As of the day this post goes live, we're exactly a month away from the NBA draft. In order to keep myself interested in Raptors-related affairs, I caught the final instalment of Open Gym (check it out for yourself if you have an hour to spare). Mission accomplished, I'm ready for 2014-2015. Last week, I offered my thoughts on the wing prospects that the Raptors should be taking a long look at. In the poll Adam posted upon the completion of the season, you all also identified depth at the 4-5 position as another area of concern for the Raps moving forward.
This draft is peculiar in that there are some great front court talents right at the top (Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Noah Vonleh, etc.) and some intriguing guys in the 2nd round (Khem Birch, Jordan Bachynski, Patric Young, etc.), but it's pretty light in the middle portion, i.e. where the Raptors are picking (20th). We'll go into more detail on the 2nd rounders at a later date, so for now, we're taking a look at the few fringe 1st rounders that could be available when the Raptors have their pick. Here goes!
Adreian Payne (1991), PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Pro-ready. If you view the Raptors as a team that now just needs to find the right pieces to build around the current core, this is your guy for the front court. Adreian Payne is one of the most impressive athletes in this draft class, especially at the Power Forward position. He was one of the most versatile and efficient offensive players in college this year, with a TS% of 61% and a 3P% of 42%. Sporting a vertical of 37.5 inches and a 7'4 wingspan, Payne fits the profile of an NBA stretch 4. He has a variety of moves in his offensive arsenal - he can shoot from distance, post up, has a midrange game, and is very efficient around the rim. Adreian Payne represents what we've come to expect out of Tom Izzo's players from MSU. He stayed in college for 4 years, improved each year, has a polished offensive game, and should be ready to contribute from day one at the NBA-level. It remains to be seen how he handles the athleticism and size of NBA forwards on either end of the floor. Payne spent 3 years at MSU as an energy guy honing his craft under Izzo, and eventually became the main offensive weapon for the Spartans in his Senior year. He's seen as a player who's hopefully going to be an effective role player for a playoff team. While Payne has obvious strengths that are going to be appealing to a lot of teams, it's the red flags he comes with that have his draft stock in a state of flux.
He's already 23 years old, and will be 24 before the end of his rookie season and that's only part of the problem. There are a variety of factors that contribute to his limited upside. Although he played 28 mins/game as a senior, he suffers from a lung condition that's been the cause of fatigue in many of his games. For a 4 year player, his basketball IQ is just average - he still turns the ball over too often (2/Game). Payne is also not much use defensively at this stage in his career; he gives up low post position too easily, and lacks the instincts play well off the ball. He often lost his man when caught ball-watching, or reacted too late to help on penetration. Long term, he just looks like he'll be an offensive weapon off the bench, if you're willing to swallow his defensive deficiencies.
I wouldn't mind Adreian Payne as a potential Raptors first round pick if it weren't for one key point -- Patrick Patterson. While the two aren't a like-for-like swap, they'd essentially play the same role in this squad. With Patterson offering some more resistance and versatility defensively, and only being a restricted free agent, I think it'd be a waste of an asset to replace him via the draft when there are other holes the Raptors need to fill. If the Raptors feel like they can't afford to keep Patterson, Payne makes sense as a stretch 4 whose energy and athleticism hopefully helps him improve as an asset on both ends of the court.
Clint Capela (1994), PF, Switzerland
Clint Capela 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Clint Capela is one of the several intriguing international talents available in this draft. Capela's physical attributes alone make him a compelling prospect. He stands 6'11 with a great 7'4 1/2 wingspan, has great mobility and plays above the rim consistently. When you watch his highlight film, it's amazing to see how quickly he gets up and down the court. While he's not yet a polished offensive option, he's able to join fast breaks effortlessly and then use his length and leaping ability to convert easy 2s. He shot nearly 70% near the rim due to his soft touch around the basket with both hands. Capela shows significant potential in the pick and roll offense, due to his mobility and finishing ability. Where I find Capela most intriguing is on the defensive end of the court. He has tremendous instincts for rebounding and blocking shots -- 13 REB and 3.2 BLK per 40 mins. With his elite lateral quickness, he's a natural in guarding the pick and roll. In terms of physical tools, Capela has everything you'd want in a big man. If he's able to overcome his deficiencies, he's got as much potential as any big man available in the 20s.
