While we’re still a few days away from players reporting to camp in Toronto – and a few more days after that from the start of the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico – one player that is sure to be front-and-center for Team Canada is Andrew Wiggins.
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year averaged a tick short of 17 per game while started all 82 in Minnesota last season and showed flashes of brilliance that make many (myself included) believe he’ll be a perennial All-Star beginning pretty soon. He’s athletic, energetic and actually hustles hard on the defensive end of the ball, which might be the most endearing quality the young Canadian brings to the court since playing defense isn’t exactly something superstars (or potential superstars) are generally known for.
Whenever this squad hits the court in Mexico, however, a lot of its success will hinge on how well Wiggins is able to play on both ends of the ball. With Tristan Thompson not participating because of his ongoing contract situation with Cleveland, there is even more pressure that is going to be heaped onto the 20-year-old’s shoulders next month when things tip off.
Looking to a 20-year-old to carry a squad through a deep and competitive tournament like this with four Top 20 teams in the mix, but this is also the best roster Canada has been able to put together top-to-bottom in years and expectations are creeping higher after this year’s silver medal success at the Pan-Am Games and Wiggins is the best player on the team.
The question is can he carry Team Canada to an Olympic berth?
Honestly – yes, I think with the depth surrounding him, Canada has a chance to make a run at things here and if they don’t get in, the experience could help them if they make it to the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament next year. He’s going to need to play with an “I’m the best player on the court” mentality, which is a difficult task when you’re a 19-year-old in the NBA, but there aren’t any small forwards in this tournament that can match up with Wiggins on either end of the floor. He’ll need to command the ball and be assertive, but the Timberwolves star has that in his game and you can bet that head coach Jay Triano and even team architect Steve Nash will be in his ear to show that here.
And Cory Joseph will be sure to get him the ball in the right places too.
I don’t think the Pan-Ams were as much of a “great, but looks who’s not here” situation as some people may think. Sure, the U.S. team wasn’t loaded, but they’re not playing in this tournament anyway and Canada will be rolling out its best and brightest as well, which was the case last month in Toronto. The run guys like Jamal Murray, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson got in that competition will be invaluable, Joseph is very good at the point and with solid contributions from Nik Stauskas and Kelly Olynyk, this team could get hot, find a flow and do something here.
Give me a group of hungry, relatively young cats bolstered by recent success and looking to make a name for themselves over some of these more veteran-laden teams; if not right here right now, but over the next three-to-five for sure. And if Wiggins has taken a step forward in his development – used his successful first season to garner more confidence – and Murray continues to play like a Top 5 pick, Canada could make some noise at the 2015 FIBA Americas Tournament and find themselves heading to Brazil next summer.