Canaan Looks To Make Most Of Big Opportunity

by Max Rappaport Writer

For most Sixers fans, Thursday was likely the first time they had heard the name Isaiah Canaan. After all, the second-year point guard played his college ball at mid-major Murray State and has spent the better part of the last two years competing cycling between the end of the Houston Rockets’ bench and the starting point guard position with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. But Sam Hinkie has kept a watchful eye on the 23-year-old, and when opportunity struck for him to a swing a deal to bring the sharpshooter to Philadelphia, he acted quickly.

In the waning minutes before Thursday’s 3pm trade deadline, Hinkie negotiated a deal with his former mentor, Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, that sent rookie K.J. McDaniels to Houston in return for Canaan and the less favorable of Minnesota and Denver’s 2015 second-round picks.

But the acquisition of Canaan was something that nearly happened two years earlier.

“He’s a player we chased in the draft with a similar zeal we had in chasing other players,” Hinkie told reporters of his desire to draft the 6’0” point guard in 2013. “We work really hard to look around the world to find great players to bring in, and most of them aren't household names. Most people don't – they're not very excited about [acquisitions like] Robert Covington. They didn't spend a lot of time at Murray State looking at Isaiah Canaan, and they didn't feel their heart race when Isaiah Canaan was at the 34th pick just one pick away from our pick at the 35th pick and then got nabbed at the 34th pick.”

Indeed, the Sixers were mere moments away from making Canaan theirs two years ago, but after missing out on the Ohio Valley Conference standout the team took the #35 pick and through a handful of trades used it to acquire the rights to Arsalan Kazemi, a pick that became the rights to Jordan McRae, Pierre Jackson, who was waived after rupturing his Achilles in the 2014 Orlando Pro Summer League, and cash considerations.

In two years with the Rockets, Canaan has appeared in 47 games, being limited to spot minutes between D-League assignments on a veteran Houston team. In nine career starts, he’s averaged 12.6 points (44.0 FG%, 42.9 3P%), 2.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 28.4 minutes.

“I suspect he’ll play quite well,” said Hinkie. “He’s an interesting prospect, and he’s anything but a throw-in… He’s someone we have high hopes for.”

And for good reason, because when Canaan has been given minutes he’s produced, and in Philadelphia he figures to get plenty.

In 22 career games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he averaged 21.6 points on 42.3% shooting from the floor and 36.5% from long range to go along with 8.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 34.4 minutes. And in the only three games in which he’s logged 30 or more minutes with the Rockets, he’s averaged 18.0 points (48.7 FG%, 46.2 3P%), 4.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

“All I’ve been looking for is an opportunity, and I’ve been put in a good one,” Canaan told reporters of being traded to a Philadelphia team with ample minutes available at the point guard position. “I’m glad to be here, and I’m looking forward to getting out there with my new teammates.”

One of those teammates is a player that he not only has history with but is also one whose success he’ll look to replicate in Philadelphia.

Because Covington attended one of Murray State’s conference rivals, Tennessee Valley State, the two were familiar with one another before becoming teammates with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013. But playing alongside one another in the D-League, Canaan and Covington quickly became close friends and have stayed in contact with one another throughout the 6’9” forward’s dramatic rise from relative unknown to potential franchise building block.

“He was excited, and he actually called me right after [the trade] happened,” said Canaan. “We played a lot together last year – a little in the D-League and then with Houston while he was there, and we played in the same conference in college, so we’re pretty familiar with each other. It’s a pleasure to be able to play with him again, and on a big stage.”

He could get that chance as early as Sunday, when the Sixers travel to Orlando to take on the Magic at 6pm (EST). When asked about the role the 23-year-old will play with the Sixers for the remaining 28 games of the 2014-15 season, head coach Brett Brown made it clear that like he did with Covington upon his arrival in mid-November, Canaan will be thrown right into the fire.

“[Robert] Covington said the single word that made me want to coach [Isaiah Canaan] sooner, in that he competes,” Brown said of a conversation he had with Covington immediately following the trade. “We all know, as we start playing with Joel [Embiid] and Nerlens [Noel] and those types of players, we’re going to have to sprinkle some perimeter people in this game, that’s the game – you better put the ball in the hole from the perimeter, and he can do that.” 

Over the final two months of the season, Canaan will look to prove that he has a place in the Sixers’ future.