With the NBA Draft around the corner, the HQ gets the full run-down on this year's class via Draftexpress.com's Jonathan Givony, in their annual chat.
As most of you know, the NBA Draft is essentially my favourite time of the year, a Christmas so to speak.
While Toronto only has one present to unwrap at present, it's a biggie, a fifth overall pick.
Which way will the team go this Thursday regarding the opening of said present?
At this point, no one knows.
Someone that does have a pretty good idea of how things may play out however is Jonathan Givony of Draftexpress.com, and again this year we had a chance to chat with him about this year's draft class...
RaptorsHQ: I think this is about the fifth or sixth year in a row that we've done this chat and obviously during that time you've seen a lot of workouts and evaluated a lot of prospects. Talk to us a bit about the evolution of your site; are you guys happy with the progress you've made and describe for us the differences from then to now.
Jonathan Givony: I think the site has evolved year by year, gotten better, and we're constantly trying to fine-tune things and make it more user-friendly. But the main thing really is just the information I think; having really detailed, very thorough, unbiased analysis of every prospect in the draft. And this year we've started doing video analysis too which I think adds a lot and helps people visualize the prospects a little bit better. I'm hoping we'll be able to add to that even more in the future.
Ideally, for every prospect we'd have a really thorough breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses from when he was in high school to today, with a video analysis on what kind of player he is, and maybe a video interview on top of that. It's those three things that should give people a pretty good idea of what they can expect from a guy that's coming to their team next year.
RHQ: And what about the teams themselves? Do you find more and more that you get teams coming up to you and not only discussing prospects but getting your take on them because you do such a thorough job on the site of breaking them down?
JG: I think that there is more of a level of trust on the side of teams in terms of knowing that they can talk to us and that those conversations will stay private. I think that's an important thing. You do this for seven or eight years and people open up to you just a little bit more every single time, and that's been really helpful. I mean, these guys (the GM's, scouts and executives) are the experts; they're the ones who get paid to do this for a living so there is so much we can learn from them. Being able to exchange information and go through the process with them, that's been very informative for us.
RHQ: On that note, how about this year's draft? Give us your thoughts on it overall.
JG: It's an interesting class because it's been weakened somewhat by three out of the top five prospects deciding not to enter the draft, and 10-12 prospects total, that we think would have been first-round picks for sure, if not more than that, returning to school. So I think that the overall depth of the class was hurt for one, and there's not that real star power at the top that maybe you would hope for.
But all in all, I think that teams are going to be able to find good players at every point in the draft whether it's in the top ten, whether it's in the mid-first round, at the end of the first round, or in the second round, and I think there's even going to be guys that go undrafted that end up carving out nice careers for themselves in the NBA too.
It makes things a little more difficult, but at the end of the day the NBA is a league of opportunity, and I think that an equal amount of opportunity is available essentially ever year, give or take. I don't think it's going to be that noticeable of a drop-off in terms of when we look back at next year's rookie class, and there may be a lot of "oh, that wasn't as bad as we thought."
I think that when it's all said and done this is going to be a decent class, and then next year's class is very exciting.
RHQ: What about the Raptors themselves? You've got Kemba Walker sitting at number five in the latest mocks that I've seen, both on your site and the mock draft you did for Yahoo Sports, talk about the decision the Raptors have there as some of it may be predicated on what happens with the two teams above them.
JG: I think if you talked to Bryan (Colangelo) he'd tell you he's got a pretty big group of players that he's looking at right now, and even when I spoke with him before the lottery, before they fell to five, he was pretty much saying even then that a guy that you draft at three, could very well be taken at eight. So there's not a huge difference between that group of guys and with that in mind, I think your best bet is really to find the guy that best fits what you're trying to do as a team.
I think they want to get better on defense, and that's an option for them in this draft, I think Bryan will tell you that, and with that in mind, Kawhi Leonard and Bismack Biyombo are two pretty attractive guys. And then there are two very good guards in this draft that he's looking pretty heavily at in terms of Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker.
My sense is that they'd prefer to get Knight, but I'm not necessarily sure that, in my personal opinion, it's not a given that he's going to be better player (than Walker.) I think Kemba Walker's pretty good and I think that people are underestimating him quite a bit right now calling him a shooting guard and all this stuff. That's crazy talk. I don't think you accomplish what he accomplished this past season if you're not a really, really good player and I think that his game actually translates really well to the NBA.
So, yeah, I think they have a pretty big group of guys that they're looking at, which includes the Europeans, you know Valanciunas, Vesely and Kanter, and I think that they're definitely investing a lot of time and effort travelling around the world, going to Vitoria, Belgrade, Treviso...Colangelo has been all over as of late. So whatever decision he makes, isn't going to be because of a lack of information.
RHQ: Kemba Walker versus Brandon Knight. Neither of them are your prototypical "pass-first" NBA point guard, but from a "fit" perspective, which one do you think is the better fit for Toronto, all things being equal if both were available at five.
JG: See I don't really know where this Kemba Walker is a combo guard thing started. I was looking at the analysis Dean Oliver did on ESPN a couple days ago where he was comparing Kemba and Brandon Knight.
