Four Canadians — three from Ontario — are among the 76 top NBA draft prospects in the world. Shaedon Sharpe, Bennedict Mathurin (shown), Andrew Nembhard and Leonard Miller are all participating in this week’s NBA Draft Combine (May 16 – 22).
Canada’s ascension in basketball over the past decade has been well documented. But it’s been a few years since the country had a marquee player grab the nation’s attention. PlayOntario takes a look at a few Canadians who are challenging to be taken at the top of the board.
BetRivers, Caesars rate Sharpe, Mathurin best Canadians
In the Ontario sports betting market, not all books are offering an NBA draft betting menu. But BetRivers Ontario and Caesars Ontario are. According to those two books, Sharpe and Mathurin are the only two Canadians who have an outside shot at the No. 1 pick overall.
- BetRivers: +8000 American odds, 81.00 European odds (sixth-best odds overall)
- Caesars: +7500, 76.00 (fifth-best odds)
- BetRivers: +10000, 101.00 (seventh-best odds overall)
- Caesars: +15000, 151.00 (seventh-best odds overall)
For reference’s sake, American Jabari Smith (Auburn University) is the consensus No.1 pick at the moment with both sportsbooks.
- BetRivers: +100, 2.00
- Caesars: +100, 2.00
Gonzaga’s big man, Chet Holmgren, is a close second.
Unconventional path to the NBA
Canadian or not, Sharpe – born in London, ON – has had one of the most intriguing journeys of the entire 2022 draft class. While viewed as a consensus top-10 pick for his freaky athleticism and explosive scoring, Sharpe remains an enigma of sorts. The 18-year-old finished his high school credits earlier than expected. That prompted the Ontarian to boldly withdraw from school and enroll at the storied University of Kentucky mid-season.
The only problem was the situation put head coach John Calipari in a precarious spot. Give up an earned spot of another player or lose out on Sharpe’s potential contributions? In the end, Calipari chose the latter.
It is reported Sharpe trained with the club regularly, making use of the practice facility. But he never played a minute for the Wildcats.
Sharpe bests record set by Michael Jordan
Regardless, the youngster’s physical tools and potential is seemingly enough to overcome the gap year.
In May 2021, the Wildcat recorded an NBA record 49-inch vertical leap. Michael Jordan and Keon Johnson held the previous mark at 48 inches.
The NBA Draft Combine should serve Sharpe well.
Players are said to be participating five-on-five games and shooting drills between Wednesday and Friday. And potential suitors will get an up-close look at how Sharpe fares against elite-level talent.
Mathurin completes outstanding year at Arizona
Mathurin, on the other hand, couldn’t have had a more different path to the league. Unlike Sharpe, the Quebecer is proven and tested through the traditional path – the NCAA.
Consider his time with the Arizona Wildcats. Mathurin was named a second-team All-American and had his name in the discussion for Player of the Year honours. The wing showed a big jump in his sophomore season averaging 17.7 points per game and 5.6 rebounds.
But while Sharpe is considered a potentially franchise-altering player, Mathurin’s projections are not quite as shiny. NBA pundits view the six-foot-six slasher as a solid competitor, contributor and steady pro. But he’s not necessarily a franchise-changing piece.
Nembhard, Miller remain on bubble
It remains a question mark for the final two Canadian prospects, Nembhard and Miller.
Nembhard (Aurora, Ont.) was steady as the starting point guard for the nationally ranked No.1 seed, Gonzaga Bulldogs. But he wasn’t spectacular. He must prove his skills as a shot-maker at the combine.
Meanwhile, Miller (Scarborough, Ont.) just completed his postgraduate year at Fort Erie International Academy.
While he possesses the physical tools standing at six-foot-11 and with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he is still only 18-years-old. A year at the NCAA level or in the NBA G-League, the NBA’s developmental league, would serve him well.
NBA Draft Combine invitation doesn’t equal an NBA draft pick
Sixty players are selected annually in the NBA Draft. A combine invitation doesn’t equal an NBA spot.
Luckily for borderline players such as Nembhard and Miller, the NBA/NCAA now allows players to return to college should they go unselected. Previously, declaring for the NBA draft meant there was no turning back. Players had to forego their college (amateur) status with the decision.
Another option is to head to the NBA Summer League. There, players compete on makeshift teams in the hopes of landing onto a training camp roster or G-League squad.
Overseas basketball has become an increasingly popular option lately as well. Players such as LaMelo Ball and Luka Doncic have validated that journey.
History of Canadians in the NBA draft
The number of Canadians in the NBA has been on the rise for the past two decades.
But it was in the 2010’s when the league really saw an uptick.
The first time multiple Canadians were drafted into the NBA (Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson) was 2011.
But 2013 and 2014 were the holy grail years. Canadians were selected first overall in consecutive years. Anthony Bennett topped the draft list in 2013, followed by Andrew Wiggins turning the same trick a year later.
The most Canadians ever picked up in a single draft class happened in 2019 when six were scattered across the league. To date, the vast majority of Canadian NBAers have been role or fringe players.
Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors) and Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets) are two notable exceptions.
Wiggins was a Western Conference starter in the NBA All-Star in 2022 – something only two other Canadians have ever done.
When is the NBA Draft?
The NBA Draft lottery – where teams will find out the numerical position they will select in the NBA Draft – goes today (May 17). So teams will likely already begin jockeying for players and position themselves prior to the combine even ending (May 22).
It is possible the outcome of the NBA Draft Lottery could change projections and odds for players prior to the NBA Draft, itself. Fit is everything in professional sports. And some teams could prioritize a potential need over a better player in certain circumstances. Draft-and-trade scenarios could also be in play.
The 2022 NBA Draft goes June 23 in Brooklyn.