For the first time in two decades, NBA basketball will be played in Calgary as the annual NBA Canada Series pits the Toronto Raptors against the Denver Nuggets in Monday’s preseason action.
The Raps, who are coming off of a 97-93 victory over the Golden State Warriors, will look to make it two in a row against a weaker opponent. That doesn’t mean the Nuggets are a pushover, however.
Denver won just 33 games last year, finishing 20th in offensive efficiency and 24th in defensive efficiency. You won’t find many household names on this roster, but the Nuggets have assembled one of the best young cores in the Association over the last few years. Led by Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, Denver boasts an intriguing group of youngsters that will continue to grow in well-respected head coach Mike Malone’s system.
The Nuggets have been mostly irrelevant since Masai Ujiri departed the organization in 2013, but their time is coming. Vegas has tabbed them with a 34.5 season win total in the upcoming campaign, and I believe they’ll eclipse that number and then some.
Here are three things to watch out for in the contest:
The debut of point God Jamal Murray
The latest product of a Canadian system that’s cranked out an embarrassment of riches in the last few years, Jamal Murray will see his first professional minutes against the Dinos. The Kitchener native dazzled in his lone college season at Kentucky, which caused his draft stock to skyrocket as a result.
Murray averaged 20 points on 45.4 percent shooting for the Wildcats, going 40.8 from downtown. Denver selected the 19-year-old with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he’ll have an ample amount of opportunity to showcase his stuff in the Mile High City. If you’re a fan of Canadian basketball, this is a player to get excited about.
The beast that is Nikola Jokic
Speaking of players to watch out for, don’t sleep on Nikola Jokic. Jokic has quietly developed into one of the best young big men in the NBA, and his impressive showing at the Rio Olympics only brightened his star power. Jokic scored 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting with six rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal against Team U.S.A. in Serbia’s 96-66 gold-medal losing effort.
Jokic is a phenomenal passer, and his positional defense is exceptional at the ripe age of 21. He wasn’t even on the radar at the beginning of last year, but opposing coaches know to focus on him now. Jonas Valanciunas will have his hands full in Cowtown.
DeMarre Carroll’s first season with Toronto was a rocky one to say the least, as injuries limited the small forward to just 26 regular season games. The defensive specialist spent the summer doing strenuous rehabilitation in order to get back to his normal self, and he looks ready to show the Raptors they made the right call by signing him to a lucrative contract in 2015.
Carroll led Toronto with 14 points against Golden State in 19 minutes of work. He shot 6-for-9 from the floor while adding four rebounds and four steals. There weren’t any visible lingering affects from the injury, which is great news for Raps fans. Carroll is a difference-maker when he’s in the lineup, and Toronto is going to need him operating at full efficiency if they want to make another deep playoff run.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 9pm