5 things: Canada moves one step closer to Olympics with easy win over China

·NBA reporter
·6 min read

Here are five takeaways from Canada's 109-79 win over China at the Olympic qualifying tournament. 

One: That was easy

This game was never in doubt, with all due respect to China. The line coming in had Canada as 22-point favourites and even that seemed low given the gulf in talent between the two sides. Canada has eight NBA players, while China's only advantage was fringe NBA player and 7-foot-3 center Zhou Qi, who cooled off after a strong start. Canada trailed 17-15 with four minutes left in the first quarter before getting serious in the second quarter to break the game wide open.

What's clear is that Canada has the best athletes in the tournament by some measure. The Canadians grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against China, and the extra possessions fuelled their blowout. Canada is also lethal on the fast break while also being highly disruptive on defense to create turnovers, and that was a pivotal part of both their wins so far. It's more level if Canada is forced to play a halfcourt game, but that's also easier said than done. The Canadians were favourites to win the tournament at the outset, and they have shown exactly why in their two wins. 

Canada is two wins away from an Olympic berth. (Photo by Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Canada is two wins away from an Olympic berth. (Photo by Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Two: Wiggins and Barrett lead the way

Canada's biggest advantage is their wing play, as Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett are the two most gifted forwards in the entire six-team tournament. Both players have proven capable of carrying the team for stretches, and they get it done in different ways.

For Wiggins, he's quietly and efficiently picking his spots. Wiggins has been hot from deep (6-for-13), he's gotten layups or free throws on each drive, and the midrange game is also there when he needs it. Wiggins only needed nine shots to score his 20 points to lead Canada, and he's barely broken a sweat. He is solid at the defensive end, too, rarely getting caught out of position and his length and quickness creates deflections to spark the fast break.

Barrett takes a different approach and his game is louder than Wiggins'. Barrett loves forcing the issue with his powerful drives to the rim, and he's lethal when he can go left. Of course, that's the first item in every scouting report on Barrett, but even as one Chinese defender shaded him towards his right, he was still able to get to his left hand through contact to draw the foul while laying it in with a soft kiss off the glass. He can sometimes be too aggressive, but it's clear that he doesn't fear the moment and he is always looking to make a play. 

Three: Bench chemistry

Not to be overshadowed, the reserve duo of Lu Dort and Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been just as impressive. Canada's bench scored 47 points with Dort and Alexander-Walker leading the way, and very few teams in this tournament will be able to match the depth of firepower at Nick Nurse's disposal.

Dort is a menace on the defensive end. He doesn't just attack the ball, he insists on taking it from you, and he does so by reaching in with his long arms while bodying up to deny any space. He's a coach's dream in how much he relishes the challenge of playing defense, and there are no mismatches for him. Dort can switch onto anybody under 7-feet, and whether he's directly guarding the ball or if he's checking someone in the corner, he is never quite out of the play.

Offensively, Dort isn't as aggressive, although his job mostly boils down to being confident in the outside shot. While his release is slow and pronounced, he is fairly accurate and should trust it more instead of usually looking to drive.

His counterpart in the second unit is Alexander-Walker, who is prone to errors on defense, but makes up for it with his brilliance on offense. Even in a game where he missed his chances at the basket, his ability was clear. He's crafty when going downhill and able to create space, and his outside shot is butter. With Dort covering for him defensively, and with some solid screeners to open the space, Alexander-Walker has been devastating and electric. 

Four: Small improvements needed

Although everything has gone according to plan so far, there are ways that opponents can look to attack Canada, and in a single-elimination setting there is the real possibility of an upset. 

One area where Nurse will look to improve is his team's execution against zone coverages. Barrett settled for a pull-up jumper, Dwight Powell over-dribbled and barged his way into a charge, while Trey Lyles took a midrange jumper with almost a full shot clock. That's not to say there weren't some purposeful moments, such as a nicely designed play where Wiggins curled behind a screen for a corner three, but zone defenses will be the best way to knock Canada out of rhythm. Both Greece and China opened their games in a zone, and Canada's starting lineup has looked mostly pedestrian.

There are also a few holes in Canada's defense with the second unit. Alexander-Walker gets hung up on screens and will fall behind often on pick-and-rolls. None of the centers outside of Powell have been capable of protecting the rim either, as Andrew Nicholson is slow to move his feet while Lyles lacks physicality. Even with Powell in the middle, there is still the chance that he allows a shot over the top from a bigger player.

And of course, shooting variance can be deadly in any setting. Canada has shot well from deep so far, connecting on 37 percent from three in Game 1 and 40 percent tonight, but what happens when the shot isn't dropping? Barrett's success getting into the paint is encouraging, and Powell has collected 10 offensive rebounds in two games, but it can get very dicey if shots aren't falling and opponents start to pack the paint. 

Five: Two more wins

For now, there isn't much need to worry. By winning both of their group matches, Canada has ensured themselves an easier opponent in the semifinal and will likely advance to the final on Sunday. There, they will likely see one of Turkey or Greece for a spot in the Olympics. If Canada can keep their composure for two more games, it will be job well done, and some of the bitter memories from failed pursuits in previous years will be forgotten. But should they fall short, this might just be the biggest disappointment yet.

So, no pressure guys. 

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