Hands up to all who think the Toronto Raptors can win their 20th game prior to the beginning of March.
Let’s see, the T-Wolves are up next and they’ve been no slouch since Kevin McHale took over the coaching duties. Then San Antonio on Wednesday night, another game that looks like a sure loss, and the schedule resumes after the All-Star break with a match against Lebron and the Cavs.
Yep, that should be an easy one.
Back-to-backs against the Knicks follow, before finishing off the month with matches against the T-Wolves again, and the Suns.
Ok so the Dinos aren’t playing the Lakers, Celtics and Magic every night, but considering what was maybe the worst loss in years to Memphis on Saturday night, I’m not sure it matters who’s on the upcoming schedule. Right now, this Toronto team might have a tough time beating an NCAA squad.
Suddenly with the Raptors on pace for a measly 29 wins, something which seemed ludicrous but three months ago is looking more and more like a reality; the Toronto Raptors obtaining a top five pick in this upcoming draft.
So while we here at the HQ were prepared to look at lesser-known players in preparation for the 09 draft, it suddenly makes sense to talk about both some under-the-radar prospects, and some of the big guns. Today’s check-in reflects both as we look at five prospects who have some serious question marks attached to their games:
1) Greg Monroe – Center/Power Forward, Georgetown.
As soon as I first laid eyes on Monroe this past fall, I immediately wished he would find himself in a Raptors’ uniform next year. However with his stock soaring up the board as the college season progressed, I figured the Raps were out of luck. With the team’s recent slide though, suddenly there’s a good shot that Monroe is in play come June.
Monroe has legit NBA size and presence on both ends of the court. He’s a solid offensive threat, a good rebounder, and with a 7-2 wingspan promises to be a defensive presence at the next level. However what immediately impressed me about Monroe was his basketball IQ.
Here was a freshman, and a freshman big man no less, who displayed incredible passing abilities out of the post and who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. It’s these sorts of attributes that can’t be taught and once Monroe gets stronger and hones his shooting touch, he could very well be the top player from this draft class. Right now Blake Griffin is getting all the publicity as the top pick, however I think Monroe will have the superior NBA career when all is said and done.
The main question mark about Monroe revolves around his desire. He’s an extremely hard worker, but at times during games can disappear for someone with his physical talents. He hasn’t dominated for Georgetown this year, and the team has struggled of late. Some say this is more a product of coach JT III’s system but NBA GM’s would still probably like to see more aggression from the Hoya center.
If he has a good Big East tourney run, and helps carry the Hoyas late into the tournament that could all change of course. And while Toronto isn’t in dire need of a big man, if Monroe is on the board when the Raptors pick, I think they’ll have a tough time passing on someone who scouts have compared to Chris Webber.
2) Hasheem Thabeet – Center, UConn.
From one top big man we go to another. Thabeet has of course been on scouts’ radars for years but has always been a bit of an enigma. Yes, defensively he appeared to be a real difference-maker even at the NBA level. However offensively, the UConn big-man was always quite raw and perhaps years away from being able to hold his own when he made the jump to the big leagues.
Each year though Thabeet has improved and recently has shown some real promise on the offensive side of the ball. He’s been doing a much better job of finishing around the rim and while he still has very little low-post game to speak of, he has improved by leaps and bounds considering he’s only been playing basketball for a few years. This past week he had dominant performances against top quality teams like Louisville, and last week put together an incredible triple-double in points, rebounds and blocks!
Again, a big man is not exactly tops on the Raptors’ draft list but if Jermaine O’Neal goes, a dominant shot-blocker with plenty of upside would be a welcome addition. He’s a project for sure, but unlike other previous "projects" like Saer Sene and Robert Swift, this one should be able to at least be a factor as soon as he steps on the court.
3) Stephen Curry – Point Guard, Davidson.
What sort of NBA future does Davidson’s Stephen Curry have? Well if NBA GM’s could accurately predict that, then players like Adam Morrison would probably never end up as top five picks.
Curry is one of the most controversial players in the upcoming draft. Some love his scoring abitlity and basketball IQ, others worry that he’s not a real point guard and therefore doesn’t have the size to be as successful an NBA player as he has been at the college level.
