Most years the HQ starts previewing various draft prospects as early as January. This year, with the Raptors' pick seemingly headed to Miami, we held off, however with Toronto's recent play and the Dance around the corner, we figure now is as good a time as any to kick things off...
For some like myself, next Thursday around noon, Christmas begins.
It's essentially 72 hours of basketball heaven, and in that span all manner of heroics and crazyness will be on display.
Yes, March Madness is nearly here.
In fact, the various conference tournaments are well underway and already fans have been privvy to some great matches. Many favourites like Syracuse were ousted early, while various Cinderellas came heart-breakingly close to punching their ticket to the Big Dance, when they perhaps had no business going in the first place (Cincinnati.)
At the HQ, besides the sheer volume of basketball that will be consumed during this time period, it's also an important scouting phase for us, as we focus in on various players who may or may not be on the Toronto Raptors' draft radar. Originally, these prospects seemed to be of the second-round variety thanks to Toronto dealing its first round pick to the Miami Heat last year in the trade that secured the temporary services of Shawn Marion.
However that pick is lottery protected, and with the Raptors' recent slide, suddenly it's quite possible that the team could very well find itself back in Seacacus come May, watching the bouncing lottery balls.
To that end we've put together a list of 10 players Raptors' fans should watch in the coming weeks, both from a prospect prospective, and also simply for entertainment's sake.
1) Evan Turner - G/F Ohio State: This NCAA season, John Wall and his Kentucky crew have received the lion's share of the basketball media's attention. However it's Turner that could very well be the top pick come next June. Long-time HQ readers will know that I've been a huge Turner fan for the past 3 seasons, to the point in fact that I hoped he'd stay at Ohio State after his freshman season (since the Raptors didn't have a pick), hoped he'd come out last season (since he probably would have fell into Toronto's range) and now this year hope he returns again since it's unlikely the Raps will have a shot at him.
Of course this looks extremely unlikely but the point is, I can't think of a more perfect player to man the 2-3 for Toronto into the future.
To me he's a mix between Danny Granger and Brandon Roy. Turner can do it all, as his 20 point, 9 rebound and 6 assist statistics indicate, and like Granger can play inside and out, yet has that Brandon Roy smoothness to his game. Also like Roy, he's got an immaculate handle and some disgusting crossover dribble moves.
An option for the Raptors this summer?
But with some solid teammates around him in the form of David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler, Turner and Ohio State are one of the sleeper teams to watch in terms of Final Four contention.
2) Xavier Henry - G - Kansas: Henry was touted prior to the season as a high lottery pick. He's a 6-6 swingman who already has an NBA ready body, and like Turner, a certain smoothness to the way he plays. Adding to that "smoothness" is his shooting touch, one of the best in college. However he's struggled a bit of late and no longer seems like a lock to be drafted in the lottery. He doesn't have upper tier athleticism, but is a ball-hawk and rock solid defender thanks to his frame. Could the Raptors use a player of his ilk? Definitely as in many ways, he's the inverse of their pick last year, DeMar DeRozan.
3) Devin Ebanks - G/F - West Virginia: The Mountaineers survived a scare from Lance Stephenson and the Bearcats last night thanks to a Desean Butler jumper at the buzzer. Ebanks played a big part in the win with his defence, something he's been doing all season, and when you get a look at his frame you'll know why. Ebanks is extremely long and athletic and excels at playing the passing lanes. He's a legit 6-7 as well and therefore with his length, can defend a number of positions. Similar to Trevor Ariza (he even looks like Ariza) his offensive game is quite raw, however his upside is one of the highest in the upcoming draft class, and he's got a great chance to help West Virginia to a Final Four birth.
4) James Anderson - G/F - Oklahoma State: Bring on the Joey Graham comparisons. Andreson, like Graham, has been a standout the past few seasons at OK State, and is a tough and gritty 6-6 guard/forward. However the comparisons should stop there. Anderson is not the undersized power forward that Graham was in the OK system, nor does he have Graham's build and low-post game. Anderson is much more of a shooter, and a volume one at that who can fill it up in a hurry. He's a wiry player too and while extremely tough as mentioned, doesn't do a lot of his damage on drives to the hoop. The Cowboys reside in perhaps the toughest conference in the land this year and it will be up to Anderson to try and drive them to tournament success.