Dean Oliver is the godfather of course of NBA Advanced Statistics, he could have a job right now with any team in the NBA. So when he writes something like this, more-so than any other analyst in this NBA draft, that's the guy I'm going to pay attention to, and when he said that the average PPR (pure point rating) of a starting point guard in the NBA is 1.2 in college and Kemba Walker's PPR is 1.5, that stands out. And his assist to turnover ratio is 2.0.
At the beginning of this year people were looking at UCONN saying "Jim Calhoun did a terrible job because they don't have any talent, they're not going to make the NCAA tournament, this guy is over the hill, time for him to retire" stuff like that. And what do they do? Not only do they get to the tournament, but they win the whole thing.
And the only reason they were able to do that, without a shred of a doubt, was because of Kemba Walker on their team. I know, he was a scorer this year but he needed to be a scorer. He did put up big scoring numbers, not always in the most efficient way, but that was because of the team that he had. He had a bunch of freshmen beside him and from seeing him when they were out in Maui at the start of the year, he had to do everything.
This is a guy in high school who couldn't shoot, who couldn't score, he was just a passer. He was a back-up on his own high school team, he wasn't a highly regarded prospect by any means. And by his sheer work ethic, he improved his shooting and his scoring ability to the point now that people think he's too much of a scorer!
I mean I would much rather have that guy on my team then a guy who has never been a point guard in his life, and just wants to score. Kemba can play either one of those two roles, and I think once you put him in the NBA with better players alongside him, I don't see any reason why he's not going to be a pass-first player. I think that he's got very good court vision, he's a very good ball-handler, he knows how to run a team, he can control the offence...I've said this a million times but it's amazing to me how the guy who was seen more than anybody, can be "scouted" most poorly, by the general consensus.
I guess when it's all said and done though we'll all see what kind of player he turns out to be.
RHQ: I remember reading that ESPN piece and finding it really interesting, and also a little scary, that on the other hand, Brandon Knight, his compares in terms of some of those metrics, were similar to Jerryd Bayless, a player the Raptors' have right now who is a big question mark in terms of whether he can play the 1 going forward.
RHQ: Turning to some of the European players, Valanciunas is a player who's really interesting to me in terms of the intangibles he brings. Obviously he's quite raw, but he has some physical traits and skills the Raps could use. What is his buyout situation currently and do you think that's going to play a major role in where he gets picked?
JG: I think that if it doesn't get resolved, then it will be an issue. But I think having studied the situation and having talked to people on both sides of the table, I think that both of them need to come to an agreement, and both of them have to realize that it's in each party's best interest to come to an agreement before the draft. So, I think there's a lot of posturing on both sides, but really it's just a matter of a number. They've already made an offer to Valanciunas, that maybe isn't ideal from his perspective, but it is an offer. It's not like this is some insurmountable thing that's never going to get done and he's going to get stuck in Europe for the rest of his life. I think that people have studied the situation know that it's fairly typical for European basketball and it's not something that people need to be overly concerned about.
RHQ: In terms of his potential, buy-out aside, is his upside better than an Enes Kanter? Just looking at the way you had them ranked in your site's top 100 you had Jonas at number four for instance, and Kanter further down.
JG: I think the main thing about Kanter is just how much of an unknown he is. Pretty much his entire resume is going off of one game right now. And that's an All-Star game setting where there's no advanced scouting whatsoever, nobody knows who they're playing against, no set defence...so it's not an ideal way to draft a player.
In that sense I think that Valanciunas is just better known, and me personally, I have a much better feel for the type of player he's going to be in the NBA, as opposed to Kanter. Maybe Kanter could be great, but maybe he won't be? What are you really basing this off of? The Kanter situation is strange because there are so many people who feel so strongly about him and you just wonder, how? Why? Did you watch different Youtube clips of him by himself in a gym than some other guy? Did you read some different article about him working out against no one?
He's an interesting one, and I don't think I've ever seen a case like his where there is so little known about him. Valanciunas you know, we had a whole season to evaluate him off of. We were able to go out to Lithuania and meet with him, we watched him play against top-level competition. So that's where the comfort level comes from in regards of Valanciunas over Kanter but not everyone may feel the same way.
RHQ: And we've heard some rumours about Kanter being 22, or maybe being older than he says he is, have you heard those same things too?
JG: Yeah, those rumours were around when he was 15 and he pretty much looked the same way he does now. He had an incredible body, very well developed frame, very mature for his age, and a lot of people said "there's no way he could be 15." But it came out at some point that he was actually born in Switzerland, and it's not very easy to fake a date of birth in a place like Switzerland. Maybe in other countries you can go and pay a couple thousand dollars to have your date of birth changed, I don't really know how you do that in Switzerland easily. So I don't put very much stock in that and I haven't heard much about that as of late.
RHQ: One of the other players who appears to be of interest to the Raptors is Jan Vesely. I wanted to get your take on him because when I see footage, and read the breakdowns of his game, I see images of Nic Batum a bit. Give us your take on Vesely and whether he makes sense on a team like the Raptors?
