somewhere around the middle of the first round.
Another Canadian prospect has a famous relative
Like his uncle, Basketball Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, Mfiondu Kabengele is a talented shot blocker. The 6-foot-10 big man from Burlington, Ont. (near Toronto) also scored 13.2 points last season for Florida State, which reached the third round of the tournament. Kabengele is projected to go in the late first or early second round. Same for Luguentz Dort, a guard for Montreal who went to Florida State. The two other Canadians who could be picked before the end of the draft are Iggy Brazdeikis (a sweet-shooting wing who was born in Lithuania, settled near Toronto and played last season at Michigan, one of the top college programs) and Lindell Wigginton (an Iowa State guard who hopes to be the first Nova Scotian to play in the NBA).
The Raptors don't have a first-round pick
They traded it to San Antonio as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal (guessing we're all cool with that). Toronto's only pick is the second-last one in the draft: number 59.
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