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Stock Watch – February 7th, 2008 Edition

So Shaq is now a member of the Phoenix Suns. I still don’t see how this is going to work but more pressing a concern for me, is that now with Shawn Marion in tow, I’m no longer thinking Toronto’s next matches against Miami are going to be walks in the park. They should be Raptor wins, but a healthy Haslem, Marion, Wade, and whoever else suddenly isn’t the NBDL team it was days ago. Add in a solid draft pick and some cap room to lure in a key free-agent or two and I really think this is a steal for Miami when all is said and done.

And speaking of the draft, it’s been a wild year in the NCAA.

Last year was a bumper crop for freshman and many predicted that with the exodus of Oden, Durant and the Florida champs, it might be slim pickings for NBA clubs come summer of 08.

That hasn’t been the case at all and in fact, this year’s crew, if indeed all who are expected to declare do, could end up besting their 07 class brethren.

Barring a trade, or a massive collapse, the Toronto Raptors won’t be in the running for one of the top picks, meaning familiar names like Beasley, Rose, Gordon, Mayo, Green and Hibbert probably won’t be around when the Raps are on the clock. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some quality choices still available when the Dinos select.

For sake of argument, right now we’re guessing that Toronto will be picking between 15 and 20 when all is said and done. So let’s take a look at some of the players who’ve caught our eye for Bryan Colangelo to choose from.

1) Kevin Love. If Love keeps putting up scoring and rebounding numbers like he has of late (22 and 14 over his last six games), then he very well may not be around for Toronto to select. One of the most well-rounded big men to come out of college in years, Love just knows how to play the game. At first glance many will scoff at what resembles Hoffa II (minus the tattoos and bryllcreem) but if you’ve seen UCLA play, you know how key he is to his team. He’s an absolute rebounding machine and while not the most athletic player at his position, he has a nose for the ball, loves the dirty work, and always gets great position. (Sound like something the Raptors could use so far?)

On top of this he’s an exceptional passer (witness his three-quarter court INBOUND CHEST PASSES for break-away lay-ups) and has a feathery soft touch which he can hit all the way out past the college 3 point line. The knocks on him have been his height (6-9) and his athleticism, but he’s showing that his other skills are negating many of these concerns. I think Love will be a mid to late lottery pick when all is said and done, but here’s hoping he falls into the Raptors’ clutches.

2) Chris Douglas-Roberts. Douglas-Roberts has teamed up with point guard Derrick Rose to form a lethal one-two punch at Memphis this season. He’s leading the Tigers in scoring with 17.8 points per game while grabbing 4.7 rebounds. He’s drawn comparisons to Jerry Stackhouse in his North Carolina days and can create off the dribble and get to the rim using his length and explosiveness. He’s not a great jump shooter or foul shooter, preferring to get to the rim…but that shouldn’t bother Raptors’ fans whatsoever.

As a bonus, he’s a junior meaning he’ll be coming into the league with less of a learning curve than some of his draft peers.

3) Tyler Smith. If you haven’t seen Tennessee play this year, try and tune in before the Big Dance. The Vols can get up and down the court and score with the best of them, and Smith is a big part of this offensive attack. Witness his line from Tuesday night as the Volunteers blitzed the Florida Gators:

Smith had 23 points, nine rebounds (six of which were offensive), six assists and a block in 26 minutes of action. Even more unbelievable, was that he only had two points at the half!

At 6-7 he’s the protypical size for an NBA 3 and is one of the most athletic players in the draft.

He’s got to work on his handle, and our compadre the HQ Associate isn’t a fan of how he wears his head-band, but so far Smith is one of the three players I’d like most to see in a Raps uni on draft day.

4) Bill Walker. In high school, Walker looked like the second-coming of Vince Carter, minus the settling for jump shots thing, and he and team-mate OJ Mayo seemed destined for NBA greatness. But a knee injury, strange academic circumstances, and an extremely disappointing Reebok Eurocamp (which he showed up to severely overweight) put him on scouts’ backburners. However this year paired with the monster known as Michael Beasley, Walker has looked like his old self again.

He’s averaging nearly 16 points and seven rebounds a game for K State and is shooting solid percentages in all areas. He still doesn’t have all of his explosiveness back, but with each game he’s looking more and more dominant. In Kansas State’s upset win over arch-rival Kansas, then ranked number 2 in the nation, Walker was dominant scoring 22 points on nine of 18 shooting and last night against Nebraska he went for 17 points and nine boards (seven being offensive.) With his length, scoring and athletic ability, Walker could easily end up being a lottery pick when all is said and done. But he could also simmer under the radar and be a nice option for the Raptors in the first round.

5) Hasheem Thabeet. Thanks to Rogers’ sports pack which seems to favour Big East and Big 12 games, I’ve seen a ton of Thabeet this year and have mixed thoughts about him as a prospect.

On one hand, he’s extremely rigid on the court, especially on the defensive end where he struggles to guard one-on-one. His touch around the basket is rough, his feel for the game is still developing and he has very little offensive game to speak of.

