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RaptorsHQ Stock Watch for May 1, 2009

James Harden - still standing tall as a prospect in Franchise's mind...

James Harden - still standing tall as a prospect in Franchise's mind...

Aaaah the top 10 list, I time-honoured blogging tradition.

Everywhere you look online you can find such a list; from the "Top 10 Cities Where Americans Get Arrested" (incidentally Toronto was number six on the list in 2007!?), to a great top 10 list posted yesterday by an HQ associate in preparation for the upcoming Star Trek blockbuster – "Top 10 Best (and sometimes Worst) Moments in Star Trek Movies."

With the NBA Draft slowly creeping up (the lottery is in 18 days), and the NBA Draft Early Entry List of draft participants now out, here at the HQ, we’ve decided to roll out our own top 10 list – the top 10 prospects the Raptors should be considering this June.

1) James Harden – Guard, Arizona State:

A slight disclaimer before we get into Mr. Harden. This top 10 list is based on the idea that Toronto doesn’t move up in the draft, that they pick from the ninth spot. So while we’ll rule out Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio from consideration for all intents and purposes, with no clear-cut number 3 pick at this time, we’ll assume that all options after that are available.

That’s why as likely as it is that James Harden goes in the top five, and therefore outside of Toronto’s range, that could change come workouts etc, and Harden is someone I feel the Raps should be taking a long and hard look at.

Harden might not be the best athlete in the draft, or have the most upside, but in a draft that’s looking more and more like a crap-shoot with each passing day, he looks like a sure-fire complement to the Dinos. The club is looking for a future 2 who can defend his position, get to the rim, and score with the clock winding down, and the man from Arizona State can do all three. Recently, did some analysis on Harden which showed that despite some concerns about his ability to create off the bounce, Harden statistically was the best shooting guard in the draft at getting to the free-throw line, and second only to Wayne Ellington in terms of scoring in transition. He also finished second statistically in terms of creating offense for himself in isolation situations, and combined with his strong build, defensive abilities and maturity, if Colangelo can somehow snag him I feel it would be a big coup for the club going forward.

2) DeMar DeRozan – Guard-Forward, USC:

In a draft like this with no clear-cut favourites after the top few picks, it might be worth swinging for the fences and if Bryan Colangelo is going to do that, he should look no further than DeRozan. DeRozan put on one of the more eye-opening performances of course in USC’s brief run through the NCAA tournament, and on upside alone he looks like a top option this June.

He’s incredibly long and perhaps the best athlete in the draft, but really still learning many aspects of the game. I doubt if DeRozan is Toronto’s selection that he’ll make an impact for a few years as even with his considerable hops, he did most of his damage in college in the mid-range with an assortment of jumpers and runners. His ball-handling needs work, he has essentially no 3-point shot, and he’ll need to get a lot stronger if he hopes to check other "3’s."

That being said, if Toronto is looking to upgrade the 2 and 3 starting spots via free-agency, then a high-upside prospect off the bench like DeRozan could be the way to go. I expect his stock to rise from individual workouts and perhaps the real question will be if he’s even around by the time Toronto is ready to draft.

3) Terrence Williams – G, Louisville

As readers know, Howland and I have been aboard the Williams bandwagon for a while now, myself dating back to last season. In a draft that doesn’t appear to contain many sure-fire prospects, Williams in my opinion makes a ton of sense for Toronto. He’s probably the best defender and rebounder at his position, gets out in transition, is an exceptional athlete, and has the grit and edge that the Raptors so badly need.

He’s not a great shooter at this point, but his mechanics aren’t at the Shawn Marion level and this should come with time. He’s also not a great ball-handler and struggles to create in one-on-one situations. Again, that’s not something he can’t improve on either as many forget that Andre Iguodala had the exact same knocks against his game coming out of Arizona. And like Iggy, Williams can play a point-forward type roll, initiating the offense and making good decisions with the ball.

I think Williams is another player who will move into lottery range come individual workouts and I sincerely hope he ends up in a Raptors’ uniform come training camp 2009-10.

4) Tyreke Evans – G, Memphis

Like DeRozan, Evans is another player who improved his stock as the NCAA season wore on, and has one of the highest upsides in the draft. He’s not what you would call a pure point guard, even though he did an admiral job for Memphis in that spot last season, but is not a good enough shooter to be a true 2 either.

At 6-5, he’s an interesting option for a Raptors team that struggled defensively at the 1, and at both ends when Jose Calderon wasn’t in the game. If Bryan Colangelo is looking to go with Roko again next year behind Jose, Evans could be a nice piece of insurance as a 2 who can fill in at the 1 if Roko falters.

Again, with the way Evans played to finish off the season, the question is if he too will even be an option by the time the Raptors need to make their selection.

5) Gerald Henderson – G, Duke

Perhaps the most improved player in college last year, Henderson went from a disappointing prospect who had only given glimpses of reaching his potential, to one of the best players in the NCAA. If you’ve seen his slashing ability and thunderous dunks, then you immediately know why it makes sense for Toronto to snatch him up.

