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Thunder’s Gilgeous-Alexander emerging as potential star for Canada – Sportsnet.ca

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Nick Nurse wears two hats.

The bigger one is as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, but never far away is the one he wears as the head coach of the Canadian men’s national team.

At various times during the NBA season, he doesn’t have to choose — such as when the Raptors encounter a national team candidate playing for an opponent and he gets a chance to evaluate him first-hand.

Wednesday night is one of those times, as the nearly healthy Raptors travel to Oklahoma City for their second game in less than three weeks against the red-hot Thunder and their red-hot Canadian guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

With the NBA increasingly vigilant about the appearance of tampering, Nurse tends to be a bit circumspect in his comments about other teams’ players in his role as national team coach.

But what can a guy say about Gilgeous-Alexander, who on Monday night got the basketball world’s attention. He scored 20 points while grabbing 20 rebounds and dishing 10 assists in the Thunder’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, driving OKC to their 12th win in the past 15 games.

The 21-year-old from Hamilton became the youngest player in NBA history with a 20-rebound triple-double – surpassing Shaquille O’Neal, of all people – and joined Steve Nash as the only other Canadian to log an NBA triple-double.

“That’s nuts,” Nurse said after the Raptors’ practice Tuesday as he fiddled on the piano he keeps in his office.

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That pretty much sums it up. The number of Canadians in the NBA is at an all-time high – 20, if players on two-way contracts are included. But Canada has been missing star power since Nash retired. Andrew Wiggins of the Timberwolves was originally tabbed for the job, but remains a question mark. Rookie RJ Barrett of the Knicks is too young to project. Fourth-year guard Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets continues to develop into an elite scorer, although incrementally.

But Gilgeous-Alexander may have more upside than any Canadian NBA player has ever had and it’s starting to show.

Certainly, Nurse has had a courtside seat.

On Dec. 29, the University of Kentucky product put his name in the record books again as he put 32 points up at Scotiabank Arena – the most a Canadian NBA player has ever scored in Canada – and scored the winning basket in the final seconds.

It’s all part of an eye-popping roll Gilgeous-Alexander has been on recently, which coincides almost perfectly with the Thunder’s heater.

Over the past 14 games, he is averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 52.5 per cent shooting, turning an already impressive second-year season into something special.

Marc Gasol will be making his return to the Raptors lineup on Wednesday after missing 12 games with a hamstring injury. The 12-year veteran has seen plenty of young talent rise and fall, but in Gilgeous-Alexander he sees the signs of a young player on his way to stardom in his first year in OKC after an impressive rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Clippers.

“You see it. You see it in his body language, his poise. You see his defensive presence,” said Gasol.

“Now you’re seeing his shooting a little bit, too. You get to see the growth. Because the player that he was last year, you see flashes, you see the potential. Now, they increased his usage by quite a lot, and the responsibility, and you really see what kind of person you also have. Is he a worker? Does he continue to get better? Does he take it for granted? You start to see all those things being answered when you’re put in the position of responsibility like he has now.”

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Gasol will see it up close. One of the key pieces in Gilgeous-Alexander’s surge has been his ability to get to the rim and finish. On the season, more than 40 per cent of his field-goal attempts have come within five feet of the rim, per NBA.com, and he’s converting them at a rate of 66 per cent, compared to 53.7 during the first 26 games of the year. By comparison, James Harden of the Houston Rockets is finishing 61 per cent of his chances inside five feet while leading the NBA in scoring with 37.7 a game.

Defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander is a threat both on the ball and in the passing lanes, which allows him to get out in transition.

“He’s really quick,” said Nurse. “He’s got the change of pace, he’s got some anticipation and the length to use it … he’s like a wide receiver out there.”

His rebounding is another dimension, and 20 boards by anyone is noteworthy – from a second-year guard even more so. No Raptor has had a 20-rebound game this season and only 13 NBA players have had completed the feat, per Basketball-Reference.com, with Gilgeous-Alexander being the only guard.

“It’s tough. I mean, I think the first game of the year I had like 18 rebounds,” said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who knows something about breakout seasons. “And I was feeling myself and I kind of had a bet with Norm: he was gonna bet every single game that I was gonna get at least 15 rebounds. I don’t even know if I got close to that (he’s had two games with 13 rebounds and one with 12).

“I stopped the bet, because I was getting two rebounds a game, and it was bad. So I just know how hard it is to grab that many rebounds. So, it’s really impressive to be able to do that.”

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

After Wednesday, the Raptors will be done with the Thunder unless they meet in the NBA Finals.

