How Canada's NBA players are doing this season
SGA thriving, Murray idling, Boucher breaking out
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It's a great time to check in on Canada's NBA players
Now that the Super Bowl is over, we've reached the point where more sports fans start paying attention to the NBA. So here's a quick catchup on how some of the more prominent Canadian players in the league are doing:
Jamal Murray: The young guard became the breakout star of the playoffs last summer by dropping 50, 42 and 50 points on Utah in consecutive games, then helping Denver upset Kawhi Leonard's Clippers in the next round. But avid NBA fans knew the Nuggets' actual best player was centre Nikola Jokic, and that's become even more clear now. He's averaging close to a triple double (including 27.5 points) and generating MVP buzz while Murray is stuck at 18.6 points — about the same as what he averaged last season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Oklahoma City's decision to tear down a surprise playoff team by trading away future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul and most of its other top players may have disappointed Gilgeous-Alexander. But it also made him The Man, and SGA is fitting into the role nicely. The third-year guard is averaging a career-high 22.6 points, has nearly doubled his assists to 6.5 per game and is shooting more efficiently. The Thunder are 10-13, but their record in close games probably isn't sustainable, so another playoff trip seems unlikely.
Lu Dort: SGA's teammate grinded his way into the hearts of OKC fans last year as an undrafted rookie, winning respect with his hustle and defence before dropping a career-high 30 points in a Game 7 playoff loss to Houston. Dort's reward was a full-time spot in the starting lineup this season, and he's running with it. His scoring average is up from 6.8 points to 11.5 while his shooting efficiency has improved.
Andrew Wiggins: Miscast for years as a franchise player after Minnesota picked him No. 1 overall in the 2014 draft, Wiggins may have finally settled into a more fitting role on a Golden State team that better understands how to deploy his talents. He's playing fewer minutes and scoring fewer points than he did with the T-Wolves, but members of the Warriors are praising his all-around game. Draymond Green called Wiggins a "very capable defender" and Steve Kerr said he's "a joy to coach."
RJ Barrett: His Knicks are off to a respectable (for them) 11-14 start and Barrett is averaging 17.2 points per game — up three points from his rookie year — as his playing time has increased. But his shooting, especially from three (29 per cent for the year), remains ugly.
Chris Boucher: The long-limbed big man was born in Saint Lucia and still self-identifies as being from that country. But he moved to Montreal when he was five and that's enough for many Canadians to claim him as their own. Boucher is having a breakout season as the only Canadian (sort of) player on the Raptors, averaging 13.8, 6.5 rebounds and nearly two blocks off the bench while shooting a sizzling 43.7 per cent from three. His Player Efficiency Rating is better than James Harden's and Paul George's, and within shouting distance of Anthony Davis' and LeBron James'. Boucher is a trendy pick right now for the NBA's Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards.
If you're interested in Canadian basketball, check out CBC Sports' new show North Courts. On the premiere episode, Vivek Jacob, Meghan McPeak and Jevohn Shepherd break down the men's and women's national teams' outlooks for the Tokyo Olympics. Plus, an interview with the commissioner of the new Maritime Women's Basketball Association. Watch it here:
Brian Burke is back in the NHL. The unknotted former Flames, Leafs, Canucks, Ducks and Whalers exec is leaving his TV gig to join the Penguins as their new president of hockey operations. Pittsburgh also named Ron Hextall its new general manager. He replaces Jim Rutherford, who quit two weeks ago for personal reasons. Read more about the Hextall and Burke hirings here.
Five Canadians made it to the second round of the Australian Open singles tournaments. Leylah Annie Fernandez and Vasek Pospisil both lost last night. So that leaves eighth-seeded Bianca Andreescu and Rebecca Marino in the women's draw, and No. 11 Denis Shapovalov, No. 14 Milos Raonic and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the men's. They all play tonight/early Wednesday in Canadian time zones. At 7 p.m. ET, Andreescu faces 71st-ranked veteran Hsieh Su-wei while Marino meets 19th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova. Shapovalov, Raonic and Auger-Aliassime all play later against unseeded opponents. See the full schedule for Day 3 here.
Football lost one of its great tragic figures. Marty Schottenheimer is among the most successful regular-season coaches in NFL history. But he went just 5-13 in the playoffs, where his old-school, conservative tactics contributed to some epic defeats. Schottenheimer was Cleveland's coach for The Drive and The Fumble that dealt the Browns heartbreaking losses to John Elway's Broncos in back-to-back AFC championship games in the '80s. And the nadir of "Martyball" came in the playoffs following the 2006 season. Schottenheimer's San Diego Chargers had gone an NFL-best 14-2 with Hall of Fame-calibre players at quarterback (Philip Rivers), tight end (Antonio Gates) and running back (LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored 31 touchdowns that year). In their first playoff game, they were favoured by five points over Tom Brady's Patriots, only to lose on a last-second missed field goal. Schottenheimer never coached in the NFL again. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2014 and died last night at the age of 77. Read more here.
The alpine skiing world championships can't get off the ground. Rough weather in northern Italy has forced the first two days of competition to be cancelled. Yesterday it was the men's and women's combined events, today it was the super-Gs. With the forecast looking dicey, organizers decided to wait until Thursday to open with the men's and women's super-Gs. Read more about the changes here and watch the races live here.
Auston Matthews is on fire. He extended his goal streak to an official seven games (eight if you don't count the game he missed on Jan. 22) by scoring in Toronto's 3-1 win over Vancouver last night. Matthews has scored 10 of his 11 goals this season in his last eight games, opening up a two-goal lead in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. The top six guys (Matthews, Connor McDavid, Brock Boeser, Tyler Toffoli, Leon Draisaitl and Josh Anderson) all play for Canadian teams.
The NHL's most interesting team is… Columbus? Hear me out. First, head coach John Tortorella publicly feuded with his best player, Pierre-Luc Dubois. Then the Blue Jackets made a blockbuster trade, sending Dubois to Winnipeg for high-scoring Patrik Laine. Then they were involved in that embarrassing/hilarious video-replay mixup that may have cost them Sunday's game vs. Carolina. And now Torts is at it again. Already fed up with Laine's defensive lapses, Tortorella benched him last night for the final six minutes of the second period and the entire third. Suddenly, there's never a dull moment in Central Ohio.
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