For the first time in six years, the Raptors won't be participating in tonight's Draft Lottery. Instead they are picking 20th, the first time they've been slotted that low since taking the immortal Kareem Rush in 2002. (Rush was traded to the Lakers on draft day for Lindsey Hunter and the equally immortal Chris Jefferies.)
With a successful season behind them and a goal to keep most of the roster intact, what areas do the Raptors need to address through the draft? General manager Masai Ujiri tipped his hand a bit on this front at the press conference announcing Dwane Casey's three-year contract extension:
"We've painted a picture a little bit: Do we add a bigger wing? Do we add a shot blocker? Some [positions] we feel we could [improve]."
The need for a bigger wing became obvious as Joe Johnson pulverized DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross into a fine paste during the playoff series with the Nets. DeRozan and Ross are talented players and big pieces of the future, but neither has the strength or bulk to handle the likes of Johnson, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.
That brings us to Jerami Grant, the first of several prospects we'll take a look at over the next few days. Grant is currently projected to be taken in the Raptors' range by both Chad Ford of ESPN and Draft Express, so he seems like a good place to start.
First, the basics. Grant is a 20-year-old 6'8" small forward who spent two seasons at Syracuse. Ford describes him as an "upside pick" with "elite length and athletic ability". On a purely physical basis, Grant fits the bill as a big wing, complete with a huge wingspan (measuring 7'2.5" at the combine) and an aggressive playing style. Here is his scouting video from Draft Express, going over both his strengths and weaknesses:
Grant's athleticism and explosiveness jump off the screen. His strength, speed and leaping ability allow him to finish with ease around the rim in the pick-and-roll and on offensive rebounds. The son of Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace, he has all of the bloodlines and physical tools you could ask for in a big, physical small forward, precisely the kind of player the Raptors were missing in the playoffs.
However, Grant's skill level doesn't translate as up to the standards of an NBA small forward. Specifically, he's a bad shooter. He didn't make a single three at Syracuse this season (only shot five) and has no confidence in his jump shot. (According to Draft Express, Grant shot 17-58 on jumpers for the season.) He was also one of the worst shooters for his position at the combine. That's a big red flag in today's NBA, as it is very difficult for non-shooters to earn consistent minutes on the wing. He also has limited ball handling skills, confined mostly to straight-line drives and simple crossover and spin moves.
Analytics are not very kind to Grant. ESPN's Kevin Pelton said "there's basically no track record for success among players like Grant"; those under 6'8" who have no three-point shot to speak of. Grant's steal and block rates, important indicators for the analytically-inclined, aren't great, but that could have a lot do with playing in Syracuse's 2-3 zone his whole career. Regardless, it's clear that Grant is still a work-in-progress; he's not a project, but he's not going to seamlessly transition to the NBA either.
The Raptors will also have to consider how Grant fits into the context of their current roster. Pairing him with DeRozan and two non-shooting bigs like Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas could cause serious spacing problems for the Raptors. Fortunately, shooting is an improvable skill, while the length and explosiveness that Grant already possesses is innate. If the Raptors have faith in their player development system, they could take Grant and expect shooting improvement, much like the Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard, who shot 25% from three while at San Diego State.
Overall, Grant is an intriguing player, one who looks the part but might be stuck between positions. He has the body of a prototypical small forward, but without any of the perimeter skills that are so essential. Regardless, if the Raptors stay at 20 they should take a long, hard look at Grant. He wouldn't be a perfect fit, but finding the perfect player so late in the first round is almost impossible. From a more optimistic perspective, Grant could both fill a need and be the best player available, always the ideal situation.
If Ujiri wants to take a bit of a risk, Grant could be the right choice. If not, there are several other wing players projected to be taken in the Raptors' range, giving the team plenty of options on draft night. The most important question is this: Will Grant's skill level rise to match his package of physical attributes? If the answer is yes, he might be a steal at 20. If not, he projects as no more than a bruising energy player.
Check back with Raptors HQ throughout the days to come as we continue our look at potential Raptors draft prospects.