Capela carries many of the same red flags we tend to see in toolsy International front-court prospects. At this point in time, Capela's offensive game is only consistently effective around the basket. He's shown some ability to hit a jump shot, but he can't be considered a threat from outside. Capela also struggles from the free throw line -- below 60% this year. His athletic superiority in Europe enabled him to be difficult to handle in transition and in pick and rolls, but questions remain as to how effective his one dimensional offensive game will be when facing NBA athletes. Defensively, he has all the potential in the world, but suffers from mental lapses you'd expect from a 19/20 year old in the pros. He'll also need to build some strength in order to hold his own against NBA bigs, but again, he's young and has time on his side to address that issue.
Clint Capela would be an interesting pick for the Raptors. I like his fit as a potential replacement for Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson in the future. He has the skills to start alongside Jonas Valanciunas in a few years, and their games are a good fit next to one another. He won't be a big contributor right out of the gate, but this would be a pick for the future. We all love Amir and JV, but neither of them is the rim protector that this squad currently needs to anchor the defence. Capela has the potential to fill that void in a few years, and I wouldn't mind seeing him in a Raptors uniform.
Mitch McGary (1992), PF/C, Michigan
Mitch McGary Preseason Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
It has been a tumultuous year for a guy who was considered a lock for the first round in the 2013 draft. After choosing to return to Michigan for his Sophomore season, Mitch McGary's had nothing but bad luck ever since. He missed most of the year due to a nagging back injury and upon the completion of the season, the NCAA forced his hand into declaring for the NBA draft when they suspended him for one year for testing positive for marijuana. Before these issues crept up, McGary was a player many had pegged as a potential lottery pick. McGary's calling card as an NBA player will be his energy and rebounding ability. In just 24 mins per game, McGary pulled down an average of 8.3 boards (3 offensive). He's an agile, quick player who does most of his damage offensively in transition and rolling on P&Rs. Screen-setting is an undervalued skill at the NBA level and McGary does it very, very well. It's part of the reason he was so effective in the pick and roll game. Defensively, his exceptionally high motor enables him to compensate for his average length (7' wingspan). He has great hands on the defensive end as well, picking up a ridiculous 3.2 steals per 40 minutes this year (small sample size). His size, quickness and basketball IQ should help him be a solid positional post defender in the NBA.
The skills and productivity are there, but that's not what holds McGary back. The back injury is a very serious concern, as not many people initially expected him to miss as much time as he did. While the marijuana suspension decision is a separate discussion entirely, NBA teams will have character concerns due to the obvious consequences he should have been aware of. McGary doesn't project as a high-upside player; he isn't a threat out of the post and doesn't have a reliable enough jump shot. Defensively, he doesn't project to have much more potential that to be positionally sound and disruptive with his quick hands. He lacks the ball skills and instinct to be a rim protector, showing just average shot blocking ability in the NCAA.
NBA teams are always clamouring for guys with the motor, size, energy and rebounding ability that McGary brings to the table. For the Raptors, they already employ similar players in Amir Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Tyler Hansbrough. If the back injury is behind him, McGary should have a bench role in the NBA for several years. Unfortunately for the Raptors, while they do need depth at the 4/5, the skills McGary brings to the table aren't unique enough to warrant using a top 20 pick. If the Raptors were to move down and/or clear some of the front court glut, McGary would be far more enticing a prospect.
Jarnell Stokes (1994), PF, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Jarnell Stokes is the best rebounder in the draft. Per 40 minutes, Stokes averaged 19.5 points and 13.7 rebounds. Although he stands only 6'8-6'9 in shoes, Stokes sports a wingspan of 7'1, which in conjunction with his impressive strength, allowed him to play the 4/5 collegiately. Although Stokes is a Junior, he's born in 1994 and is younger than many sophomores in this draft class. His production improved greatly as his career at Tennessee wore on, and become the fulcrum for his Vols team in their NCAA tournament run this year. Stokes is an absolute load to deal with near the basket and adept at drawing contact, which led to him attempting 7 FTs per 40 mins. Stokes himself acknowledges that his greatest strength is his strength -- he's able to do a fine job bodying opponents in the post on both ends of the court. For a guy his size, he's very mobile and does a nice job of running the floor. He has an improving post game that will need to continue to evolve in order to deal with NBA length. Stokes plays with a lot of energy, and seems aware of things he needs to work on in order to contribute in the NBA.