However even being a huge Duke fan, I’m not going to get my hopes up in regards to Henderson being the option at the 2 this team needs. His jumper is still inconsistent, is a lot less effective going left, and he’ll need to add some range on his shot. He was definitely one of the better creators off the dribble at his position and with his excellent length and athletic abilities, could be a lock-down defender at the next level.

All this being said, I’d be quite pleased if Henderson was a Raptor after this year’s draft however I’m not expecting him to change the face of the franchise.

6) Johnny Flynn – PG, Syracuse, 7) Ty Lawson – PG, North Carolina, 8) Jeff Teague – G, Wake Forest

If you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs this year, one thing that should have stood out is just how important point guard play is.

-Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo have been going toe-to-toe in an incredible first-round battle.

-Chauncey Billups has the Nuggets moving on after vanquishing Chris Paul’s Hornets (with Paul being essentially the only player on that team to show up in the series.)

-And even lesser-known PG’s like Aaron Brooks and JJ Barea have been extremely effective for their respective clubs.

However beyond simply the play at the overall play at the 1, I’d like to focus on the play of guys like Brooks, Barea and Rondo. Under the new "non-hand-checking" NBA rules, players of this ilk, quick and athletic, are nearly unstoppable, especially in transition. Michael Grange recently blogged about this water-bug factor and it’s the reason I’ve lumped all three of these players together; each fits that new style of NBA-point guard, Johnny Flynn in particular.

One of the best scorers and finishers in addition to being one of the best distributors, Flynn looks like Rajon Rondo without the length and with a jump-shot. He’s one of the quickest players end-to-end, loves to create off the bounce and get to the rim, and while slight of frame, loves to draw contact and is a warrior on the court. (His performance in the Big East tourney is testament to that.)

Lawson is not the scorer that Flynn is, but is a superior defender and offensive facilitator and he too can get up and down the court. Lawson may actually be even faster than Flynn and for a team like the Raptors looking to push the ball on offense, and do a better job slowly down the point of attack defensively, Ty has all the makings of a great fit. Again, will Colangelo look to draft a point guard only to possibly hurt the development of Roko Ukic? That’s a tough call but there’s no question that on paper, a proven winner like Lawson could be a nice addition to the team.

Finally, we get to Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague. Teague has been ranked everywhere this season, from top 5 pick to outside the lottery, and this is mostly because it’s hard to predict just what type of player he’ll be come NBA-time. He reminds many Monta Ellis due to his scoring ability and transition game, however for every Ellis, there’s also a Shammond Williams or Troy Bell. The key is if Teague can show that he can adequately play the 1 at the next level because at 6-2, he’s definitely on the small side to man the shooting guard spot. The Raptors could definitely use an injection of scoring in the back-court like the one he could provide and he’s another player I expect the Dinos to keep an eye on come draft day.

Is Teague the type of aggressive, scoring 1 the Raptors need off the bench?

Is Teague the type of aggressive, scoring 1 the Raptors need off the bench?

9) DeJuan Blair – PF, PITT

There’s not much to say about Blair that we haven’t already here at the HQ. He’s the biggest Bull in the NBA Draft China-Shop and his size, rebounding abilities, and toughness would be a big upgrade off the bench for the Raptors no matter how you slice it.

Is he the second-coming of Paul Millsap? Perhaps, although he’s going to need to put in some work on his jump-shot and low-post game if that’s the case. At worst he’s a Reggie Evans clone minus the ludicrous contract and foul issues and in this draft, you could do a lot worse.

10) Stephen Curry – G, Davidson

Finally we get to one of the most hotly contested players in the draft, the son of former Raptor, Dell Curry. For starters, I almost didn’t include him on this list as there are other players like Tyler Smith of Tennessee and Chase Budinger of Arizona who I feel may be better fits for the Raps. However on talent and upside, there’s no denying Curry. Having seen him numerous times over the past few seasons I know that regardless of height issues, the kid is going to score at the next level. He’s got unlimited range, and unlike similar scoring sensations like JJ Redick (who actually looked like a pretty good NBA player last night), by showing he can play the 1 it appears that he won’t face many of the same questions regarding size and athletic ability.

That being said, I have some concerns. Namely, Curry is not the slasher that the previous 3 point guards I profiled are, and in today’s NBA, that can be problematic. A good example of this is Jannero Pargo, a similar scoring sensation prior to the NBA but someone who doesn’t get to the rim enough to fall into the Monta Ellis category, nor does he facilitate the offense like Tony Parker. That’s not to say this won’t come with time, but at present I feel like he’d be a better prospect with one particular area of fortitude.

(I think that’s what’s so impressive about Derrick Rose as a sidebar. Rose excels in both of these areas in addition to others displaying some incredibly unique traits. Last night’s block of Rajon Rondo in the third OT period was a testament to this considering Rondo was fading-away and up at nearly the height of his shot; and yet Rose still somehow exploded off the ground and made the key play.)

So if Curry is on the board when Toronto’s pick comes around, should Bryan Colangelo snatch him up? Beyond my skill-set concerns, I’m just not sure Curry is a great fit so if he is the selection, perhaps he becomes part of a trade later in the off-season.


PS – The latest version of the Carnival of the NBA is up at Ballerblogger!