With the 8th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft...the Toronto Raptors select HAFIEL AROJO from Bringham Young University!
Shock. Bewilderment. Horror. Dispair.
These were but a few of the emotions felt by Toronto Raptors' fans upon hearing NBA Commisioner David Stern called out those famous words in June 2004. Had there been some mistake? That hadn't REALLY been the Raptors pick had it? Maybe Babcock was drafting him for another team in preparation for a trade?. After all, the pick had been so neatly summed up by my friend's girlfriend: "um...explain to me why we drafted Robert Archibald again?"
But no....Babcock was serious about the pick....serious as cancer.
Looking back, 2004's draft class seemed pretty solid. There was no Lebron James but there were a number of potential stars. The Raptors sorely needed help at the point guard position and most fans had their eyes on 3 potential future All-Star points: Ben Gordon, Devin Harris and Shaun Livingston. Therefore they hoped that the draft would unfold as follows:
-The Orlando Magic with the top pick would be choosing between Omeka Okafor, the college player of the year, or Dwight Howard, a high schooler with the most potential in the draft
-The Charlotte Bobcats traded with the LA Clippers to move up to this position for a shot at Okafor hoping he'd fall to them if Orlando chose Howard. Either way neither of these picks affected the Raptors.
-The Chicago Bulls were the first worry. They needed to continue to rebuild and therefore they could be choosing anyone... Ben Gordon, the explosive two-guard from UConn, Luol Deng from Duke and Andre Iguodala of Arizona were all possible options. Gordon was a player the Raptors' coveted because of their needs at point guard and Gordon was supposed to have point guard abilities. Hopefully the Bulls would choose Deng or Iguodala.
-The LA Clippers using Charlotte's pick, were rumoured to be taking either Devin Harris or high school phenom Shaun Livingston. Either way the Clippers needed a point guard badly thus taking one of the players Raptors' fans' coveted off their draft list.
-The Washington Wizards had traded this pick to the Dallas Mavericks prior to the draft so in essence they were picking for the Mavericks. The problem with this situation from Raptors' fans' perspectives was that had Washington not traded this pick, one of the elite point guards would have dropped further as the Wizards had no point guard needs. But with the trade, it seemed quite likely that the Mavericks would choose Livingston or Harris (whoever remained) to fill their point guard needs after Steve Nash departed Dallas in the off-season. With these two players now gone under the scenario so far, Gordon would be the one guard remaining.
-The Atlanta Hawks were the Raptors' next hurdle. The Hawks had basically traded away their entire team and therefore needed help everywhere. The hope was they would opt for a swingman such as Iguodala, Josh Childress or even Luke Jackson.
-1 team left. The Phoenix Suns. With Phoenix obtaining Steve Nash in the offseason it was obvious they weren't going to pick a point guard unless they traded this pick. If the Suns kept the pick and took whoever remained between Jackson, Childress or Iguodala then the Raptors were set. They could draft Gordon, Harris or Livingston (whichever of the three were left) and the team would be back on track.
Unfortunately things went much differently.
The Orlando Magic created a few gasps by selecting Dwight Howard first overall thus leaving an ecstatic Charlotte Bobcats team to select Okafor.
Then the Raptors problems began.
The Chicago Bulls selected Ben Gordon with the third pick...1 point guard gone. The Clippers, as predicted picked Shaun Livingston....down to one. Everything now hinged on Washington not picking Devin Harris for the Mavericks. Unfortunately Harris was Washington's pick. While the remaining situation was not ideal for the Raptors, there were still several great prospects to choose from in that Luol Deng, Josh Childress and Andre Iguodala were still on the board. All had great potential...it was simply that our needs were more extreme at positions other then the swingman role.
Childress went off the board next to the Hawks. Phoenix traded their pick to the Chicago Bulls and with their newly aquired pick, the Bulls drafted Luol Deng. Now it was the Raptors pick.
If you were sitting watching the draft as a fan at this time, the general consensus seemed to be "well, looks like we're getting Andre Iguodala or Luke Jackson." And even undersized point guard Jameer Nelson looked like a possibility.
However the Raptors surprised everyone by selecting Araujo. Even David Stern seemed to be in a bit of shock as he stumbled through the pronounciation. "With the 8th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft...the Toronto Raptors select Hafiel Arojo from Bringham Young University..." I can still hear David Stern's overemphasized sylables now.
When it became obvious that we were indeed keeping the pick, many people wondered what happened. Sure we needed a big man presence...but wasn't drafting an unathletic big man not known for defensive play a BIT of a reach this high in the draft? The Philadelphia 76ers, who had the pick after the Raptors, didn't hesitate to take Iguodala with the 9th pick. While his offensive skills didn't seem polished, on athleticsm alone he looked like a sure-fire NBA star for years to come. But Babcock was a believer in Hoffa. He didn't expect Araujo to come in and play the role of Tim Duncan...or even the role that someone like Emeka Okafor was slighted to play for the fledgling Charlotte franchise. Babcock had decided that the only expectations for his pick were for Araujo to give 100% each day, improve, and do the little things like set screens and rebound the ball...all things that the Raptors DID have a major need for, especially at the center position. The Raptors' GM also felt that after Okafor, Araujo was the most "NBA-ready" of the remaining big men and even among the other draft choices." Babcock after the draft had the following things to say about his pick and Araujo seemed truly excited to be coming to Toronto.
Toronto fans on the other hand were pessimistic. With the prospect of losing Vince Carter this season, fans were hoping for a draft that would bring in another potential superstar, not a big man who might be years away from contributing. And especially not one that the Toronto media was already annointing "the next Alexander Radojevic..."
In Part III of our series we'll cap things off by examining Hoffa's first season, comparing his stats and play with others in his draft class and providing analysis to see whether the critics were justified in their belief that Babcock's selection was too much of a "reach."