JG: He's projected to go fifth by some of the other mock drafts and you know, I haven't very heard much of that. I'd be surprised if that happened, but you never know. He's an unbelievable athlete which is going to ease his transition significantly to the NBA, and he's also competed at a very, very high level over the last two years, playing for a Euroleague team that went to the Final Four, that was in the top 16 of the Euroleague this year.
He was in a lot of big games and he was a starter so this isn't a situation where you're going to have to teach him how to play. He knows how to play, how to compete, he's been well-coached, but there are some concerns about him; how is he going to generate his offense, is he a consistent enough shooter to act as a floor-spacer in the NBA, will he be able to stay in front of the really quick guys that we see at the 3 position in the NBA.
A lot of the times NBA teams put a 2-guard at the 3, especially when they go small, and so you're looking at a guy (Vesely) who's 6-11 who's going to have to guard someone that's 6-4, and that's tough. That's tough for anybody. I do think he's a very good prospect, I like him very much as a person, I've spent time with him, he's a very nice kid, and I think he's going to be a good NBA player. Would he be drafted fifth in a normal draft class? I don't think so.
RHQ: One of my favourite parts when we do this chat every year is looking at the sleepers, or the underrated players in the draft class, versus those who you think are getting too much hype, or are overrated.
JG: I think the guy who is the number one sleeper in this draft is Nikola Mirotic. He's got no chance of being drafted in the top 20 because of his buy-out situation, but if you're ranking purely on just talent, I would say that he should be a top-10 pick. That's my opinion.
Another guy who's underrated to me is Jimmy Butler, from Marquette. He has an outside chance of going in the first round, but I think he's going to be a ten-year NBA player, a Shane Battier type guy in terms of his basketball IQ, in terms of his defense, his passing. I think he's pretty good.
There are a couple seniors in this draft that I think are being overlooked too, Ben Hansbrough is one of those guys, I think David Lighty is one of those guys, I think E'Twaun Moore is one of those guys. They'll all have better careers than a lot of guys who will be drafted ahead of them, if they're even drafted, period.
RHQ: And on the flip-side?
JG: I'm a little bit surprised by how much Klay Thompson has risen up most people's boards. He was a guy who was projected as a late first, early second-rounder for most of his career and he's already in the green room and he's going to be a lottery pick it looks like. Now it's not that he's not a good player, I just wonder if people are going to be disappointed by how limited he is offensively in terms of his athleticism, in terms of his ability to create his own shot, his ability to defend his position, all that. I wonder if that really is the profile of a lottery pick.
On the same note, I'm also surprised by the way that Marshon Brooks has risen up the boards. He was a mid second-round pick six weeks ago, but then he started going through the process, he had good measurements, he had a good showing at the combine, and his stock has really, really risen to the point that he's probably going to be a mid-first-round pick. He might have gone at 45 six weeks ago. I think history tells you that that's always a bit of a red flag.
I watched him play extensively this season in person and on tape and I wonder if he's going to be able to get away with some of the things that he did at Providence, the way he monopolizes the ball, his shot selection, the tunnel-vision he shows, the bad body language, the lack of enthusiasm for playing defense. But I felt the same way about Nick Young, I felt the same way about Jordan Crawford, these guys end up having NBA careers. Whether they're the most efficient players, whether they end up helping their team win games, that's up for debate.
RHQ: It's funny because when you were talking about overrated I was going to ask about Brooks as I see some Nick Young there too, and wonder how he'll do at the next level.
RHQ: One final player I wanted to ask you about, a personal favourite of mine in this draft and someone who I think fits a need for the Raptors, albeit has limited offensive upside, is Chris Singleton. Can you talk a little about him?
JG: He's a very impressive guy physically in terms of his size, his length, his athleticism, his body. He can defend three positions legitimately at the NBA level, 2, 3, 4, and can also probably play as a 4 in a lot of smaller line-ups the way Shawn Marion and Josh Smith do, the way a lot of 6-8 guys do. Offensively, he's not a skilled player by any stretch of the imagination, not a very good ball-handler, not a consistent 3-point shooter yet, even though he's made strides with that part of his game. I think he could be a good utility player in the NBA, I don't see him being a star, I think he has a good work ethic, he's a good guy, so I think where he's being projected, as a mid-first round pick, maybe late lottery, maybe late teens, somewhere in that 10 to 20 range, I think that's a good spot for him. He could really thrive if he goes to the right team that understands his limitations and understands how to use him.
RHQ: Any additional rumours or rumblings you've heard around the Raptors in regards to the draft? Maybe the team hunting for a second, first-round pick?
JG: Well Bryan Colangelo has said himself that he is looking for another pick in the top 10. Whether they'll be able to get that pick or are closing in on it, I don't have any first-hand knowledge.
RHQ: One final question, have you noticed a change in the way the Raptors have approached this draft? Bryan Colangelo has been extended, albeit on a shorter time period than previously, so I'm wondering if this has resulted in a noticeable change in Toronto's strategy and approach compared to the past.
JG: Not really, no, I don't think so. As I mentioned before, Bryan's really been gathering as much information as possible and I think that's always been the case.
RHQ: Great stuff Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to do this again and we're already looking forward to next year's chat.
JG: No problem, any time.