5) Damion James - G/F - Texas: Notice a swingman theme here? Most of the prospects I chose to look at take on the 2 or 3 spots on the floor at the next level. Why? Well aside from it being probably the most talented position in the upcoming draft, it's also an area that continues to be a struggle for the Dinos. Should they wind up with a lottery selection when all is said and done, I'm betting they look in this direction. James in fact has a history with the Raptors and the draft process as he worked out for Colangelo and co. last year, a workout I attended. He wisely decided to return to Texas for his Senior season and has been dominating opponents all year, proving to have added new dimensions to his game to the point that he's miles away from the player I saw up close last spring.
James in fact is a much better compare to Joey Graham than anyone else. Like Graham, he's extremely physical and can play up to 4 positions on the court at the college level. He's an excellent defender, a great athlete (37 inch vertical leap) and isn't afraid to mix it up on D. He lacks a defined position at the next level, and many question his ball handling skills (sound familiar?), but it's hard not to believe he'd be a nice fit at the 2-3 for Toronto, even as an option off the bench.
6) Quincy Pondexter - G/F - Washington: Pondexter is another Franchise favourite. He doesn't have the talent of Turner or the sheer upside of a player like Aminu, however this is a player I believe will excel in the NBA as a solid rotation type. He's got NBA size at 6-7 and 220 lbs, can score from inside and out, and while not a great shooter, has the work ethic and demeanor to hone his craft at the next level. Washington is a big question mark right now for tournament unfortunately but should they get in, Pondexter is a player to keep an eye on, especially at the defensive end. He's a lock-down type and brings back memories of a certain young James Posey.
7) Patrick Patterson - F - Kentucky: For me, Patterson will be an interesting player to keep an eye on this tourney. Kentucky is already one of the favourites to cut down the nets, but Patterson is sometimes the forgotten man on a stacked club with freshman sensations Wall, Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Nevertheless, we're talking about a 20 and 10 threat every night and while undersized, a player with NBA skill sets at the next level. However Patterson might experience some of the Jameer Nelson syndrome come draft time as a player scouts and GM's have seen for so long in college, they've picked him apart and become overly critical of what he "can't do." This could mean he's in for a slide on draft day and pick or no pick, I'm hoping the Raptors look to take advantage. A more offensively talented Carl Landry? Yes please.
8) Trevor Booker - F - Clemson: As we've seen recently, the Raps are still not a tough team. Meet Trevor Booker - toughness exemplified. Yes he's an undersized power forward without a clear-cut position at the next level, but he's also extremely strong and explosive, think Brandon Bass. He also has great length despite his diminutive size at the 4, and is an excellent defender. He brings an intensity to each game on a near KG level and as a Duke fan, I always dread match-ups with Clemson because of the impact Booker has. Right now it looks like Clemson's a lock to get into the tourney and led by Booker, the Tigers could do some serious upsetting early on.
9) Jon Scheyer - G - Duke: You know I had to get ONE Blue Devil on this list. The reality is that at some point the Raptors are going to realize they can't pay over $14M a year for the point guard position (more than that right now counting Marcus Banks), and will need to start grooming someone in a back-up role. The draft therefore is a good spot to start looking, and I think a player of Scheyer's ilk would be a steal in the second round. He's got great size at the 1 (6-5) , rarely turns the ball over, can orchestrate an offense, and is a dead-eye shooter to boot. Yes, there are concerns about his athleticism and defensive abilities at the next level, but he's one of these gritty, leader types who just seems to make things happen so I believe Toronto could do a lot worse in terms of grabbing a 3rd stringer to groom for the future.
10) Matt Bouldin - G - Gonzaga: In a similar vein we have Matt Bouldin. Bouldin is actually a more highly touted prospect than Scheyer but displays similar grit and leadership characteristics. He's not as good of a shooter, but is a more pure point guard and again, has great size at 6-5. The Zags have a history though of tournament flops so Bouldin's draft stock could very well be determined (right now he looks to be a mid second-round option) by how far he leads his club in the Big Dance.