Yep, it's March, which means the "Madness" is right around the corner. With the annual NCAA college nirvana of basketball comes the first major rumblings surrounding the NBA Draft and with the Raptors on the way to lottery-land, the HQ takes a first pass at some of the top picks...
Currently, the Toronto Raptors have the fifth-worst winning percentage in the league.
If the NBA Draft were this evening, that would put them in line for the fifth overall pick in this year's draft.
Of course, the team could jump higher than that when all is said and done thanks to the NBA draft lottery, and with the fifth-worst record could still grab the top pick. Right now though the Dinos would only have 88 combinations of ping-pong balls in the infamous lottery barrel that would give them that top pick, just under a nine per cent chance.
We've seen teams with less chance win the lottery before, but in my books, a "top 3 finish" is a must in order to ensure a quality player.
Well first off, I'm not too sold on this draft.
Sure, everyone's saying that, and it's a popular thing to "diss the draft" so to speak, in months leading up to the actual event. Then magically right before draft time, everyone loves some of the top names.
I like two guys, who we'll discuss in a minute, and after that...enh.
Second, the Raps are fighting with clubs like New Jersey (same number of wins, one less loss to date), Sacramento and Washington (two less wins each) for a top 3 finish (Cleveland looks to have the top spot on lock), and many of these clubs have similar needs as Toronto.
Yes, many have their point guard spot set to a certain extent, and with the top pick looking to be Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, maybe these clubs will take a pass. But the Cavs certainly need a 1, and considering the lack of "star power" in this draft, there's no guarantee a club that doesn't need a point guard, won't draft Irving anyways, looking to deal him for top value.
Elite point guards run this league at present so every team in the NBA is looking for a player of this ilk.
Bottom line then for me?
Get into that top 3 spot.
But enough about tanking and records, let's talk a little about this draft.
Right now, it's one that looks to be quite even, and while that's probably great for a club outside the lottery, who may be able to get as good a player at 20 as 10, it's not so great for a team like Toronto, seriously in need of some superstar talent.
That's not to say though there aren't players who can help the Raps, and here is a breakdown of five the top college options at this point in the NCAA season.
1) Kyrie Irving - Point Guard, Duke.
You've heard lots about Irving, the play-making maestro hailing from New Jersey. He had the Blue Devils on course for what looked like an NCAA tournament repeat early in the season, but a toe injury has put him on the shelf since early December, and it looks like he won't be back in time to help Duke defend their crown.
However as the injury is not one that looks to be a concern for the future, Irving, should he declare for the draft, looks to be a solid bet as the number one pick. He doesn't have the blazing quickness of a John Wall, or the athleticism of a Derrick Rose, but he's extremely crafty with his changes of pace and is the complete package at the 1. He's drawn some comparisons to Chris Paul when Paul was at Wake Forest, however he's already a better shooter, and while perhaps not quite the athlete or playmaker, appears to be a very solid PG in the Deron Williams mould of potential.
From a Raptors' perspective, this would be a slam dunk fit therefore from my perspective.
2) Jared Sullinger - Power Forward, Ohio State.
If Irving doesn't declare, or if he's off the board by the time Toronto picks, Sullinger would be my next best option for the Dinos.
Yes, the Raps have three talented bigs with Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but Sullinger is a much different player than all three. For starters, he's a true low-post presence with an exceptional array of moves for only a college freshman. He's not going to out-jump anyone, but similar to players like Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins, he's simply a rebounding monster who uses his big caboose and excellent basketball IQ to dominate on the glass. He's also a great passer from the low post, and if the Raps are determined to keep using Bargnani at the 5, it's hard not to envision Sullinger as the perfect "inside" complement to Andrea's "outside" game.
He is a bit undersized and will probably never be a top defensive option in the NBA, but similar to players like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, this is a player who just gets it done at both ends, and in a draft full of question marks, he looks to be the most sure thing.
3) Derrick Williams - Small Forward/Power Forward, Arizona.
I'm not sure what to think of Williams as of yet. Yes, he's averaging 19 points and 8 boards as a sophomore for the Wild Cats, and is one of the most productive and dominant players in college ball currently, but where does he fit in the league? He's not the big body and low-post presence that Sullinger is at the 4, and while he's got a nice outside game, isn't exactly a typical NBA 3 either.
Some have compared him to Michael Beasley and David West and I can see the similarities. But Williams hasn't dominated the way Beasley did at K-State, and doesn't have the low-post savvy of West in my opinion.
Should the Raps take a shot at him?
I don't know.
He's got a well-rounded game, can stroke it from even 3-point range, and that makes him a tough match-up every night...in college. In the NBA, I'm not sure he does one thing well enough to be a major factor at the 3 or the 4 and considering Toronto's need for a legit starting 3, I think I'd pass at this point.
4) Perry Jones III - Small Forward/Power Forward/Center, Baylor
Speaking of question marks we have Mr. Jones.
From an upside perspective, there's no question Jones has the biggest in this draft class. He can play essentially any position on the court and 6-11 big men who have the skill set of point guards don't grow on trees. In fact at times it's hard not to see visions of Lamar Odom and Josh Smith when watching Jones in action.
However I've probably watched Baylor more than any team this year and Jones gets my 2011 "Buyer Beware" award in this draft class.
His fundamentals aren't great, he tends to disappear at times (there's no reason a team with as much talent as Baylor should be sitting on the NCAA Tournament Bubble at present) and doesn't always play with a lot of toughness.
Hmm...sounds like a familiar problem for the Raps.
If you could get him later in the lottery sure, go for it, but in terms of a top 3 pick, I'd have to say no thanks right now if I was a Bryan Colangelo.
5) Terrence Jones - Small Forward - Kentucky.
Jones is a player that's come on strong for the Wildcats this season. He's got a prototypical NBA body for the 3-spot in the league, can score from anywhere on the court, is a solid defender, and is a very good athlete at his position.
But is he an impact player at the next level?
That's the big question right now for me as he just doesn't jump out whenever I see him play. He'll post solid numbers but won't wow you with his shooting touch (in fact his form is quite unorthodox) or athleticism. He doesn't spend much time in the low blocks either, and while he has a solid first step, I wonder at times if it's going to be enough to lock down a starting 3 spot at the next level.
That being said, with Jones' passing ability, wingspan and scoring ability, I actually prefer him to Derrick Williams at this point, especially in terms of a fit with the Raptors. I'd like to see more aggressiveness from the former Jefferson High School star, but there's lots of ball left to be played in March...