Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like Canada’s next great NBA player

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Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising star

With the Toronto Raptors visiting his Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at 8 p.m. ET, now’s a good time to marvel at what the second-year NBA guard has already done — and think about what he might become. Such as:

Earlier this week, SGA became only the second Canadian to record a triple-double in an NBA game. The other? Steve Nash. And the Hall of Famer and two-time MVP never had one quite like this: Gilgeous-Alexander dropped 20 points, 10 assists and 20 rebounds on Minnesota. 20 rebounds. By a 6-foot-5 guard. For context, 6-foot-9 Raptors star forward Pascal Siakam, who’s averaging about eight boards per night this season, has never grabbed 20 in a game. SGA is also the youngest player in NBA history with a 20-rebound triple-double.

The 21-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., is having a breakout season. After going 11th overall in the 2018 NBA draft, Gilgeous-Alexander impressed a lot of basketball aficionados as a rookie with the L.A. Clippers last season. But he averaged only 26.5 minutes, so his counting stats were pretty modest: 10.8 points per game, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists. That all changed when the Clippers traded him to Oklahoma City as part of the blockbuster deal that sent Paul George the other way (and also convinced Kawhi Leonard to sign with the Clippers). Now SGA is getting 35.4 minutes per game, helping bump his scoring up to 19.9 points along with 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Yes, his assists are down, but that’s partly a function of now playing alongside veteran point guard Chris Paul — one of the greatest playmakers of all time. One of SGA’s best games came against the Raptors, who he burned for 32 points two weeks ago in Toronto.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a career-high 32 and put up the most points by a Canadian in a game against the Raptors.  1:25

Gilgeous-Alexander is the second-highest-scoring Canadian in the NBA this season. He trails Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins (23.2 points per game) by quite a bit, but SGA is the better player. He hits a higher percentage of his overall field goals, three-pointers and free throws, and he grabs more rebounds. Wiggins dishes out slightly more assists, but SGA gets more steals, turns the ball over less and commits fewer fouls. The next-best Canadian scorer in the NBA right now is 22-year-old guard Jamal Murray, who’s averaging 17.9 points (with 4.7 assists) for Denver. He got a five-year, $170-million US contract extension back in July. If Gilgeous-Alexander keep this up, he’ll strike it rich pretty soon too.

So what makes SGA so good? He has good size for a guard, handles the ball well and knows how to score efficiently. Most importantly, he plays with a veteran’s savvy. As Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin told Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press: “He plays at his pace and he knows how to go slow-to-fast, fast-to-slow, how to use his size and his strength. He has great command of his game for such a young guy.” Much of this is a product of SGA’s intelligence and work ethic. He’s not considered a jaw-dropping athlete — at least by NBA standards (if he was, he wouldn’t have lasted until 11th in the draft). Back when SGA was excelling in his lone college season at Kentucky, his old high-school coach back in Hamilton told CBC Sports’ Chicco Nacion that Gilgeous-Alexander’s talent didn’t stand out right away, even in that modest environment. But he learned new skills fast and worked his tail off — the coach said he couldn’t take a lunch break for three years because Gilgeous-Alexander always wanted to study video with him. Read that entire story here, and read more about what members of the Raptors think about SGA here.

This is all very exciting for fans of the Canadian men’s basketball team. It has one more chance to reach its first Olympics in 20 years — by winning a last-minute qualifying tournament in Victoria in late June. Gilgeous-Alexander has already committed, and so has Murray. No word yet from Wiggins, who’s looked better this season after many people wrote off the former No. 1-overall pick as a bust. But with or without him, Canada suddenly has an excellent young backcourt.

Quickly…

The Vegas Golden Knights surprisingly fired their coach. Vegas has underachieved relative to pre-season expectations, but things aren’t that bad: they’re only three points out of the lead in the crowded (but soft) Pacific Division and basically tied for a wild-card spot. And Gerard Gallant guided the Knights to the Stanley Cup final as an expansion team (!) only two years ago. But he was fired today and replaced by Peter DeBoer, who himself was fired by San Jose only a month ago. Seven NHL head coaches have now lost their jobs this season for reasons ranging from team performance to alcohol abuse to saying racist things a decade ago. Gallant’s firing, which appears to be performance-related, creates an awkward situation: he was supposed to coach the Pacific team at the NHL all-star game two weekends from now. Read more about his firing here.

A Canadian tennis player called out Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Brayden Schnur is angry about the poor air quality at the Australian Open — a result of the wildfires that have devastated the country. He won his first-round qualifying match but said it felt like he was smoking a cigarette. “I definitely don’t think we should have gone on court today,” he said, joining the chorus of players who have complained about the conditions. Schnur, who’s ranked 103rd in the world, knows that not many people pay attention to him. So he thinks the sport’s two biggest stars need to throw their weight around on this issue. “Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur said. “Because they’re near the end and all they’re thinking about is their legacy and they’re not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what’s good for the sport. So those guys need to step up.” Strong words. Read more about Schnur’s comments and the air-quality problem here.

The lacrosse move is catching on. We’d seen it at other levels of hockey before, but this might go down as the season where it became a thing in the NHL. A few months ago, Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov became the first NHLer to score with what some call “The Michigan” (a player from the university was the first guy most people saw do the move, back in 1996) and he’s since done it again. Last night, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg joined him with this goal:

The Houston Astros cheating scandal cost the Red Sox manager his job. Boston “mutually agreed to part ways” with manager Alex Cora, who is accused of leading Houston’s sign-stealing scheme when he was a bench coach with them in 2017. Boston hired Cora to be its manager shortly after the Astros won the World Series that year — aided by a system in which they used a camera to decode opposing catchers’ signals and relayed the info to their own hitters so they’d know what type of pitch was coming. On Monday, Houston fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow shortly after Major League Baseball suspended them both for the entire 2020 season. An even harsher punishment could be coming for Cora, who MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said “originated and executed” the scheme. The reason for the delay is that MLB is still investigating accusations that the Red Sox stole signs in 2018 — Cora’s first year as manager. Read more about Cora and the cheating scandal that has rocked baseball here.

Another NFL star retired before his 30th birthday. Carolina’s Luke Kuechly was one of the best linebackers in football for the better part of the last decade. He was named defensive player of the year in 2013 and first- or second-team All-Pro in each of the last seven years. But playing that position takes a brutal toll, and Kuechly missed seven games due to concussions between 2015 and 2017. The most recent one resulted in him being carted off the field in tears  during a Thursday night game. Kuechly was vague about why he’s retiring. “I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision,” he said. That feeling seemed to be shared by the two other stars who walked away at a young age in the last year. Quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Rob Gronkowski both suffered from debilitating injuries that made them feel like they couldn’t go on.

Canada’s Youth Olympic Games curling team suffered a heartbreaking loss. After going 5-0 in the round robin in Switzerland, the mixed team of 17-year-olds was eliminated in the quarter-finals with an extra-end loss to Japan. Read more about the game and how the Canadians are keeping their heads up here. You can also follow CBC Sports reporter Devin Heroux’s tweets from the Youth Olympics here, and watch more live events Thursday from 5-8:30 a.m. ET here.

And finally…

It’s so nice to have Sidney Crosby back in our lives. Returning from a two-month layoff after core-muscle surgery, Crosby had a goal and three assists in last night’s 7-3 win over Minnesota — including this beauty:

Sidney Crosby recorded a goal and three assists in his return after missing 28 games due to abdominal surgery. 1:03

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