With the NBA Draft now just over a week away, team HQ gives their take on who the Raptors should select.
This is a first for me.
In the six years we've been running this site, we've always had our HQ draft board up and running well before the draft, months before even.
This year we posted it briefly, then took it down once post-lottery as it became clear that Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams were not going to become members of the team.
But why didn't we post it again, simply removing those two players?
The truth is, there simply wasn't much consensus as to who the next top five were, and the lack of information concerning many of the most bandied-about names, wasn't helping matters.
For instance, I can talk Kemba Walker or Kawhi Leonard's strengths and weaknesses all day.
But Bismack Biyombo?
Not so much.
On top of this, in previous years there were always players I had a huge affinity for, even if they weren't necessarily realistic options for the Raps at their pick. Danny Granger, Rajon Rondo, Tyrus Thomas, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Wes Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Evan Turner are all examples of this.
It's been a struggle.
Besides a few names like Chris Singleton and Marshon Brooks in the first round, and Nolan Smith and Jajuan Johnson in the second, there just aren't many players I'm extremely gaga over.
The same has been true for my counterparts here at the site, so it's simply taken a boatload of previews, discussion and analysis before any of us is ready to talk favourite options come June 23rd.
Are we ready now?
Pretty much, but instead of having one final list of the top options we want the team to consider next week, I thought I'd check in with a bunch of our writers, and get their individual takes first.
What follows then is the top three draft routes each writer is hoping the Raptors take, assuming Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are long gone...
1. Brandon Knight
Knight was one of those players whose stock significantly increased during the NCAA tournament as he led Kentucky to a berth in the Final Four. His NBA position is still to be determined but if the Raptors were to draft him he would certainly play at the 1. He has all of the tools to be a great defensive player as his size, speed, wingspan and overall intensity should serve him well. I don't expect him to be on the board by the time Toronto's pick rolls around but there have been bigger surprises. If he's still up there than he's a no brainer.
2. Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker will likely be available with the 5th pick and if Knight is off the board I think he's the next obvious choice. First of all, I understand that he's undersized and has been cast as a shoot-first PG, so essentially Leandro Barbosa. If Barbosa can be dealt for another piece than Walker would be able to provide the Raptors their best scoring PG since Mighty Mouse. Walker would bring a noticeable swagger and leadership skills to a dysfunctional team lacking in both of those departments. Toronto also lacks a "closer", someone who the Dinos can run plays for late in a close game . Walker would be a formidable closer and he has shown he can step up in clutch situations.
3. Enes Kanter
He didn't come to Toronto for a workout but that doesn't mean that the team shouldn't have a look at Kanter if he's available. For me, this pick hinges on the ability to trade Andrea Bargnani. With Ed Davis and Amir Johnson the club has a great Power Forward tandem going forward, and if Bargnani moved to the 4 than it would create an unnecessary logjam. Kanter is blessed with the strength and size to bang in the paint but also soft hands that will allow him to control the ball and be somewhat of a threat down low.Sasha Kalra - HQ Intern
Option #1 - Brandon Knight
Knight is a young guard with obvious upside. He has height and should pack on more muscle as he fills out in the next two or three years. He's got a great shot and can knock it down from the 3 at a healthy clip. He can handle the rock as well, play D, and should benefit from the tutelage of both Calderon and Bayless assuming they're kept around. Even if not, his high maturity and high basketball IQ make him a solid choice and Knight could be groomed into a stud point in the future if he's available with the fifth pick.
Option #2 - Kemba Walker
Walker is a speedy, slick ball handling, New York City guard who could be the best backcourt player available to the Raps if Knight is off the board already. I love NYC point guards and he definitely is in the mold of Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Kenny Anderson and Jamaal Tinsley. He plays hard on both ends, gets to the rack when he wants, can run an offense and has quick feet and hands to offset any size disadvantages on D. He may have a spotty jumper, but so did three of the four aforementioned guards from the Big Apple. He has personality and should be a media favorite the second he suits up.
Option #3 - Trade Down
If none of the first two are available, I would like to see the Raps trade down towards the middle of the Draft. In this realm, the pressure to find that "franchise guy" is somewhat minimized and in this perceived weak draft, the Raptors can take more of a chance on a guy that could fit an immediate need like say a Chris Singleton or one of the Morris twins. If the Raptors are lucky they could even see someone like Bismack Biyombo fall that far down. Barring that, a trade down to a late First Round pick plus a Second Rounder would be good, if not better.
