The HQ takes a final look at the Raptors' options before tonight's NBA Draft...
Here we go.
In about 10 hours we'll find out who the newest member of the Toronto Raptors is.
Last night ESPN.com posted that the Raps had narrowed their list of options to four, Brandon Knight, Bismack Biyombo, Kawhi Leonard and Jonas Valanciunas, a list that makes a lot of sense based on recent rumours and rumblings.
Of that four, who's the top choice?
Well I've been saying Knight for a while here and I don't think there's any reason to change that, but if for some reason he's off the board when Toronto picks, I think Biyombo becomes Plan B, followed by Leonard and then Valanciunas.
In his latest mock draft for Yahoo Sports, Draftexpress' Jonathan Givony reinforces this by saying that while Knight's been the top choice for TO all along, Biyombo made a late run when it seemed that Knight would be off the board when Toronto was making their choice.
Now that it seems Knight will still be around...
I'm still not sold on Biyombo as an option this high in the draft, and would prefer Leonard, but I do understand where Colangelo is going here. He seems to be "all in" so to speak in the "improve the team's defence game of poker."
And while it's easy to see Biyombo as a potential bust, we are talking about a player who played in essentially the top league outside of the NBA last year, and who had an impact in limited minutes. He might be raw, but I'd argue that he's in many ways a safer pick than Kanter, considering Kanter's lack of you know, "real playing time" the past two years.
In some ways he might even be a safer pick than Brandon Knight, a player who has tons of upside, but no sure-fire translatable NBA skill set beyond 3 point shooting. (And even in this case he's no Jon Diebler.) Biyombo on the other hand has excellent per-minute rebounding and shot-blocking metrics, something that translate very well at the next level.
And what of Valanciunas?
If it wasn't for the buy-out situation, he'd be my favourite option for Toronto of the four, period. I think when all is said and done, he'll be the best of this quartet, and regardless of his availability next season, he makes the most long-term sense.
Under this scenario, Toronto therefore relies on free-agency next year to make a few subtle improvements, as well as Dwane Casey's defensive philosophies, and then the following season, presumably after another 30ish win year, the Raps get a shot at a much more talented draft pool, bring Valanciunas over, and then really make a jump in the standings.
But, I realize that scenario is about as likely as Kyrie Irving not going number one overall tonight.
In addition, if the Raps select a foreign player like Valanciunas or Kanter and things don't work out?
That's a topic that was recently addressed by our media round table when I asked them what Bryan Colangelo's draft strategy should be tonight...
1. Raptors HQ: You're Bryan Colangelo. You've just been awarded an extension that provides some breathing room, however you're arguably on a bit of a short leash and now must try and hit at least a double with the fifth overall draft pick. What's your draft strategy and which player would you then choose?
Tim Chisholm - TSN.ca: Of all of the draft's that Bryan Colangelo has overseen as GM of the Raptors, I'd say that this one requires more actual 'strategy' than all of the others - even the one that netted them Andrea Bargnani. The combination of the weakness of the draft, the high selection and need to add legit talent to a very young core make for a hard upcoming draft night for Colangelo and co.
The first big thing they need to do is take a long, hard look at their European options. Why is that first? Because there is an added pressure that gets applied if they ultimately decide to go that route. If the Raptors take Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight and they bust, fans will shake their heads but blame the player more than the GM. If the Raptors take Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely or Enes Kanter and they bust, though, the fans will be coming for Colangelo's head.
After Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu and Linas Kleiza, the Raptors organization is running low on fan collateral when it comes to European imports. That isn't to say that they shouldn't draft one ofthose three, it's just that if they do they had better know that the risks involved stretch muchfarther than the ramifications on the court. A cynical fan base can only be pushed so far before they turn into an apathetic fan base, and the Raptors would be dancing pretty close to that line if another uninspiring European player becomes Colangelo's new pet project.
