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The Annual Draft Express/Raptors HQ Draft Discussion

With some final words on tonight's NBA Draft, the web's most knowledgeable Draftnik, Draftexpress' Jonathan Givony, stops by for his annual chat with the HQ...

Aaah, Christmas at the HQ.

Yes, it's June 24th, as long-time readers know, my favourite day of the year.

It's the day where my love of college basketball intersects with the NBA, and where we see teams try to provide their respective fanbases with something they may not have had in the previous season(s):

Hope for the future.

As well, some may argue, the draft signifies the real start of the off-season.

For the Toronto Raptors, this off-season is no doubt a biggie, and it indeed starts with the draft tonight.

The team has a lottery pick, albeit a late one, and is somehow trying to keep their superstar free-agent, rid themselves of a piece of over-priced furniture, and return to the playoffs in one fell swoop.

Certainly no easy task.

This year's draft is hardly making that task much easier thanks to its considerable parity after the first seven or eight players are off the board, which may explain why the Raptors are already rumoured to be thinking of moving their pick.

To talk about this parity among other topics, and to kick off Christmas morning here at the HQ, Jonathan Givony of stops by for our fifth annual pre-draft chat to discuss this year's crop of prospects and how they pertain to the Toronto Raptors.

RaptorsHQ: Give us your take on this year's draft, and maybe contrast it to the 2009 draft.

Jonathan Givony: I think that this is a very deep draft. It might be the deepest one we've covered. It's our seventh one so far and it's got a lot of interesting story-lines going. There are some really good players at the top, there are some guys, or I should say there are four guys-Wall, Turner, Favors, Cousins---who could develop into real franchise-type talents.

And then there is just a ton of depth; throughout the first round and even into the top half of the second round there are some really good players. I think that this is because of the changes to the early entry rules, the NCAA moving up the deadline to May 8th caused a lot of players to enter and keep their names in who otherwise would have gone back to school in a normal year. That combined with the fear of a lockout in 2011 really just pushed in 10 or 15 more players that normally wouldn't have gone in.

I think we saw the opposite trend last year. Last year was the year of going back to school. You saw Greg Monroe, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, Willie Warren, Craig Brackins, just a lot of guys who were projected as top 20 picks surprisingly deciding not to enter the draft. I think a lot of underclassmen kinda looked at how that turned out for Warren, Brackins and a couple of other guys, and they said "well, what was really the point?"

So all of this has just made for a very interesting draft, I think that's why teams that have multiple first-rounders are really in a great position to load up here for the future and everybody's got a shot to get a good player. Even if you're in the teens or in the 20's I think there are going to be some excellent players that come out of this draft from all parts of it.

RHQ: Something you keep reading is that this year, you could quite possibly get someone in the early second round who is going to contribute just as much as someone in the first round. You're hearing names like Devin Ebanks, one of our favourites, for instance, who looked like a lottery pick last year and is now possibly falling out of the first round.

JG: I think you see that every year with guys like DeJuan Blair, someone ended up being named a first-team All-Rookie, but was drafted 37th overall. Every year you have the opportunity to do that, but to your point, this year it's even more pronounced and there are even more guys like that.

RHQ: Turning to the Raptors at 13, they're pretty confident of getting a solid player by all accounts. There are a couple of options that seem to be jumping out right now. Do you have any sense of which direction they're going to go, or does it mostly depend on how the cards fall above them so to speak?

JG: I think they're 100 per cent going to wait and see which player falls out of the top 10 and right into their range. There's probably going to be one of Ekpe Udoh, Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson, Paul George of those guys, or even two or more, that are going to be there - and I think they're going to take the best overall talent. I know that with the disappointing year they had, there's probably going to be some pressure just to plug a hole and put a band-aid on it, but I don't think that's the way those guys are thinking. I think they're going to try and make the best pick for the short term and long term, and in a draft like this where they're picking from, I think that's how you have to go and I think that's the way they're approaching things to my understanding.

RHQ: We've attended all the Raptors' workouts this year and talking with Jim Kelly and some of the other Raptors folks, it seems that they're looking at many of the names you just mentioned as well as guys like Avery Bradley. Regardless of who Toronto DOES draft, who do you think is the best fit of the group that could be there?

JG: I think it depends on how they're feeling about their chances of re-signing Bosh. If they really feel like the chances are pretty small, then it would probably make sense to tap into the depth of this draft at the big man position. This is a historic class in terms of 4's and 5's, you've got guys this year at 13 that in a normal year, probably would have gone 5, 6 or 7. So I think it definitely makes sense to take a strong look at that, especially if you think you're going to lose Bosh. You always say "go with the best talent available, not for the position of need," but in this case, it could be both, which is perfect for Toronto. If Patrick Patterson somehow slips to 13 I think that he would be a pretty interesting fit next to Bargnani even though neither one of those guys are great defensive rebounders. I think that any time you have a chance to add a guy like Patterson at 13 you have to pull the trigger.