That being said, he’s 7-2 with a huge wingspan, has only been playing basketball for about five years, and is already an incredible shot-blocker and help defender.

So with Thabeet, assuming he comes out, you have to decide what you’re looking for when you draft him. If you want someone to come in and help your team right away, forget it. However if you’re looking for someone with incredible upside, the magic word, who could be a game-changer on the defensive end, there isn’t a better option available.

Case in point; last night against Syracuse Thabeet got in early foul trouble and had to sit for a good chunk of the first half. With him out of the game, the Orangemen immediately started attacking the rim and looked like they were headed towards an upset of the ranked Huskies. However that all changed when Thabeet was reinserted. He blocked seven shots and altered many others forcing Syracuse to settle for outside jumpers and UConn escaped with the victory. On the stat sheet his numbers don’t jump out at you, but when you watch how he single-handedly alters other teams’ offences, you begin to see just why UConn coach Jim Calhoun has begun comparing his development to another great former Husky – Emeka Okafor.

Lofty comparisons indeed, especially considering Calhoun has stated that Thabeet is improving more quickly (his free throw percentage is up almost 20 per cent from last season) and has fewer bad habits due to his lack of basketball experience.

Right now I believe that Thabeet would benefit from another year of school and come back to be a high lottery pick in 2009 but who knows. This is no Saer Sene and if he comes out and is around when Toronto picks, his rebounding and shot-blocking potential alone may be enough for Bryan Colangelo to take a flyer on him.

It also may be enough to drive Sam Mitchell right off the deep end.

Thabeet - Bust or late-round bargain?
Thabeet - Bust or late-round bargain?

Others Players the HQ Is Keeping An Eye On:

1) Devon Hardin – C: The next Nene or the next Patrick O’Bryant? Tough to say right now and depending on workouts could either be a top 15 pick, or fall into the second round.

2) Joey Dorsey – PF/C: Perhaps not worthy of a mid first round pick but a perfect fit for the Raptors as a Ben Wallace clone. Dorsey however may be even more athletic and a better scorer. Not many players in the NCAA his size can block a guard’s shot on one end and beat him down the court dribbling the ball for a dunk at the other…

3) DJ White – SF/PF: Another tough prospect to gauge – a great rebounder at his position who is a double-double threat on any given night, but also a player who seems to lack a position at the NBA level.

4) Patrick Patterson – SF/PF: Similar to White, there are worries that Patterson’s game may not translate at the next level. However his length and aggressiveness may negate these concerns.

5) Courtney Lee – SF/SF: Interestingly compared to Anthony Parker by Draftexpress, Lee could be this year’s Kevin Martin; a great prospect playing in a non-so-great conference (The Sun Belt.) Like Martin, Lee isn’t the most explosive or athletic player prospect but he can flat out score averaging 21 points a game for Western Kentucky. He’s a great leader and a senior to boot, something Toronto may covet instead of a developmental project.

Joey Dorsey's rebounding, strength and energy could really help the Raptors
Joey Dorsey's rebounding, strength and energy could really help the Raptors

Players at Present the Raptors Should Avoid Drafting at All Costs:

1) Chase Budinger – The HQ Associate put it best to me last weekend after his Bruins trounced Budinger’s Wildcats. "Chase is like that guy you went to high school with who dominated everyone because he was bigger, faster and more athletic. Therefore he looked like he was going to go far with his skills. But against other top level players, he just sort of disappears."

I couldn’t have said it better and after seeing him get locked down defensively by a much shorter series of UCLA defenders last Saturday, I came away thinking the same thing. A former volleyball player and great leaper, he settles far too often for jump shots making him a more athletic, less accurate version of Steve Novak. Until he starts showing more willingness to attack the basket, buyer beware.

2) Kostas Koufos – It’s no sure bet this seven-foot Greg Oden replacement for the Buckeyes will even come out but I’m hoping he doesn’t. Yes he’s got great size, good hands, and a nice touch around the basket…but he’s just not ready. Physically he needs at least another year in my opinion and while some have seen him as being another potential Big Z, he isn’t nearly as good a rebounder at this point. Nope, not exactly something the Raptors need.

Some final non-draft related thoughts, the NBA announced its line-up for the 3-point contest at the upcoming All-Star game and there were curious selections in my opinion, especially Kobe Bryant and Richard Hamilton. Hamilton is shooting a great percentage from long-range and has added that element to his game but I don’t really see him as being the type of player who excels in these types of contests. And Kobe? This seems more like a ploy for ratings than anything else. Kobe is as competitive as they come though so perhaps he makes things interesting. I would have preferred obviously to see Anthony Parker’s name on the final list and a head to head match with him and Jason Kapono would have been great for Raptors fans…but perhaps not for the rest of the league.

And finally over at Jamario-MoonHQ we’ve added a poll and have received our first Youtube submission sent in by reader Darren Bondy. It’s a great collection of Moon highlights set to Jay-Z and Just Blaze...