Image courtesy of North Pole Hoops
Canada basketball is coming.
Everyone can see the young talent preparing to enter the NBA. Andrew Wiggins is the envy of every NBA team figuring to miss the Playoffs this year. Then there is first overall pick from this year's Draft, Anthony Bennett, the breakout rookie star of the Orlando Summer League in Kelly Olynyk and a host of other young players.
That group includes Magic forward Andrew Nicholson who is starting at power forward for Canada in the run up to the FIBA Americas Championship beginning Friday in Venezuela as Canada takes on Jamaica at 11 a.m. on ESPN3. He averaged 15.0 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and a surprising 6-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc in the four-game tournament in Puerto Rico.
These are not just NBA players but impact NBA players. But Olynyk, Wiggins and Bennett are not part of Team Canada this summer as the team tries to qualify for the FIBA World Cup for the second straight time. Canada has, in fact, only missed the FIBA World Cup three times since 1950.
That might be more of a reason for Canada fans to worry not only about the absence of those nice young stars who could make Canada a medalist contender at the 2020 Olympics if not sooner, but also worry some about the disappointing 0-4 showing at the Tuto Marchand Cup in Puerto Rico.
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You have to take these exhibition games with a grain of salt however. FIBA coaches like to hold back players or hide strategy in this pre-tournament friendlies. That is never something the U.S. does, but, then again, the U.S. tends to use its talent to beat everyone.
Canada though is in a difficult group and does not have its best players.
Nicholson and Tristan Thompson form the backbone of the lineup. The strength is in the post. Joel Anthony is coming off the bench. Devoe and Cory Joseph are the guards along with Junior Cadougan and Andy Rautins.
This is a young team with a lot of promise. But it is far from the best team Canada could send. That means there is a lot of presure on Canada to win to get one of the four spots from the FIBA Americas Championship.
Canada is not in the easiest group either. Even though four of the five teams from the group advance, you do not want to get stuck playing Argentina in the quarterfinals and miss out advancing to the World Cup. All it takes is one win after group play to qualify for Spain next year. That is goal number one, two and three.
Puerto Rico and Brazil are in Canada's group and will provide the sternest challenge in the early part of the tournament. A third place finish could get Canada a date with the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals which would be a matchup of two teams on the tournament bubble.
A top-two finish in the group would seem imperative to ensure the team advances to the semifinals and earns the trip to Spain.
While Canada remains a favorite to get one of those four spots, nothing is guaranteed. These tournaments always have an element of unpredictability and this Canada team is very young. It could mean that one of the world's rising basketball teams will not be playing in Spain.
Nicholson will have to show he has improved his defense and rebounding some to complement his strong offensive game both around and away from the basket. A lot will be riding on the Magic's second year player to deliver for his nation to get to the World Cup next summer.