The rise of basketball talent coming from north of the border only continues to grow as the years pass.
A record 23 Canadians will be on opening-night rosters as the NBA tips off its regular season on Tuesday.
It’s the ninth consecutive season Canada is the second-most represented country in the league, behind only the United States. The previous record of players for Canada was 18 from last season.
“That just goes to show the growth of the game globally as well. We’ve continued to see that the game is at an all-time high,” Troy Justice, NBA vice-president and head of international basketball development, told The Canadian Press. “There is an investment in growing the game of basketball, an intentional investment, to ensure that there’s opportunities and pathways for players around the globe.
“You can see that not only are these players in the league, but they’re succeeding at the highest levels. I mean, if you look at Canadian all-star, your NBA champion Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray and Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander], then you’ve got RJ Barrett.”
Wiggins, of Thornhill, Ont., headlines the Canadian delegation fresh off an NBA title win with the Golden State Warriors. The 27-year-old made his first all-star team last season as one of the best two-way players in the league.
His best effort came in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, where his 26-point, 13-rebound performance helped the Warriors take the series lead before Golden State clinched the title in the next game. The Warriors rewarded him with a four-year, US$109-million extension on Sunday.
Murray, a guard for the Denver Nuggets, will be making his long-awaited return after a torn ACL kept him out of action all of last season. The Kitchener, Ont., native, who was already a key piece to the Nuggets, made his biggest mark when the NBA opted to play in a bubble due to the pandemic late in the 2019-20 season.
Murray averaged 26.5 points on 50.5 per cent shooting in the post-season, including four 40-plus-point games, leading Denver all the way to the Western Conference final, where the team fell to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Rookie Bennedict Mathurin is among the more exciting young Canadian players entering this season with immense potential. The Montreal native was picked sixth overall in the 2022 draft by the Indiana Pacers. He was the first of four Canadians selected in the draft this year.
Mathurin, 20, entered the league having been a consensus second-team all-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year in his sophomore year at Arizona. In four pre-season outings with the Pacers, the six-foot-five, 210-pound guard averaged 19.8 points in just 23.5 minutes a night.
“He was actually a product of the great work of the NBA Academy Latin America, which is an NBA investment in the next generation of talented players from around the world,” Justice said.
“He was our first-ever Canadian player to join the NBA Academy in Latin America. And now he’s starting his rookie season with the Pacers. So we’re so excited for him and excited to see what his career is gonna be going to be as well.”
He joined the program, which is an elite basketball training centre in Mexico for the top prospects from throughout the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America, in 2018 and is the first player from it to be drafted into the NBA.
Chris Boucher, who spent much of the pre-season on the injured list with a hamstring injury, is one of three Canadians on the Toronto Raptors’ opening-night roster. Montreal’s Khem Birch and Toronto’s Dalano Banton are also on the roster.
Boucher, born in Saint Lucia but raised in Montreal, has been a key cog for the Raptors with his versatility. The six-foot-nine centre played 80 games last season averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds a night. He enjoyed a career season in 2020-21 with averages of 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and shooting 38.3 per cent from three.
The Raptors have an NBA-high eight international players on their roster. It’s the second consecutive season Toronto has led the league in the category.
With the increase of Canadians and the success they’re having in the NBA, Justice believes there will be plenty more to come in the future.
“Look, in Canada, you had Steve Nash, right? And he’s playing at an incredible all-star level and inspiring the next generation and these players now, the  that are playing in the league, are inspiring the next generation,” he said. “And because of that, it encourages more kids to play the game to watch their favourite player, to emulate them, and to see that it’s possible for them as well.
“It’s one of those multiplying effects . It’s just a continuum of growth and so you know when you ask what’s it look like in the future, I think that’s it. I think more aspiration, more inspiration, more young players coming into the game and more great Canadian players in the future.”
Canadians on NBA rosters:
Mfiondu Kabengele*, Boston Celtics; Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks; Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets; Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons; Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors; Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers; Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers; Oshae Brissett, Indiana Pacers; Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies; Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies; RJ Barrett, New York Knicks; Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder; Caleb Houstan, Orlando Magic; Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers; Trey Lyles, Sacramento Kings; Josh Primo, San Antonio Spurs; Dalano Banton, Toronto Raptors; Khem Birch, Toronto Raptors; Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors; Kelly Olynyk, Utah Jazz; Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Utah Jazz; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Eugene Omoruyi*, Oklahoma City Thunder.
* – Indicates player being on a two-way contract.