Raptors Could Sorely Use Some "Rising Stars"

Everyone's hoping the Raptors can draft a Blake Griffin type player next year in terms of impact, but the HQ is hoping the club can find a Jeremy Lin as well...

The Toronto Raptors didn't have any representation in the last night's "Rising Stars" challenge, and while they may next year, the HQ notes that that doesn't mean it's the type that will get this franchise back on track...

"In case you didn't tune in, you missed a beatdown."

This was Charles Barkley's description of last night's Rising Stars Challenge, in which Chuck's team beat Shaq's, 146 to 133.

It was the usual "let's see how many lobs we can throw, dunks we can get, and fans we can get out of their seats" affair, with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving running away with the MVP trophy.

Irving was sensational in this one, not just because he was setting up John Wall for ridiculous dunks, but because he was simply on fire from the field. He was 12 of 13 from the field and made all EIGHT of his long-range bombs. The Cavs have to be pretty happy about their future, considering that Tristan Thompson was no slouch in this one either, scoring 20 points in a losing effort for the Shaq-Daddy's group. The duo appear to be the first pieces in a solid rebuilding plan, especially with valuable veterans like Anderson Varejao still around.

Watching Irving control the game last night got me thinking of course about our beloved Raptors, and their future, which hinges on the success of various youngsters, who as readers noted yesterday, haven't been performing as expected. (In fact we're 200 votes in and DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis are neck-and-neck in terms of winning the vote for being the Dinos' biggest disappointment so far this season.) Toronto is banking on guys like Davis and DeMar carrying them into the next chapter of the franchise's history, but I was admittedly looking at the majority of the participants in the Rising Stars Challenge with envy, as the Raps simply don't have that type of A level talent in their youth.

And who knows if they even get it next season.

Jonas Valanciunas is tearing it up in Europe, but there's no guarantee that he'll have much of an impact next season.

All the signs point to him being a positive contributor immediately for TO, but there's no certainty, and we all know that big men sometimes take years for things to click.

Confounding the issue is this year's draft.

While everyone keeps touting it as a bumper crop of studs, over the last few weeks, I started to have my doubts. In year's past, I could point to at least three players who I felt would have franchise-altering impacts on their clubs.

This year?

After Anthony Davis, it looks a bit sketchy.

For weeks now I've been hoping to see some domination from the likes of Perry Jones III, Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, but it's just not happening. It got to the point where two Saturdays ago, perched on my couch, watching Baylor put on another sub-par performance, I started to think "is everyone going a little crazy on this draft class?"

Suddenly guys like Kansas' Jeff Withey look more impressive than supposed studs like John Henson and from week to week it seems like there's a new "top dog" on fans' mock draft lists.

And apparently it's not just me that started to think this way as yesterday, ESPN.com's Chad Ford posted an article in his Draft Blog on this exact topic.

From the post:

"Everyone talks about how great this draft is," one NBA GM told ESPN.com. "On paper in July, it really looked that way. On the ground in February, I'm not that impressed. Anthony Davis is great. But after that, there are a lot of question marks and a surprising lack of depth. I'm not sure that the 2012 draft will be better than the 2011 one."

What's causing the pessimism?

Davis has lived up to, and perhaps even surpassed, expectations. But most of the rest of the crop of returning players and freshmen haven't measured up.

Barnes has shown he's a lethal scorer -- but a one-dimensional one who doesn't seem to make anyone around him better. Perry Jones has reverted back to his wallflower ways. Terrence Jones, despite the talent, is still maddeningly inconsistent. Sullinger is effective, but seems to have hit his ceiling as a freshman. Henson is still a defensive force, but the offense is a work in progress. Ditto for Plumlee and Young. Lamb seems too laid-back to really carry a team the way his former teammate Kemba Walker did last season.

Now, I still think you can't go wrong with a guy like Jerryd Sullinger, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to me remains the player the Raps should have their sights firmly set on, but for a club like the Raptors sorely needing young, "Rising Stars-esque" talent, it's definitely a concern. Adding an MKG and a Valanciunas will help, but unfortunately I don't think we can count on an OKC-type transformation via the upcoming draft. There are no Kevin Durant's in it, no Russell Westbrook's, and at this point, I'm not even sure there's a James Harden.

That's not to say that the Raps won't potentially get a good player regardless of where they pick, but I'm starting to think that this might be one of those drafts where after the top three or so, the next best players end up coming from later in the lottery or the middle of the first round.

Which is why I'm desperately hoping Toronto can parlay the services of someone like a Leandro Barbosa into another first-or second round pick.

Last night's Rising Stars match featured numerous such players from the infamous Jeremy Lin (undrafted in fact) to others like Landry Fields, Norris Cole, and MarShon Brooks.

Everyone's expecting Toronto's top pick next year to help turn the club around but as we've seen time and time again, it's these late-round value grabs that can really change the course of a club.

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