In the year 1995, the National Basketball Association welcomed two new franchises that shocked basketball fans and changed the game of basketball all together. These teams were the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors. Now, 20 years later, the Grizzlies have been been moved to Memphis and the Raptors have remained a footnote – with the exception of the Vince Carter era that would again change the game of basketball in Canada, or at least in Toronto. Now a new era is on the rise. It is an era that would see Canadians officially enter the game of basketball. And stay there.
The Raptors fan base is growing faster than ever before. That speaks to the popularity of the basketball in the hockey-obsessed country of Canada. So whether you like it or not, basketball is a growing sport in Canada. And Canadians are proving it. From Anthony Bennett to Andrew Wiggins, Canadian basketball stars are chipping away at a sport dominated by Americans and leaving their mark – in both the NCAA and the NBA. For years, Steve Nash has been seen as the ultimate icon for Canadian basketball but now kids have new Canadian idols to look up to.
In celebration of Canadian basketball, here are the top 10 Canadians to play in the NBA.
10. Tyler Ennis
During his rookie season this year, Tyler Ennis played 33 games between the Phoenix Suns (8) and the Milwaukee Bucks (25). The Brampton born point guard was the 18th overall draft-pick out Syracuse in 2014. It was with the Orange that Ennis stockpiled quite a few awards during his first and only year of college basketball. In that year, Ennis earned a spot on the second-team All-America, second-team All-ACC, All-ACC Defensive team and the list goes on. He didn’t have a great rookie season (3.7 PPG), but he has the potential to improve and make his mark on the NBA.
9. Anthony Bennett
A couple of years ago, Anthony Bennett may have been ranked near the top of this list. In 2013, the power forward was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After becoming Canada’s first player to go first overall in the NBA draft, injuries got in the way of his development during his rookie season with the Cavs. After being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with his good friend Andrew Wiggins last summer, Bennett’s progress in the NBA seems to be slowly making its way back on track.
8. Kelly Olynyk
The Toronto born Kelly Olynyk is another young big man in the NBA. Unlike most young Canadian basketball stars, Olynyk opted to stay in Canada for his high school years, where he manned the point guard position. It wasn’t until his first year at Gonzaga University that he made the transition to play at center. Now, just two seasons into his NBA career after being drafted 13th overall, Olynyk is averaging around 9.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 1.6 APG and is a budding Canadian star.
7. Samuel Dalembert
Samuel Dalembert, who is Haitian-Canadian, played 13 seasons in the NBA. Maybe the best Canadian shot blocker in NBA history, Dalembert has averaged 1.7 BPG over his career. He also posted 2.3 BPG in the best season of his career, along with 10.5 PPG and 10.4 RPG, back in 2007/08. Even though the six-foot-eleven center was more known for his defensive contributions, he has held up an impressive field goal percentage throughout his time in the NBA as well, holding an average of 52.1% field goal shooting.
6. Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson was drafted fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 and is another one of the young Canadian basketball stars on the rise in the NBA. Now four years into his career, Thompson is beginning to take on a bigger role. In his second and third seasons, he averaged about 31 minutes a game with the Cavs. And in the absence of All-Star power forward Kevin Love and starting center Anderson Varejao, Thompson averaged over 36 minutes per game during the 2014/14 playoffs. The Toronto native also has the potential to become a real double-double machine in the seasons to come, as he’s averaged nearly that for his career (10.1 PPG and 8.4 RPG).
5. Bob Houbregs
Bob Houbregs was a six-foot-seven center drafted second overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1953. In college, Houbregs led the University of Washington to their only Final Four appearance. He also brought the Fort Wayne Pistons to the NBA Finals two years in a row (’55-’56). Now a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, Houbregs holds a career average of 9.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 1.8 APG.
4. Jamaal Magloire
Jamaal Magloire was the 19th overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and played 12 seasons in the league. In 2004, Magloire became only the second Canadian to play in the All-Star game and it was a pretty memorable game too. Magloire put up 19 points and 8 rebounds in 21 minutes. in 2011, the six-foot-eleven center made Canadian history again, becoming the first Canadian born NBA player to ever play for the Toronto Raptors during the last season of his career. Magloire is now a part of the Raptors’ coaching staff.
3. Rick Fox
Rick Fox, a strong small forward with a six-foot-seven frame, was able to defend on the wing and in the post. On top of that, Fox was a solid finisher and could generate his own scoring chances when needed. His best season, in terms of production, came in his last year with the Boston Celtics in 1996/97. Fox averaged 15.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 2.2 SPG. The Toronto native also won three NBA championships with the Lakers.
2. Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins, a guard/forward from Toronto, is one of the best young players in the NBA. Wiggins was named Rookie of the Year this season, averaging 16.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 2.1 APG. In 2014, he was drafted first overall (only the second Canadian to do so after Anthony Bennett) out of Kentucky University, where he set some impressive freshman records, including scoring average (17.1), field goals attempted (422), free throws made (176) and free throws attempted (227). The ceiling is high for Wiggins and by the end of his career, he could be known as the best Canadian to ever play the game.
1. Steve Nash
Maybe the most famous player on this list, Steve Nash was one of the best guards to ever play the game. The Canadian superstar was drafted 15th overall out of Santa Clara University and through 18 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers, Nash was a two-time MVP, eight-time All-Star and he lead the league in assists five times. Nash was only the third guard to win back-to-back MVPs (after Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan) and he will forever be remembered as one of the greatest shooters to ever lace up a pair of sneakers.
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