Most people would tell you that the Raptors, if they bring back Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, are well set at the Guard position. Unfortunately, I also believe that the Raptors are not yet in a position where they can deviate from their draft board too much just to address holes on their roster. The squad will continue to need an infusion of talent in order to become a true contender in the Eastern Conference.
If certain scenarios play out, I could see the Raptors consolidating their strength at Guard in the draft. If they've internally had discussions about letting Lowry and/or Vasquez leave, PG suddenly becomes a major area of concern. Even if they both stay, if a point guard or combo guard is the best player available when the 20th pick comes around, the Raps shouldn't hesitate too much to take him. Remember that Dwane Casey frequently employed 2 PG lineups, and with some creativity, an incoming guard still could see some playing time in some situations. Here are the 5 Guards that will most likely be talked about at pick 20:
Elfrid Payton (1994), PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Elfrid Payton 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Elfrid Payton looks and plays like lottery pick. That he does so on the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette is probably why he might be available when the Raptors pick. Payton is a very good all-around player, with the ability to fill the stat sheet and impact the game in several ways. He averaged 19-6-6 with 2 steals, for a better-than-advertised LA-Lafayette team. Payton is big for a point guard; his measurements are similar to John Wall's. While he does most of his damage in transition with his speed and athleticism, he's also underrated in his ability to run a pick and roll offence in the half court. He's a willing passer, averaging 6.7 AST/40 (2nd best among the PG class), and always looks to get his teammates involved. His quickness, size, and instincts give him the potential to be an elite defender at the NBA level. He should be able to play the 2-guard in certain spots because of his defensive ability. Payton's also like Jarnell Stokes in the age department -- he's a 1994-born Junior, so he has a lot of experience (played for the USA U-19 team) while still being very young.
Payton has some glaring flaws that he was unable to develop playing at an unheralded school at the NCAA level. Firstly, he graded out as one of the worst shooters in the PG class. He shot only 25% from 3 and 59% from the free throw line. From mid-range, the percentages don't get much better, as he shot 25% on jump-shots inside the arc as well. At the rim, he shot only 58%, due to troubles finishing through contact and using his left hand. He did improve show improved shooting mechanics during pre-draft workouts, so there's reason to be optimistic. While Payton's handle shows flashes of brilliance, and his quickness is always an asset, he's still loose and nonchalant with his dribble. He has a tendency to force some passes as well, which leads to his high turnover%.
Elfrid Payton is an enticing prospect whose flaws seem to be coachable in the NBA. If he were to be available at 20, he'd almost certainly be among the BPAs. If Lowry/Vasquez were to stick around, Payton could still find some time playing the 2 in spurts, since he should be able to hold his own defensively long-term. It's clear that Payton operates like an unselfish, passing-oriented PG -- a rarity in today's NBA. His athleticism and dynamism off the bounce would add a new weapon for Coach Casey to tinker with. As he learns to mitigate his weaknesses, his prime would coincide with Lowry's decline, which could create a perfect transition at the 1 for the Raps.
Tyler Ennis (1994), PG, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
From a productivity (12-5-3 per Game), leadership and style of play standpoint, Tyler Ennis is the consummate lead point guard teams look for. In his Freshman year at Syracuse, Ennis played with the poise and control one would expect out of a seasoned 4 year player. He's very sound with his ball-handling ability and more often than not, makes the easy and correct pass. With a 3.2 AST/TO ratio, Ennis brings stability to the PG spot similar to what we saw for years out of Jose Calderon. Ennis also operates the pick and roll effectively; he has the ability to find the open big on the roll, or hit jump shots off the dribble if the defender sags under the pick. In an overtime game vs Duke earlier this season, I saw him make a series of 3-4 consecutive perfect post entry passes that led to easy dunks. When he gets a step and manages to penetrate into the paint, Ennis does a great job of dishing or kicking to open teammates with even a sliver of space. He showed the ability to knock down open jump shots when presented with the opportunity, converting 35% of his 3 point attempts. With sound fundamentals, he should be a threat from long range at the NBA level. Defensively, he remains a bit of a mystery. The few glimpses of one on one defence left a lot to be desired, but he showed quick hands and did a good job of intercepting balls in the passing lanes to the tune of 2.1 STL/G.
