Team Canada came up short in a 83-74 loss to the Olympic Qualifier favorite France in Manila and once again it was the Toronto Raptors point guard Cory Joseph leading Canada in scoring almost by himself with 20 points. The next best player Canada had for putting the ball in the basket didn’t come from the NBA. The next best Canadian in Manila was the undrafted forward Melvin Ejim who played in Italy and Erie of the NBA D-League last season.
While Joseph has been Team Canada’s undisputed leader for several years now and led his team in scoring in each of their four games in Manila and his 19.2 points per game was third best in the tournament, the guys who were supposed to helping put in some points were conspicuously absent. Some like Andrew Wiggins chose not to go, but none of the other three Canadian NBAers who played could manage to score in double digits.
As a team, Canada shot poorly all tournament and only hit on 26.7 percent of their three-point attempts, a disaster waiting to happen in paint-packed FIBA basketball. Usually reliable sharp shooter Brady Heslip was 2-13 from deep for the tournament, Philip Scrubb was 2-12 as was Joseph. Far and away the best shooter for Canada was Ejim.
Ejim was the only other Canadian player to average double-digits (12.5 points) in scoring and he was the best three-point shooter on the team (7-13). Ejim was one of the few Canadians on the court besides Joseph that was noticeable for almost every minute he was on the court and it wasn’t just on offense. Ejim was a team best +14 points for the tournament.
Going back to the predraft workouts in 2014, the potential of a four year college player who could contribute on defense and shoot from distance was noticed.
“Melvin (Ejim), he is another guy that is intriguing because he plays so hard defensively,” Raptors Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman said. “Because of the style of Coach Casey, we kind of gravitate towards players that fit into that (style) naturally and Melvin is a powerful defender on the wing and that goes a long way in the NBA.”
“I am a small forward and I bring the versatility to be able to defend bigger guys,” Ejim said. “I have a strong body and can do a lot of things defensively and offensively. I can shoot the ball and play inside and out. If you don’t consider those good things, then tweener is a bad thing. I just it depends on how you view the role. A tweener – playing small ball, that’s an asset you can use to help you win games. I am just trying to show I can play defense, I can defend the perimeter, defend small forwards and be a leader, shoot the ball and be aggressive.”
Now 25-years-old with two seasons of professional experience under his belt, Ejim was ready to show that he had continued to improved his game since college.
Ejim’s scoring had improved from 10.2 points per game as a freshman in college to 17.8 as a senior and his three-point shooting improved from 22.4 to 34.6 percent. Last year in Italy he shot 37 percent from three, but he showed the biggest overall improvement in his game playing for Erie where he averaged 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals in 39 games.
Listed at 6’7 and 220 lbs, Ejim plays a lot bigger and that has earned him the tweener label, but he is showing that he can play small forward in big lineups and a stretch-four in small lineups. Being a “tweener” isn’t necessarily a bad thing in today’s NBA.
As Tolzman said in 2014, “You like to see players that are stair-stepping towards (us when) we get them because that’s a natural trajectory that you want to see.
“(A tweener) is almost a positive in today’s game because you want the flexibility if a team goes big against you, you have the ability to just shift guys over and keep your best players out there.”
Ejim has continued to “stair-step” in his development, but he missed out on NBA Summer League (for the moment) so he could play for Canada this summer. Hopefully the GMs in the NBA were paying attention to the players that chose to represent their Countries at the three Olympic Qualifying tournaments. There were some pretty good players that deserve another look by the NBA.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.