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RaptorsHQ Stock Watch for January 27, 2009

Franchise would love to see the lightning-quick McNeal in a Raptors jersey next year...

Franchise would love to see the lightning-quick McNeal in a Raptors jersey next year...

Blake Griffin

Hasheem Thabeet

Stephen Curry

Ricky Rubio

It’s not even February yet but you know the names. These and various other names have been on the collective radars of scouts, GM’s, and draftnicks everywhere for quite some time.

For a Toronto Raptors squad that looks to be heading for a pick in the mid first-round however, most of these names won’t apply as other teams will be calling them to the podium long before the Dinos are on the clock.

That’s why, for RaptorsHQ’s first edition of "Stock Watch" this year, we thought it might be interesting to talk about five lesser-known individuals; five players who fit specific needs for this team and who are currently not amongst the lottery talk.

1) The Physical Presence – DeJuan Blair

NBA GM’s love to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to the draft. They reach on athleticism and size, discount experience and winning at the college level, and often try and project a player’s development into the future, even if they themselves might not be around to see it come to fruition.

One of the best examples of this in recent draft years is Paul Millsap. Here was a player who lead the nation in rebounding every season he was at Louisiana Tech despite being undersized at the 4. And yet GM’s worried about his size again when it came time for the 2006 Draft and he wasn’t selected until the second round, 47th overall. Granted, no one could have predicted his offensive development, but if there is one stat that’s shown to be transferable from college to the NBA, it’s rebounding. Undersized 4’s like Leon Powe, Jason Maxiell and Carl Landry have all carved out nice niches in the league for themselves and all were late first-round or second round picks.

That’s why Pitt’s DeJuan Blair could be a steal for GM’s this year. He’s not an explosive leaper, and at 6-7 is indeed on the short side for the power forward position in the NBA, but talk about a wrecking ball in the paint. Blair has averaged double-digit rebounds through two seasons in the nails tough Big East and is Pitt’s team-leader this season. He’s quite raw offensively (although he’s averaging almost 15 points a game), but has a tremendous wingspan, a nice touch around the rim, and a motor that won’t quit.

At present he looks to be a late first-round pick but if he drops into the early second-round, this is a player a very soft Raptors’ club should take a long, hard, look at.

2) The Perimeter Defender – Tyler Smith

By now everyone who reads the site knows my affinity for Tyler Smith. He’s drawn comparisons to Josh Howard for his athleticism, he’s one of the top players in the SEC for Tennessee, and he can pull highlight reel plays out of his hat.

However beyond those factors, this is a player who shows tremendous leadership characteristics, is as competitive as they come, and is an excellent perimeter defender – all traits the current Raptors’ club could use a solid injection of.

When Tennessee lost a few games recently that they should have won, and things started to unravel for the Volunteers, it was Smith who called a players-only meeting and helped clear the air. The team promptly got back in the win column and started to play much better at the defensive end of the court. Smith helped to lead the charge in this area using his superior quickness and athleticism to lock down the opposing team’s top players. He’s guarded everything from 1’s to 5’s for the Volunteers this season and yet has still averaged nearly 18 points a game to go along with six rebounds and 3.8 assists.

Individual workouts could see his stock rise from late first-round to late lottery but here’s hoping that Bryan Colangelo does all he can to snag the Junior. Right now he looks to be a much better fit at the 3 than Jamario Moon and would bring a completely different tone to the club.

3) The Sparkplug – Jerel McNeal

McNeal was another player I was quite high on late last season. However for some reason, he’s been an afterthought on most draft boards. Yes, he’s a 6-3 shooting guard with a slight build. However he’s a freak athlete who plays the point guard position at times for Marquette and I struggle to find much difference between he and another athletic 1/2 - UCLA’s Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is perhaps an even better athlete with an extra inch or two of height and length, but both players are relentless in getting to the rim and of the two, McNeal is the more natural scorer.

Last night’s match against a tough Notre Dame squad was a perfect example as McNeal nearly matched last year’s Big East Player of the Year, Luke Harangody, basket for basket. McNeal finished with 27 points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks in a big win for the Golden Eagles and showed just why he’s in the running with Harangody for this year’s award.

For the year, McNeal is averaging nearly 20 points a game, 3.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and is shooting a great percentage from both the field and from 3-point range, something that was a knock on him early in his career at Marquette.

Perhaps he’s not quite first-round material at this point, but if his name hasn’t been called early in the second when the Raptors’ pick rolls around, they’d be crazy not to scoop him up. He’s an excellent perimeter defender, one of the quickest players in college from baseline to baseline, and I can’t help but think of how valuable he’d be as an energy guy off the bench for Toronto – something this team right now is sorely lacking.

4) The Shot Blocker – Jarvis Varnado

We’ve already talked about rebounding as a trait that translates well to the NBA but here’s another – shot-blocking. Besides perimeter defence, rebounding and toughness, the Raptors also need to address their lack of an interior defensive presence, especially if Jermaine O’Neal is shipped out this off-season. Jamario Moon may not be around either, so that leaves Andrea and CB4 on swat duties. While both are capable of holding their own, they’re hardly lane-intimidators in the mould of guys like Mutumbo or even smaller swatters like Tyrus Thomas.

Ironically, Varnado has drawn comparisons to Thomas for his athleticism, length, and defensive skills however that’s where the comparisons stop. He seems to have a much better head on his shoulders and has stuck around Mississippi State for three seasons, improving each year.

While UConn’s Thabeet gets all the press as the nation’s premier defensive presence in the paint, Varnado actually leads the NCAA in rejections at almost five a game. This is the second straight season he’s done this as well. He’s still quite thin and his offense is almost as none-existent as Thabeet’s, however he put on some awe-inspiring performances at the Lebron James Skills Academy this past summer and continues to build on that this season.

He’s slated as a late first-round pick but again, this is a player I would love to see coming off the bench for the Raps…even if it’s just to get a few more exclamations of "get that gaaabage outtttta here!!!" from Jack.

5) The Do-It-All – Terrence Williams

We’ve covered toughness and rebounding, shot blocking, perimeter D and athleticism, and scoring off the bench so what’s left?

Well, how about a guy who can do all of the above, and serve as a second-unit type glue guy?

My nomination for that role is Louisville’s Terrence Williams.

So far this season Williams is averaging 13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.6 steals and almost a block a game for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals. Oh…and we’re talking about a 6-6 player here.

I’m not sure there’s a more complete player in the country and while he doesn’t perhaps have the "upside" of teammates Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels, he’s rock solid and has been huge in keeping the up and down Cardinals afloat in the Big East.

In terms of comparisons, I’m not sure who off-hand makes the most sense. Some have said Corey Maggette due to their similar physical build and athletic abilities. Others have mentioned more complete players for comparison sake simply because Williams is also an excellent rebounder and passer for his size/position.

A good Big East tourney and NCAA run could send his stock soaring but right now he’s projecting as a borderline early second-late first-round pick. If I’m Bryan Colangelo, this is the type of athletic, strong and competitive wing that I want coming off the bench for the team going forward, and hopefully

As the season progresses we’ll be taking a closer look at other prospects, especially once we start to get a better idea of the Raptors’ draft range. Right now there are obviously a lot of holes to fill for next year and we’re hoping BC is starting his homework nice and early.

On a non-draft related note, check out the chat we had last night with The Arsenalist and our compatriots over at We touched on all things Raptors-related and as you’ll hear, there’s no real consensus even between Howland and I on how BC is going to right this ship.