Nurse’s next viewing of Gilgeous-Alexander will be when the emerging Thunder star suits up for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria from June 23 to 28. Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the first Canadian NBA players to publicly pledge that he will play for the Canadians.

And the prospect of a six-foot-six, scoring combo guard sharing the backcourt with Murray would excite any coach.

Nurse is at the point where he feels the need to tamp down expectations.

“I don’t think we need any more hype on the national team,” he said. “People are already losing their minds … but (Gilgeous-Alexander) is really good.”

Nurse can only look forward to making music with him this summer – after the Raptors try to figure out how to interrupt his NBA breakout.

But Gilgeous-Alexander is making it awfully difficult to keep expectations in check.

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Mirtle: This may very well be the last stand for this Maple Leafs core – The Athletic

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Kyle Dubas stood in front of a small group of reporters on the NHL’s trade deadline day and offered some serious honesty about his Maple Leafs.

He swore. He called their play embarrassing. And he offered a firm “I don’t know” when asked why they were so inconsistent — or “Jekyll and Hyde,” as he put it at one point.

“The truthful answer is we don’t know,” Dubas said. “That might draw some criticism to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I’m not gonna bullshit and tell you I have some magical solution. I think we have to go through this.”

Dubas spoke for nearly 18 minutes on Monday afternoon, with long answers that followed a now familiar theme. The tale he told was about how his team still has lessons to learn and that this adversity, these brutal losses, are the path to getting there.

It seemed some came away from the speech believing it was another rousing…

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Trade grades: Oilers acquire 2020 version of Mike Green – ESPN

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Edmonton Oilers trade for Detroit Andreas Athanasiou

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This in from Gord Miller of TSN, that the Edmonton Oilers have traded for Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner from Detroit. The Oilers gave up Sam Gagner and two second round picks to get Athanasiou, who will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer.

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My take

  1. It looks like Oilers GM Ken Holland wants his team to take a run at the Stanley Cup. Can you blame him? Not me.
  2. Athanasiou, 25, is a major pick up for the Oilers. He’s having an off year but he scored 30 goals in 2018-19.
  3. When it comes to even strength scoring, Athanasiou ranks 238th out of 393 regular NHL forwards this year, with 1.57 points per game.
  4. Sam Gagner ranks 284th for even strength scoring with 1.38 points per game. But Gagner lacks the wheels to play with Connor McDavid. Athanasiou has got them. Gagner was moved for cap reasons, so Edmonton can fit Athanasiou under their cap.
  5. Kuffner, 23, is a struggling AHL player.
  6. Athanasiou kills penalties and plays on the power play in Detroit. This year he’s at 1:37 per game on the PK and 2:21 per game on the PP. But his big number is that -45 NHL plus-minuus in 46 games. That’s a wretched number but it’s a number earned by the entire Detroit Red Wings team when Athanasiou is on the ice, it’s not an individual stat. We’ll see how well Athansiou plays defence when he gets here, though there are doubts about him in this regard.
  7. Athanasiou has been on the ice for 21 even strength goals for this year and 60 against.
  8. Brian Burke of Sportnset said: “All I can tell you about Athanasiou is: he makes both teams dangerous. This is a guy who has speed for sure, but he is not a fanatic about defence. I can tell you that. This one, I’ll give Kenny the benefit of the doubt. They definitely got faster but this guy is not a defender.”
  9. Former NHL coach Bruce Boudreau of Sportsnet said Athanasiou would help push NHL defenders back with his speed. “I think it’s going to work out. If Connor is skating full speed and this guy can keep up to him, how do you check them”?
  10. Louie DeBrusk of Sportsnet said: “This is going to be the first time that Connor McDavid has a running mate that can actually keep up to him and be right there with him and be right on the door step waiting for those back door tap ins.”
  11. Scottie Upshall on TSN said, “I like the move. They need speed. He’s one of the fastest players in the league. And Connor needs that. He needs a guy who is going to step up and keep the pace of play and be able to move the puck, be able to create some space.”
  12. TSN’s Ray Ferraro said: “Certainly Ken Holland knows him from Detroit. He’s seen the ups and downs of AA as he’s gone from Grande Rapids to a part time pro in Detroit to a full time guy. Seen him score 30 goals. He’s there to watch him -42 this year. So I think there be a pretty direct line of communication of what’s expected from Athanasiou. He can skate. He can score. McDavid is on a line right now with Alex Chiasson and Sam Gagner. That doesn’t fit. They need more there. And I think the Oilers… they’ve got a player that can play with McDavid. Will it be successful. We’ll see…. It feels like this is the type of player who has had such a crappy year that can hit lightning here playing with a guy like McDavid.” Ferraro said he’s intrigued by this for Edmonton. “I think that what concerns me is that he likes the puck. Athanasiou likes the puck. He likes to rush it. He likes to carry it. The guy he’s going to be playing with should be carrying the puck all the time.”
  13. TSN’s Craig Button wondered if Athanasiou would get to the right places at the right time on the ice. “He plays with blinders on… He’s like a drag racer. He’s not a formula one racer. He’s just straight ahead. And if you’re going to play with Connor McDavid, you better be thinking, ‘Where’s Connor so I can get him the puck?’ I don’t think Athanasiou will be a good fit for Connor McDavid. I don’t.” Buttons suggested playing Athanasiou with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and putting Drasaistl back with McDavid.
  14. TSN’s Jeff O’Neill said: “It’s going to be nice to see him in a competitive situation too. There’s not a lot of fun going on in Detroit right now and I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of fun. That would be a player who would just be drowning in that year after year.”
  15. TSN’s Mike Johnson said: “Even if it doesn’t fit perfectly, if they’re not a perfect blend, Connor McDavid is talented enough, if you have any kind of offensive instincts, or even enough to know just get out of the way, go to the net and let him do his thing, you’ll pick up points, you’ll pick up goals, you’ll feel better about yourself. There is an element of truth that if you just keep it simple even it’s not exactly your style of game, if you just keep it simple and go to to the net and get out of the way, Connor McDavid is great enough for you to have a little bit of success just like that.”
  16. I like this deal. Edmonton has a great chance to both win the Pacific division and to make the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Second round picks are valuable, but they have about a one in five chance of turning into a good NHLer.
  17. Athanasiou makes $3.0 million this year. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, so Edmonton will have to make a call on him then. For now, we’ll see how he does this spring in Edmonton.