I say, though, that none of those three even address the most glaring hole on the roster, and that is the point guard position. Jose Calderon did yeoman's work this season trying to make a tremendously inexperienced core function, but these Young Gunz need a point guard to call their own. For me, that reduces Toronto's draft to Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker. If he's available, the smart money is on Knight. While he's a lot less developed than Walker, and may never completely learn the position, his ability to defend and hit the three, combined with his room for growth, make him a fairly smart pick. There is a chance that Utah snatches him at three, but if he's available at five there is a lot of logic behind making him the Raptors' pick, and I believe that is where the team is currently leaning.
That said, I have - and continue to - bang the drum for Kemba in the upcoming draft. While his upside may not match Knight's, I believe what he brings today is a lot easier to bank on than Knight's potential (a sentiment that could easily come back to bite me in the ass). Kemba has defense-shifting speed, a stellar ability to finish at the rim and his improved jumper this season made him impossible to defend at UConn. It's his leadership, though, that really impresses me. He possesses the kind of natural leadership that you simply can't teach a player to have (see: Bosh, Chris). If the point guard is meant to be the unifying force to an NBA offense, then Kemba is perfectly suited to lead this young core of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless. His ability to create shots is a useful asset to the Raptors, but I believe what he brings intangibly will help the team even more. He's not a perfect pick, but no one in this draft is. This is not the kind of draft where people should be falling in love with anyone because every player has major drawbacks, but at five I think Kemba has a comfortable enough balance of strengths and weaknesses that make him an ideal pick for Toronto.
Zack Cooper - Fan590: I would agree with Tim, in that there's probably a good chunk of added pressure on Bryan Colangelo to make some magic with that 5th pick.
It shant be easy, and there's no doubt that if he goes by way of the Euro, he better be right. I think that's a theme that's certainly been explored, but not highlighted enough. Hosting Raptors post-game shows on The FAN590, I've heard "we need more NORTH AMERICAN players" to no end. There's a lot of pent up aggression surrounding the make-up of this team that Colangelo's built and it seems to center around the ideology that European players can't (or do) play a certain way.
We don't need to get into that debate at this point... but based on what I've read, the European guys that Chisholm mentioned don't seem to fit the typical "Euro mold." Obviously I don't know too much about these guys, so I'm not nearly ready to suggest he go for one, or any, of them. But beside this, I am a big proponent of addressing the need for a young, athletic, point guardto run the show for the future.
I, like many, fell in love with Kemba Walker's game during the spring. What he was able to do with the UConn team, and how he was able to do it, was utterly impressive. I don't share the concerns of many regarding his size (or lack there of) - we've seen many successful 6-foot guards in the past - but I am nervous that he could perhaps turn into a Ben Gordon-type player; an offensive force in the college game (who just happened to go to the same school) who can't quite get back to his dominant ways at the pro level. I think Walker did an admirable job distributing when he had to, but it was clearly his second option. I could see myself being happy with Kemba donning Raptors' red... but over the last little while I think I've swayed toward Brandon Knight.
I don't put too much stock in the fact that he's younger (unless he's a lifer on the same team, it matters little), but while I under-sold Kemba's height, I think Knight's 6'3" frame is one that helps him out greatly on the defensive end. I like his range (the Raptors were missing Calderon's once-reliable 3-ball), and his tendency to look for others first... and to me, that's the clincher.
I want the Raptors to have a young point guard who first finds others, and looks to himself next. We've seen the high-fliers on this Raptors team. They can get up...but when they have to get back, I have more faith that Knight will be there.
Ryan Wolstat - Toronto Sun - I agree with the general sentiment so far that taking a European player would be an incredibly gutsy move by Bryan Colangelo.
The fanbase might go into full revolt after the Hoffa horror, Turkoglu disaster and the ill-fated Bargnani era.
That said, if Enes Kanter is on the board, it would be hard to pass. Sure the initial reaction would be over the top, but once people see Kanter play, they will quickly quiet down. While I'm not sure he'll be able to play centre in the NBA because of his lack of mobility and height, I do believe he will be a solid player. He is very skilled, plays extremely hard with an edge and is fundamentally sound.
I believe the other Europeans are too risky and will take too much time, but Kanter has to be a serious option, despite the immediate fire Colangelo would come over if he takes him.