RHQ: I was listening to your podcast recently and you spent some time discussing Patterson, a player that many folks seem to suddenly be down on. I compare him to David West's situation coming out of Xavier where he was overlooked because maybe he didn't have the "upside" of many other players. Is he another David West in terms of potential or more of a solid role player in the mold of a Corliss Williamson?

JG: I think he has a lot of potential. Just because a guy is already 21 years old and is already physically mature, doesn't mean he doesn't have room to improve. And I think the fact that he's a polished player who's ready to produce from day one, to me that would be a major advantage if I'm a team like Toronto. Just because Ed Davis is three years away, that doesn't make him a better prospect. In fact in a lot of people's eyes, that would make him a worse prospect. So I understand why people aren't as excited about Patterson, there's a little more mystique around guys like Hassan Whiteside and Ed Davis and guys like this, but at the end of the day, that really only gets you so far and I think we've learned through history that that's not always the best approach in the draft, especially this portion of the draft. I understand why people want to swing for the fences and try and get an All-Star, but sometimes that's not realistic, especially at 13, where history says that, on average, you're going to get a pretty good player, not a superstar.

RHQ: Let's switch gears and look back at last year's draft for a moment. You absolutely nailed DeMar DeRozan's first year with Toronto and this quote sums things up nicely:

"Raptors fans need to understand DeRozan is a project, he's not going to significantly change anything for them this upcoming year in the win-loss column. He will be a rotation guy but it's all about developing him for the future."

Give us your thoughts on DeRozan going forward, can he be one of the key pieces for this club down the road?

JG: I guess it depends how you define "key piece" but in terms of being an important starter in the league, I'm not sure that he's shown enough to warrant that status yet, but it's probably still early at this point. He only played one season of college basketball, and really, as I think we said last year, was a blank slate. I'm really, really interested to see how he looks in Summer League this year; did he work on his game and improve his ball-handling ability, his shooting, especially his shooting, those things. I think that will give us a lot more of an indication of what type of player he could become.

RHQ: Another Raptor we've talked about quite a bit in the past is Andrea Bargnani. Your initial assessment of him when he was drafted has been bang-on to date as well regarding his eventual ceiling. Can this team be successful with Andrea Bargnani as one of the main building blocks?

JG: I think in Andrea's case he's definitely talented enough to get that "building block" status, I'm not sure there's another big man in this draft that's as offensively skilled as Andrea Bargnani. In terms of his overall talent level, it's off the charts. The question for me when you're building a team with Andrea Bargnani has always been, what do you surround him with, because he has some clear-cut deficiencies such as his defense and rebounding. And the guys around him really need to complement him in that regard and I think that's an area the Raptors sort of came up short last year and previously. When you look at Chris Bosh for example, here's another guy who's an amazing offensive player and who's improved tremendously as a rebounder and a defender, but if you had to pick the absolute best fit to put next to Bargnani, it probably wouldn't be Chris Bosh. It would be more of a Dwight Howard type. Now of course you can't always pick and choose guys like that, but the pieces around Andrea just aren't a great fit now and haven't been in order for him to reach his full potential in terms of helping the team win games.

RHQ: Totally agree and I think that's always been one our biggest frustrations on the site.

JG: That being said, I also think he needs to improve too and that the onus is on him to make a concerted effort to be a better rebounder. I mean I watched him in a couple games this year and he's got this kind of lackadaisical attitude to him, a little bit "too cool for school." If he wants to be a guy that just puts up stats and makes a lot of money and is a big deal in his home country, he's going to have that. But if he wants to reach the next level and really capitalize on his potential and be an All-Star caliber player, and make a dent in the NBA playoffs, then I think he needs to improve, especially from a mentality standpoint. And he's either realized that or is going to realize that at some point in his career pretty soon. Hopefully it's not too late for him.

RHQ: Every year we look at some of the draft's underrated players in your opinion. Last year you flagged Brandon Jennings and Steph Curry. Is there anyone who fits that mold this year?

JG: I'm not really seeing anyone who should be in that top 10 that isn't at least being discussed this year. We talked earlier in the process about Dominique Jones, a player most mocks had in the mid-second-round or even undrafted, and there was a lot of questions about "why did he enter the draft" and "what was he thinking, he needs to go back to USF." But his stock has risen accordingly over the past month and a half and I think he's a pretty solid first-round pick at this stage, so I don't necessarily know if he's as underrated at this stage as when we first started talking about him. But he's a player who's interesting to me and there are two guys I look at in the second round or who could even go undrafted that I think could really have nice NBA careers. They're not going to be All-Stars or anything but their value should be higher than it is right now, and that's Jerome Randle and Brian Zoubek. I don't see a Brandon Jennings right now, a player that this time last year was projected in the late teens which I thought was insane based on what I had seen in Italy, based on having seen him scrimmage etc. I don't see a guy like that at this stage but who knows, maybe someone slips into that range on draft night that we like.