In case you’re wondering about the value of draft picks, Brad McPherson has dug into this a this website, the Blue Bullet Report:

Essentially, he’s found that a forward taken in the various rounds has the following average career value:

  • 1st overall: 102 value
  • 10th overall: 26.2
  • 20th: 13.2
  • 30th: 8.9
  • 40th: 4.8
  • 50th: 4.2
  • 60th: 3.6
  • 70th: 3.4
  • 80th: 2.2
  • 90th: 1.8
  • 100th: 1.5
  • 110th: 0.9
  • 120th: 0.9
  • 130th: 0.8
  • 140th: 0.8
  • 150th: 0.8
  • 160th: 0.8
  • 170th: 0.6
  • 180th: 0.6
  • 190th: 0.5
  • 200th: 0.5
  • 210th: 0.5

The first overall pick has an average career value four times greater than the 10th overall pick and more than 10 times greater than the average 30th overall pick, and more than 20 times greater than the average second round pick.

Sometimes lower round picks turn into fine players, like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Most often, they do not.

Major recent trades:

  • Edmonton gets Athanasiou for two second round picks and Sam Gagner.
  • Pittsburgh gets Patrick Marleau for a third round pick.
  • Carolina Hurricanes get Vincent Trochek for forwards Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark and two prospects (Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen).
  • Washington Capitals acquire Ilya Kovalchuk for a third round draft pick.
  • New York Islanders get Jean-Gabriel Pageau for first round draft pick in 2020 (lottery protected), 2nd in 2020 and 3rd round pick in 2022 if Islanders win the Cup.
  • Colorado gets Vlad Namestnikov for a fourth round pick in 2021.
  • Boston Bruins get Ondrej Kase, traded for a 2020 first-round pick along with David Backes and defensive prospect Axel Andersson, Bruins retaining 25 per cent of Backes’ contract.
  • Vegas Golden Knights get Alec Martinez, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 2nd-rd pick
  • St. Louis Blues get Marco Scandella, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Washington Capitals get Brenden Dillon, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Winnipeg Jets get Dylan DeMelo, D – Traded for ’20 3rd-rd pick
  • Vancouver Canucks get Tyler Toffoli, RW – Traded for Tim Schaller, Madden, picks
  • Tampa Bay Lightning get Blake Coleman, LW – Traded for Nolan Foote, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • New Jersey Devils get David Quenneville, D – Traded w/ ’21 2nd-rd pick for Andy Greene
  • Pittsburgh Penguins get Jason Zucker, LW – Traded for Alex Galchenyuk, Addison, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • Los Angeles Kings get Trevor Moore, LW – Traded w/ picks for Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford
  • Buffalo Sabres Michael Frolik for 4th -round pick (2020)
  • Montreal Canadiens Marco Scandella for 4th-round pick (2020)
  • Arizona Coyotes Taylor Hall and Blake Speers for 2020 conditional first-round draft pick, 2021 conditional third-round draft pick, Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley Kevin Bahl

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