The only other player (besides Irving and Williams who will be gone) I really like is Brandon Knight. I do not share the love for Kemba Walker, I have a ton of concerns about his effectiveness at the NBA level. Knight has some flaws as well and I hated him in high school, but he improved probably as much as anybody but Derrick Williams in the past year as a prospect. Knight might not be a traditional point guard, but he's more of one than Walker. He's also bigger, defends better, has a more consistent jumper and is almost as quick and deadly in the clutch.
I see Walker as a poor man's Allen Iverson (not near the freak athlete AI was coming out of Georgetown). Having seen him live a couple of times in Houston and many times on television I have never been impressed with his shooting or passing ability. He is not a consistent shooter nor is he a point guard. There is nothing wrong with Aaron Brooks-type guards, but at the fifth pick, he'd be a little rich for my blood, especially with combo guards Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa already on the Raptors.
If Irving, Williams, Kanter and Knight are gone, I think very hard about trading the pick for a later one and something, or a pick in 2012, which should be one of the best drafts in years.
Tom Liston - RaptorsRepublic: I think Tim said it best:
"If the Raptors take Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight and they bust, fans will shake their heads but blame the player more than the GM".
I've been back and forth between "safer, less upside" and gamble picks. The #5 pick in a weak draft means expectations are lower. Perhaps this is the time to gamble on Knight's upside and look like a hero. While Knight has a low point-per-play ratio (0.92), TS% of 55% (bottom half) and mediocre Assist-to-Turnover ratio (1.33), Raptors Republic's own phd steve properly points out that "what is often overlooked was that the Kentucky team that Knight was asked to lead had lost five, yes five players, to the NBA draft last year, all of whom were drafted in the first round." However, his second worst (out of all first round prospects) Win Score per 40 is hard to ignore. Walker has nearly identical Assists per 40 (pace adjusted) numbers as Knight, but rebounds better, has almost 3x the steals and 1/3 less turnovers (all per 40, pace adjusted). Knight, however, it a better 3 point shooter, something the Raptors desperately need.
I'm intrigued by Kawhi Leonard due to our desperate need for wing defense (though James Johnson was doing a reasonable job late in the season). However, I remained concerned about his lack of scoring efficiency (second worse TS% of first round prospects). It's enough for me to say "pass". Enes Kanter? I'm assuming he won't be available. If he is, I'd explore trade value,but likely take him regardless.
Most likely scenario if I had the choice? Take the slightly safer bet - Walker over Knight and also aggressively look to buy a late 1st rounder (or early second) to pick up Justin Harper, who's currently pegged at 28th on DraftExpress' board. He's just behind Irving and Williams in points per play. He's a good shooter and has a 6'11.75″ wingspan. Shoots 4th best from deep (45%) of all the prospects. Players that stay four years are often ignored ("less upside"), but hence its an opportunity. Plus, I think buying a late 1st round pick will come quite cheap - a nearly "free look".
Recent rumours have Walker falling in the draft, perhaps even out of the lottery and if I'm Bryan Colangelo, I keep a close eye on this situation. If Walker does start to drop, I'm hoping BC does everything in his power to grab him.
Maybe Kemba isn't the next Chris Paul, but it's hard not to see his situation as being quite similar to other stud NCAA guards who were overlooked for "lack of upside" on draft day, who then became amazing value picks. (Yes, I'm looking right at you Jameer Nelson and Ty Lawson.) If I'm Toronto, I do what I can to get him in my backcourt should he tumble.
A few other players I'd like to see Bryan Colangelo keep an eye tonight as good "value" picks?
Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Nolan Smith, Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee, Norris Cole and JaJuan Johnson.
As most of you know, I'm a big proponent of grabbing high-value second round picks, so hopefully BC pulls something out of his hat tonight. We'll keep this thread updated though as we did yesterday, regarding rumours and rumblings.
Finally, as we do every year, the HQ will be having an annual draft party this evening, starting at 6 PM, at the new Firkin on King. Click on the link here for the address and info, but we invite all to stop by and join us as we see who Bryan Colangelo chooses with the fifth overall pick.