RHQ: And on the flip side of the coin, overrated?

JG: I'm a little surprised that Gordon Hayward is getting the type of talk in the top 10 that he is. I think Gordon has the chance to develop into a nice NBA role player but to take him in the top 10 is a little bit of a reach with his body and kind of being a so-so athlete and not a great shooter from what we've seen, although he can develop that part of his game.

RHQ: Going back to the Raptors, have you heard any updates on the team trying to grab a second pick?

JG: I don't think it's a secret that they're very active right now in talking to teams in that 21 to 30 range. They're willing to put some money on the table which is a good sign for Raptors fans, that ownership is going to make a financial commitment to make the team better, and that's a huge thing. When you're competing with the Portland's and the Houston's of the world with ownership groups with blank check books, I think that's a big thing, especially in this draft as we already discussed.

RHQ: A few quick hits on two players we've been high on all year, Paul George and Xavier Henry - thoughts?

JG: Paul George is an interesting guy. You watch his film on Synergy and you come away pretty underwhelmed. Yes, he's obviously talented, he's obviously got some physical tools, but he really didn't know how to apply them during the year. And then you go into a gym and you see him in person and he blows you away.

So it's a pretty stark contrast there and it leads to all types of questions that even the best talent evaluators don't always have answers for. I mean, where was this during the year, is this just a temporary thing? If not, how do we motivate him, how can we help him reach his full potential, did he have the right kind of talent and infrastructure in place in college? So, I personally look at him and say "wow, I'm not sure there are five more talented guys in this draft." I know that the Raptors are looking at him as they may see him as the best talent on the board at 13.

RHQ: What about Xavier Henry? He's another player we've been really high on all year but the Raptors' scouts noted that they'd like to see him attack the rim more and didn't seem to be as enthused as we were, feeling he relied too much on his long-range shooting.

JG: We're talking about a player who's six-foot-six with an NBA body, good athleticism, a seven-foot wing-span, superb intangibles, incredible outside shooting ability, intensity on defense....if he were on top of these things, a great one-on-one shot creator, we're talking about a top 3 pick. Every player has his flaws and the ball-handling is probably Xavier's, but we've gotta remember that the kid is 19 years old, I mean there have been quite a few players who came to the draft and who weren't nearly as skilled as Xavier is, and managed to make significant improvements to their game over the next few years and over the course of their careers.

So I don't think a guy like Xavier is a finished product at this point. You look at his scoring instincts and his feel for the game and you gotta think that this is a guy who should be able to figure it out, even if he's not a great one-on-one player. I mean, neither is Ray Allen or Michael Redd. There are a lot of high-level NBA wing players who aren't great one-on-one players, they're not Iso guys, and they still end up having great careers. That's what your offensive system is for, that's what your teammates are for, that's why you pay your coach millions of dollars-to get that guy the ball in a position to score. I look at Xavier Henry and I think people are short-changing his upside a little bit because nobody's "finished" when they're 19, especially a guy with a work ethic like that.

RHQ: Contrast that to an Ekpe Udoh, who's 23, a player I'm not sold on, but another player Toronto appears to be interested in.

JG: When I first wrote an article on Udoh, I believe it was in December, nobody was talking about him as an NBA prospect period. And obviously we thought that was crazy.

You have to be wary of guys who burst onto the national radar that everybody goes ballistic over. That happened with Patrick O'Bryant, that happened with other people, however I don't consider Udoh to be the same. He was a top shot-blocker at Michigan, he was on our radar, we knew about him, it's not like he had one good game that really made everyone's opinion change. He's a nice player in many areas, he's got some intriguing attributes to his game, but if you're going to expect him to come in and be an All-Star player, I think you're mistaken. He's a player who's versatile and can do some really nice things, especially on the defensive end, he can play the 4 or the 5, but it depends I guess what your expectations are of him. If you've already got a good team in place, he's going to be outstanding for you. If you don't and you're expecting him to be a top offensive option, you've got some problems.

RHQ: Ok, last player, Avery Bradley, a player who was such a high recruit out of high school but who struggled to find his niche at Texas. Is this a player who could take a Russell Westbrook-esque leap in the coming season?

JG: Russell Westbrook may be the best overall athlete in the NBA. If you look at one of the main reasons why Westbrook was able to explode the way he did is because he's just so much more athletic than anyone else. I mean, no one can stay in front of this guy. Avery Bradley is a good athlete but I don't think he's anywhere near the same caliber as Westbrook. He doesn't go to the free-throw line at all, he struggles finishing at the rim, so no, I can't see him making that kind of jump.