The biggest concern that scouts had about Ennis was his limited athletic upside. Although Ennis did his best to dispel those notions at the Draft Combine, grading out well in his max vertical (36') and agility drills, some concerns still remain. He doesn't have a particularly quick first step or lateral quickness, and this hinders him on both ends of the court. He has difficulty creating separation with defenders in isolation, and defensively, wasn't able to keep up with players coming at him with a full head of steam. Because he isn't explosive and struggles to make space off the dribble, he takes a lot of floaters. The problem here isn't that he takes floaters (see: Parker, Tony), but rather that he isn't good at hitting them yet (28% on the year). He also had trouble finishing through contact and as a result, struggled to finish at the rim, hitting only 42% (including floaters).
Ennis is another player who'll likely be among the best players available at 20, if he hasn't been selected till then. The fit with the Raptors is intriguing from multiple angles. He's intelligent enough to play right away, and his Toronto connection would be a PR dream. I see a lot of the good Calderon in his game, and in a more free-flowing offence, he should flourish. He's faster and quicker than people think he is, and drafting him would make letting Vasquez walk a bit easier to swallow. They don't necessarily need to let Vasquez go either, as they could keep Ennis as PG depth for the time being, and let the market for Vasquez play out in the future if need be. Tyler Ennis wouldn't play right away the way the roster is constructed, but if you believe in the BPA philosophy, it'd be hard to pass on him if he was available.
Zach LaVine (1995), SG, UCLA
Zach LaVine 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
At one point in time, Zach LaVine was seen as a Russell Westbrook-esque PG/SG coming out of UCLA. However, after pre-draft measurements (6'8 1/4 wingspan) and a large enough sample of video of him became available, it became apparent that he's more of a SG in the Terrence Ross mould (at least offensively). Depending on what you believe positionally about Dante Exum, Zach LaVine is the best athlete in this SG class. His speed and explosiveness in the open court are a sight to behold, and his highlight reel dunks are proof of that. While he'll always be a terror in transition, what will garner him some playing time right off the bat in the NBA is his shooting. LaVine shot a very respectable 37.5% on threes this season, and has the shot making ability that teams look for in a star back court player. Because of his quickness, he's difficult to stop on pull up jump shots (much like Westbrook). He shows the willingness and ability to fight through screens on the offensive end to get open jump shots. His athletic tools and shot making ability contribute to him being seen as a high upside pick.
There are a lot of red flags with LaVine. For all of the "wow factor", he wasn't a very productive player this year for UCLA, averaging 9 points and 2 assists a game. That's mainly due to how raw he is in half court sets on offence. LaVine struggles to score unless it's done in transition. He takes a lot of poor shots early in the clock, and while he has some ability to make them, his basketball IQ has yet to catch up to his athleticism. LaVine also can't score around the rim due to his slender frame and lack of toughness in the paint. He shies away from contact and doesn't contribute to rebounding at either end of the court. Defensively, he's very poor at this stage in his development. He's not strong enough to guard 2s yet, and lacks the instincts to stay with PGs.
For the Raptors, LaVine would have to play a very similar role to what Terrence Ross currently plays. Ross showed some defensive ability this year, which LaVine doesn't have in his game yet. With DeRozan being average defensively himself, LaVine would have to play a bench role. Unfortunately for the Raptors, unless they find another wing option in the draft or in free agency who can defend the 2/3 effectively, the defensive drop-off to Zach LaVine would be massive. LaVine has some breathtaking athleticism, and would be a terror if the Raptors play an up-tempo game, but there's a very high boom or bust potential with him.
Shabazz Napier (1991), PG, UConn
Shabazz Napier 2013 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
No prospect has seen his stock rise more over the past 2 months than Shabazz Napier. The star of UConn's title winning run, Napier was seen as a fringe 2nd rounder going into his senior year. After an immensely productive season (18-6-5), some mocks have him going as high as the late lottery. Napier has the skill set and physical tools to be an impact bench player in the NBA right away. He has a pro-ready offensive repertoire that comes with playing big minutes for a team like UConn over 4 seasons. Napier is a very good ball-handler, with terrific shooting ability. He can shoot the ball off the bounce, and pull up from anywhere in the half court with great effectiveness (40% from 3 this year). His passing has improved every year as he learned to better utilize his court vision. When he looks to pass, he does a great job of finding the open man, be it on a drive and kick or dishing it in the post. Napier put the team on his back this season to help UConn win the NCAA title. Teams look for winners in their point guards, and Napier has the experience and pedigree to back his lofty accomplishments in college.
