Deep Thoughts: Isaiah Canaan

Disclaimer: I started writing this series because I couldn’t find enough content relevant to my favorite league, which is a 20 team dynasty. Each week I’ll profile one or two young, high upside players who are currently owned in less than one percent of ESPN leagues. While some may break out this season, most will need a little more time, and I’m sure I’ll have my share of whiffs as well.

Isaiah CanaanThere were many winners from this year’s trading deadline. Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Rudy Gobert, and a number of other players all stand to gain significantly from moves made yesterday. However, I believe the biggest winner (relatively speaking) to come out of this whirlwind of moves will be the diminutive Isaiah Canaan. The 76ers traded for him immediately after dealing the defending rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, sending promising swingman K.J. McDaniels to Houston in exchange for Canaan and a second round pick.

Pick up Isaiah Canaan now. This article will still be here when you get back, then you can read it and congratulate yourself on how smart you are.

If you read the disclaimer, you’ll note that I expect most of these players to take a while to break out, but Isaiah Canaan is the exception to that rule. I expect him to lay siege on the league almost immediately. Opportunity is king in fantasy basketball and Canaan has it in spades. We frequently hear about players facing down weak competition for minutes—Canaan doesn’t have weak competition, he has no competition. Literally. When Michael Carter Williams strained his toe three games before the All-Star break the 76ers signed Tim Frazier to a ten-day contract and played him 36 minutes per game. Frazier’s reign of terror lasted three games, during which he shot 6-27 with 13 turnovers. Jim Croce once sang “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ lone ranger, and you don’t play point guards with twice as many turnovers as shots made.” I think that’s how it went. Anyway, if you see a Sixers fan give them a hug. Or buy them a shot. Or smash their television into tiny pieces. They’ll thank you.

Let’s take a step back. For those of you who like to spend your time doing things other than watching D-League reruns, Isaiah Canaan is a six-foot tall, 200 pound point guard most famous for leading Murray State on a 23 game win streak during the 2012-2013 season. He has the same basic shape as a brick shithouse[1] and his last name lends itself to all sorts of cheesy nicknames. More importantly, he can shoot. Most small point guards in the NBA earn their paychecks with speed and explosiveness, but Canaan’s calling cards are his strength and jump shot. He’s a quality pick-and-roll operator who punishes defenders for going under picks. He’s shot the ball well at every level, and combines solid efficiency with impressive volume.[2] What sets him apart is his ability to shoot off the dribble—many young combo guards need the ball in their hands to be successful, but are only good shooters with their feet set off the catch. Canaan is a quality catch-and-shooter, but is also accurate off the bounce, and he’s got enough quickness and ball-handling ability to get into the lane if defenses overplay his jumper. While he struggles to finish at the rim, he’s a capable (if not elite) distributor,[3] and as he gains experience I expect him to improve at drawing and finishing through contact. His biggest weakness is on defense, but that’s not a big deal for fantasy owners. While he doesn’t have the length or lateral quickness to bother elite point guards, he’s strong and he hustles.

Canaan’s relative lack of size and athleticism hurt his long-term upside, but his skill set and chance at playing time give him a very real chance at immediate fantasy relevance. He might be a bench scorer in the long term, but he should play major minutes over the Sixers last 29 games, and I expect him to swing quite a few fantasy leagues. I envision him averaging something like 15.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 three-pointers, and 1.5 steals over the season’s last 30 games—numbers that would make him relevant in the vast majority of fantasy leagues. So while everyone is jumping on the Goran Dragic/Reggie Jackson/Isaiah Thomas bandwagons I’ll be going for a ride with the Canaan-ball.


Carmelo Anthony is good at basketball and usually plays a lot of minutes, but that will no longer be the case as he’s out for the season. His knee injury has opened the door for Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The two rookies are on opposite side of the 3-and-D spectrum. Early is strong, he’s an explosive leaper, and he can shoot, but his ball-handling and is rudimentary, and after guarding fours in college he needs to prove that he can stay I front of NBA wings. Antetokounmpo is a much better athlete and his relentless motor allows him to pick up steals and blocks in bunches. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have his brother’s size or skill level, and has no jumper to speak of. While he may already be the Knicks best perimeter defender, I think they’ll have trouble keeping him on the floor until his offense develops.

The Suns cleared much of their point guard logjam Thursday, but Archie Goodwin’s still there and may have a chance to earn consistent minutes in Kentucky West behind Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. He’s definitely an excellent athlete, but it remains to be seen whether he can pass or shoot well enough to justify a spot in the rotation.

If you don’t want to listen to anything I have to say about Quincy Miller, I sympathize. That said, he just signed a ten-day deal with the Pistons, and can he really be that much worse than the corpses of Caron Butler or Tayshaun Prince?

I don’t have Twitter, but feel free to contact me at with questions, comments, or players you’d like me to write about next week.

[1] Yes that’s a compliment

[2] He’s currently shooting 38.1% from deep and hit 41.9% of his threes in college.

[3] I know what you’re thinking: “But Alex, he’s only averaging 2.8 assists per 36 minutes.” It’s meaningless. James Harden is Houston’s point guard on offense, and Canaan should have no trouble averaging 5-6 assists per game as Philly’s primary ball-handler.

2 Replies to “Deep Thoughts: Isaiah Canaan”

  1. Alex, what are your thoughts on Canaan now that the season is over? Philly fans seem to be down on him, Ish Smith was starting over him by the end of the year, and the Sixers have Wroten coming back.

    I still nabbed him with a post-season waiver claim in my 20-team h2h dynasty league as my 3rd PG… just on the off chance he sticks with the 76ers or ends up as a backup PG in a good situation.

    • Losing the starting gig was definitely disappointing, but I think he’s a decent bet in a 20 team league. I was too optimistic about his playmaking and defense, but his per-36 numbers (17.6 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, .9 steals, and 3.7 threes) were completely reasonable, with the exception of an abysmal shooting percentage (38%). Evaluating him for this coming year is tricky and depends heavily on the draft. If the season started today, the Sixers would probably start Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, and Robert Covington. Adding Tony Wroten or Ish Smith to that unit would lead to the NBA equivalent of the Star Wars trash compactor scene. Canaan as the lead ballhandler is a little scary, but that massive back line would probably help overcome his defensive shortcomings. If tankmaster Hinkie takes Jahlil Okafor or Justice Winslow, the geometry doesn’t change too much, and I think Canaan has a chance to start and approach the above numbers on a per game basis. If he takes a shooting forward like Porzingis or Hezonja, they might provide enough spacing to let the Sixers start Wroten, who I think they prefer in a vacuum. In this case, I would expect Canaan to produce something similar to the 25.9 minutes, 12.6 points, and 2.7 threes that he produced after being traded to Philadelphia. If they take DeAngelo russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, I wouldn’t expect more than 15 minutes per game from him, and his value would crater.

      His ideal future in the long term is probably as a 25-30 minute combo guard off the bench, but I still believe he could be a starter guard in the right context–specifically next to a big guard who can act as the primary ballhandler/playmaker and cross-match to protect Canaan against size mismatches.

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