On the season though, we’re talking about a player who’s averaging nearly 30 points a game as well as over six assists and four rebounds – hardly numbers you can just dismiss. The worry though is that similar college studs like JJ Redick have yet to find their niche against much superior NBA competition, and so the same fate could very well be in store for the gun slinging Curry. While I think Curry is in a better situation at the 1 than JJ ever was (he was never going to be a point guard), prior to this season, I did share scouts’ skepticism as Curry seemed to depend on playing off the ball to create his offence.
However this season he’s played against some of the toughest teams in the country and has almost consistently excelled; all the while playing a new position and running his team’s offence. I’m not sure he’ll be a star at the NBA level, but Curry has indeed shown true promise at the point guard position this year and with the success of other undersized scoring 1’s like DJ Augustin in the NBA, he should have an impact for the team that drafts him. He simply knows how to score and is as creative offensively as they come.
As a scoring back-up to Jose Calderon, Curry would seem to be a great fit. The problem is if Toronto continues to lose, it will be harder and harder to see Curry ending up in the Raptors’ draft range as he’s more likely a late-lottery to mid-first-round selection, and the Dinos obviously have more immediate needs. In the end I don’t see Curry in Raptors’ red next year, but it would be interesting to see Colangelo look to make a play for him later in the first round.
4) Chase Budinger – Small Forward, Arizona.
Budinger is another question mark for GM’s and has been for a while. He’s previously tested the draft waters but the athletic swingman will probably decide to declare at last this season.
Should he have declared earlier?
It’s tough to say as staying at Arizona has allowed scouts and draft-addicts alike to pick at the 6-7 Junior’s game. However he’s putting up career highs in points, rebounds and assists and has done a good job leading a Wildcat team that has had various off-court issues dominate its storied program in the past few years.
The main knock on Budinger is that for one of the most athletic players in the country, he doesn’t use it often enough in games, preferring to stay on the perimeter. Having seen him play a few times already this season, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not left-over perception from earlier in his career. Instead, he’s looked like aggressive scorer his team has needed and Budinger has impressed me with his all-around skill-set. He’s a terrific rebounder in traffic due to his leaping ability, and can score from both inside the paint using his size and footwork, and out as he’s shooting over 40 per cent from long-range.
Right now some mock drafts have him slipping into the second round, something I can’t see lasting once individual workouts come around. He’d be a steal for a club in my opinion if he fell that far and I really believe he’s a player Bryan Colangelo should keep an eye on. If Budinger does start to slip, I’d love to see Toronto acquire a late-first round pick to take see if they can snatch him up. There aren’t many other options with his upside and athleticism at the 3 spot in this upcoming draft, both areas that the Raptors could use major upgrades in.
5) Evan Turner – Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Ohio State.
Now we come to someone who’s slowly becoming one of my favourite college players to watch. Prior to the season most of the hype around Ohio State revolved around big-man BJ Mullens, the third straight 7-footer who looked to be a possible lottery pick from the Buckeyes following in the footsteps of Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos. However it’s Turner who’s really started to turn heads for the Buckeyes.
Turner is 6-7 swingman who can play multiple positions due to his size and all-around abilities. He’s a great athlete, excellent ball-handler, and one of the best scorers from his position in college ball. At the other end of the floor, he’s a great defender and is relied upon by coach Thad Matta to defend the other team’s top scorer on many an occasion.
So why the questions around Turner?
While he’s always been viewed as a solid player, this has definitely been a breakout season for him and many are wondering where this came from. His scoring average has more than doubled from last season and his rebounding and assist numbers have jumped as well. He’s also shooting an extraordinary 50 per cent from long range to go with almost 51 per cent from the field. Is he simply a late bloomer? Well this is only his second season in college so it’s not like he’s 26 and just starting to "get it." I think it simply took him a year to get his feet wet and as stated, was overshadowed by more-hyped teammates.
However by the time June rolls around I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turner in the lottery discussion. He’s just such a complete player and has no fear in clutch situations. Recently Turner scored 26 points, grabbed 12 boards and dished out seven assists to lead his Buckeyes to an OT win over Purdue. In the OT session he scored six of his team’s points but more importantly got to the free-throw line 14 times. Then this past Saturday he sunk seven free-throws in the final 64 seconds to help Ohio State beat rival Minnesota (Turner finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) and has been averaging over 10 FTA’s a game the past six.
This willingness to create contact and get to the rim should peak the Raptors’ attention and Turner would seem to be a great fit for a Raptors’ club low on talent at the 2-3. As a tough defender and versatile match-up he would be able to step in right away and contribute.