Napier will be 23 by the time the season starts. He was a great shot maker all through college, but his limited explosiveness and average physical profile will likely require him to defer to his teammates much more at the NBA level. After being the head honcho at UConn for multiple years, how will his game translate from a selfishness standpoint? He was never renowned for being a pass-first PG, and in fact, a major criticism of him is that he's still trigger happy with his jump shot and very turnover prone (3 per game). Defensively, he lacks the size to guard big PGs and the quickness to guard speedy ones. He seems a lock to be a sieve on that end of the floor, and that's something teams will have to weigh when it comes to analyzing his fit.
I would find it difficult to talk myself into the Raptors taking Shabazz Napier if Lowry comes back. Napier's biggest selling point is that he's pro-ready and has a high floor. Instead of the drafting a point guard with limited upside, the Raptors would be much better served just bringing back Vasquez and addressing another area of concern at #20. Napier should thrive as a backup PG in the NBA, though. His shooting alone will be an asset that many teams covet, but I hope the Raptors pass on that opportunity, should it arise
P.J. Hairston (1992), SG, D-League
P.J. Hairston 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
P.J. Hairston's well-documented dismissal from UNC's basketball team has paved the way for one of the more intriguing paths to the NBA draft. After joining the D-League, Hairston found his footing as a pro prospect by flashing some NBA level skills on both ends of court. Hairston has an NBA-ready body, that in addition to his solid athleticism, makes him an interesting wing prospect that many teams will consider drafting. Weighing 230 lbs, Hairston is a load to handle off the bounce and in transition. He draws fouls at a high rate (6 FTA/G) and effortlessly finishes through contact. He's also a very capable shooter (36% from 3), in both spot up situations and off the dribble. Defensively, he shows a lot of potential as well. He plays with energy and has the requisite to mobility to be an above average wing defender in the future. In addition to being strong one on one, he also has quick hands that help him wreak havoc in the passing lanes (1.5/G) and get out in transition. Hairston is ready to contribute in the NBA right now. He should be able to hold his own on the defensive end, and his shot making ability and strength will be an asset in the half court offence as well.
Hairston is a very limited ball handler at the moment. Besides a one dribble pull up, or curl around screens, he's going to have difficulty creating shots for himself (not that he'll be asked to in the NBA). While he looks threatening in transition, his athleticism isn't off the charts, and doesn't play above the rim in half court situations. He's also a terrible passer, from both a skill and willingness standpoint. Hairston falls in love with his jump shot, and will need to defer to his teammates a lot more in the NBA. Defensively, he's solid one on one and in the lanes, but has no grasp of rotations and team defence. Some of that has to do with the chaotic NBADL style of play, but it was a glaring flaw in his game tape. He's also just an average rebounder, averaging only 3.5 per game. His dismissal from UNC is also undoubtedly a red flag which will hamper his draft stock. Hairston was too often a passive player in the D-League, showing bad body language which did little to dispel the character concerns.
If the Raptors can look past the character concerns, Hairston is actually an intriguing prospect. While his grasp of team defence was poor, one hopes that the acclaimed defensive maestro that is Dwane Casey can coax some better results out of Hairston. The Raptors were really missing a wing shooter that came off the bench and gave an offensive punch when Ross and/or DeRozan were getting a break, and Hairston could well be that player. While he doesn't have the strength to guard all 3s, he certainly would be another big body that the Raptors could throw out there in certain matchups.
That wraps up my look at the top Guards that the Raptors could be interested in. Ennis and Payton would both fit the BPA philosophy depending on the Raptors' draft board. LaVine's bust potential is a major red flag in my opinion, and Napier would only make sense if one of Vasquez or Lowry walks. Hairston is more of a wing than just a 2, but he certainly would fit a need as well. Let me know what you think!
If you wish to see some NCAA stats yourself, try here.