Ray Bala - The Canball Report
The two guys that seem like the best picks to me are Knight and Kanter, but it sounds like they will be gone. I am not going to pretend to have knowledge of the Euros...Biyombo definitely intrigues me however, especially from a fantasy perspective.
My dream scenario would be that Utah falls in love with local hero Jimmer, and fears that he will be gone by the 12th pick. Barbosa picks up his option before the draft. The Raptors convince the Jazz to trade Okur (expiring), Raja Bell (expires after 12-13 season), pick #3 and pick#12 for Bargnani, Barbosa and pick #5. Then...
The Raptors nab Knight and Biyombo in the draft or maybe Kanter and one of the defensive minded SFs...
Jamie Bennett - RHQ Fantasy Analysis
I caveat all of this with the fact that if there was ever a draft to trade down (or completely out of) this would clearly be the one. There is very little in this draft, outside of Irving, that excites me. But if I was in Bryan Colangelo's position come draft night and had to stay at number 5 and both Irving and Williams were gone here is what my draft board would look like:
1. Brandon Knight: I unlike many, am not totally sold on this kid. Do the Raps need a PG of the future? Sure, but Knight is not what I would call a "pure" PG. He turned the ball over too much in college for my liking and is still learning the position having also played the off-guard growing up. Perhaps the thing he brings to the table that attracts me the most is his intelligence and knowledge of the game. That being said, if the Raps add this guy I would totally support the decision, in particular because there is little by way of true PG prospects currently slated to be eligible in next year's draft. Reality is the Raps need talent and if he is considered the best talent available you have to take him.
2. Kawhi Leonard: Looking at how the Raps roster looks today they still have significant questions at the SF position and collectively the roster is atrocious defensively. Leonard would help to address both of these issues. Sure his offensive game needs some work but it's on the defensive end where the Raps would feel his presence. The Raps need someone who can defend on the perimeter and Leonard will be able to do that. As discussed in the prospect preview he has a tremendous wingspan and crashes the boards.
Does he address some of the Raps offensive woes (in particular 3 point shooting)? No, but there no single guy who can fix what ails this squad. That being said all reports say the guy loves the gym and is a total gym rat - a trait that he shares with the Raps current SG, Demar DeRozan. This could make for a nice pairing.
3. Enes Kanter: A legitimate center prospect and they don't come around all that often. The thing that I keep having flashbacks about is that DraftExpress says his worst case scenario is Rafael Araujo. Provided Bargnani is moved (if this is the pick) I am totally onside. I like the prospect of Ed Davis and Kanter being the front court of the future. Both have developing offensive games and both rebound the ball well. I am a person who wants their PF and C's to be in the paint - not hanging out beyond the arc. One of the biggest question marks is whether he can play defense. With so little experience is impossible to tell if this is part of his game he would be willing to commit to. You want to build a defense around a strong anchor at the center position. Can he be that guy? The Raps could do a lot worse then ending up with the best big man prospect in the draft.
Howland - RHQ Co-Founder
So as you can see, aside from Knight, things vary a bit.
For me, Knight gets the nod at the top spot, although like Howland, I'm not thinking this is the second coming of Derrick Rose, or Rajon Rondo.
But I do think he's the best talent available and hopefully he falls to Toronto at five. I'm less concerned about his lack of PG skills as some; I thought Jrue Holiday would have similar problems but excelled, and with his maturity and basketball IQ, I think he'll pick up the more subtle nuances of the position.
After that, I've got Kawhi Leonard pencilled in. I don't expect him to be a starter next year if the Dinos grab him, or even a huge impact player, but I think long-term this is the next best option.
Finally, I've got Kanter by a hair over Chris Singleton.
Like Howland, Kanter's build and description has me dreading another Hoffa choice, but I think I'm being a bit paranoid. Kanter is a lot longer and more athletic, and seems to have more fight and desire in his pinky finger than Mr. Araujo.
Taking in the top choices from a couple other members of our HQ team that didn't get to submit a full blurb on their selections, we've got a first real crack at our draft board, which would look like this:
1. Brandon Knight - G - Kentucky
2. Kawhi Leonard - F - San Diego State
3. Enes Kanter - F/C - Kentucky
4. Kemba Walker - G - UCONN
5. Chris Singleton - F - Florida State
Of course with plenty of workouts planned for this week, the order could definitely change by the time draft day rolls around...