Stokes has a few issues that raise some questions about how his game will translate to the NBA game. He struggled at times to score against long defenders due to his average reach. In the NBA, he'll encounter players who are longer than him and strong enough to deal with him, and that's going to be concerning for many teams. Defensively, his average lateral quickness will pose some major problems moving forward. How effectively will he be able to navigate through pick and rolls, and how will he compensate for his average foot speed against face up 4s? Stokes only shot 35% on his jump shots this season. In order to become a viable 4, he'll have to develop a reliable enough jumper to keep defenders honest.
It seems every year, we see undersized, but elite rebounders, like DeJuan Blair, Paul Millsap, even Jeff Adrien fall through the cracks during the NBA Draft. Stokes seems like he's the next guy in that line of players that teams will regret passing on. Rebounding is the most translatable skill to the NBA, and for that reason, Stokes will have a place on a roster somewhere. Unfortunately, unless he develops more of a face up game and/or a jump shot, he doesn't fill any holes on the Raptors roster. He'd be an interesting player to take a chance on maybe at 37, but not with a first round pick.
Kristaps Porzingis (1995), PF/C, Latvia
Kristaps Porzingis 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Kristaps Porzingis has an awesome name. He's also my favourite big prospect, and quite possibly my favourite overall prospect, in the Raptors' draft range. Porzingis is an athletic, mobile 4/5 with tons of potential on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he uses his length and athleticism to provide a big target in transition, on pick and rolls and lobs. Not only that, he has a variety of offensive skills that are a staple in today's stretch 4s. He's a capable shooter, with range all the way out to the three point line; he has a developing mid range game, and is comfortable shooting turn around jumpers from the post. Porzingis has a reliable handle that helps him drive to the basket with either hand, and soft touch at the rim once he gets there. Although he has some trouble finishing at times because of the lack of strength, he has the requisite offensive skills to be a starting stretch 4 in the NBA. To this point, he almost sounds like an Andrea Bargnani clone. It's defensively, however, that I find Porzingis most intriguing. He has great instincts as both, a help defender and in man to man situations. With his elite mobility and lateral quickness, he can keep up with most 4s. To highlight his defensive potential, I bring you the following excerpt from DraftExpress:
Besides the potential he shows as an athletic "stretch four," Porzinigis also possesses another coveted attribute in his shot-blocking ability. The 6.6 blocks he averaged per-40 minutes this past summer at the U18 European Championship is the highest rate of any player in our database since 2012 by a wide margin. His 2.9 blocks per-40 is also the third best rate in the past fifteen seasons in Spain among players under the age of 20 (better than what current NBA per-minute shot-blocking leader Serge Ibaka averaged at the same age for example).
From DraftExpress.com http://www.draftexpress.com#ixzz32nqPDjnO
For all of Porzingis's skills offensively, he still doesn't have any hint of a post game besides shooting turn around jumpers. He's very slender at this point in time, and his lack of strength has made it difficult for him to finish in traffic. He also gets bodied by older, bigger players and needs to refine his rebounding technique. On the offensive end, he's unable to take advantage of mismatches presented to him via switches, due to an under-developed post game. Porzingis isn't a tough player at the moment, and when you combine that with his lack of strength, it raises a red flag. While he flashes a nice stroke on his jump shot, he's still an inconsistent shooter -- only 33% from 3 this year. Some of that should subside as he picks up more experience, but as of right now, those are very real concerns.
East European Towers? Latvia to Lithuania? Riga to Vilnius? I'm all in. In all seriousness, JV and Porzingis have complementary games that have me salivating at the idea of them playing together. Porzingis would play a perimeter-oriented PF position, who also doubles as the main interior defensive presence. Porzingis seems like a classic stash-away prospect. He can stay in Europe for another year or two as the Raptors explore the ceiling of the current core, as he continues to develop his game abroad under the watch of our International-savvy GM.
Those are the top 5 bigs that I think the Raptors should be taking a look at with the 20th overall pick. I'd be happy with Capela or Porzingis, but could talk myself into Adreian Payne as well. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section!
If you wish to see some NCAA stats yourself, try here.
If you wish to see the NBA Draft Combine measurements, try here.