The NBA has always presented itself as an American organization, but has seen a tremendous influx of international talent over the last decade. While international superstars such as Luka Dončić, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid dominate the headlines, Canadian influence in the NBA is quietly growing. In the last NBA draft alone, two Canadian players were picked in the lottery.
The number of new Canadian players entering the league each year is reflective of the growing contingent of Canadians playing in the NBA. From 2000–2010, only four Canadians debuted in the league. This year saw six new players join the league, and over the last four years combined, 22 Canadians have made their NBA debuts. Among all these new Canadian players, a few of them look like future All Stars and players who could raise Canada to new heights on the world stage.
Of all the Canadian stars in the league, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is shining the brightest. He’s averaging 31.1 points a game so far this year, along with 6.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Ever since he was traded to Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander has been making a name for himself, improving his scoring total every season. This year, he’s taken his game to another level and is likely to earn his first All Star selection.
Shaedon Sharpe was probably the biggest unknown coming into the 2022 NBA draft. After a tumultuous year leading up to a draft in which Sharpe didn’t play a single game for his team in Kentucky, people began to doubt his number-one ranking in his high school recruiting class. This led to him falling to Portland as the seventh pick.
Now, he’s proving his worth on a red hot Portland team who are near the top of the Western Conference. He’s averaging 8.2 points in 20 minutes a game off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers, making him a Canadian player to keep your eye on as he continues his NBA career.
Bennedict Mathurin is another Canadian who’s in his first year in the league. He was drafted sixth by the Indiana Pacers, one spot ahead of Sharpe. He’s at the top of the NBA’s most recent Rookie of the Year (ROTY) Ladder, and for good reason. He’s averaging 18.9 points off the bench for the Indiana Pacers, who are performing much better than expected this year. Don’t be surprised if he stays in the race for ROTY all season and becomes an elite scorer in the NBA.
Jamal Murray is coming back from an ACL injury this year, but he remains one of the best Canadian players in the league. He set high expectations for himself in the NBA Bubble playoffs in 2020, averaging 26.5 points a game as Denver made an unexpected run to the Western Conference Final. Now, with Murray coming back from injury, the Denver Nuggets can hope to make another deep playoff run. Look for Jamal Murray to continue to improve throughout the season and return to All-Star form by the playoffs.
Former NBA Canadians you may not know about
Hank Biasatti — 1946; six games: In addition to being the shortest Canadian to play in the NBA — called the Basketball Association of America at the time — Windsor native Hank Biasatti was also the first-ever Canadian to play. He took part in the very first game of the BAA, suiting up for the Toronto Huskies against the New York Knicks on November 1, 1946, right here in Toronto. This made him the first international player in the league as well. Biasatti left the basketball career early to pursue his true love — professional baseball.
Sim Bhullar — 2015; three games: You may know Brampton’s Sim Bhullar for his height or for being the first NBA player of Indian descent. What you may not have known is the center’s per-minute career performance was better than that of any other Canadian in history in terms of three of the most common advanced basketball metrics: box score plus-minus, win shares per 48 minutes, and player efficiency rating. To see the actual numbers, consult the table below. Of course, he only played for three minutes, making any real comparison silly, but Bhullar still deserves some love. After all, at seven feet five inches, he is the tallest Canadian to ever play in the league, and the seventh tallest NBA player overall.