It's a different kind of unknown for Raptors fans this year. Last season, in a draft that dropped off significantly talent-wise after the lottery, nobody had any feel for the direction the Raptors would go. And when the Bruno Caboclo selection was made, everybody but Fran Fraschilla was still in the dark.
This year, we know where the Raptors are lacking - a playoff thrashing at the hands of the Wizards highlighted the team's glaring flaws. We also know that the Raptors pick will (probably) be a more recognizable name than their 2014 first-rounder. Of the players who have been mocked to the Raptors by some of the most trusted draft-prognosticators, each and every one took part in this year's NCAA tournament. Some even used the Madness as a platform for a coming-out party.
The problem is, across nine of the major outlets' mock drafts, seven different players have been projected to land in Toronto. Which is to say, nobody has a damned clue who the Raptors will end up with.
Whoever does get their name called as the 20th pick though, will likely be able to fill a niche on the Raptors immediately. This is a draft rich with guys who have the ability to one day be the 4th or 5th-best starters on title-chasing teams; not a ton of All-Stars, but a lot of guys with at least one defined skill that will translate beautifully to the NBA game.
Let's have a look at the candidates. Here are the players who have been mocked to the Raptors by some of the best draft-nicks in the business.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Forward, Arizona (Chad Ford, ESPN / Sam Vecenie, CBSSports.com)
6'7, 220 pounds, 7'1 Wingspan
I've spouted off about my adoration for Hollis-Jefferson multiple times. Not only does he seem like an outrageously charismatic guy, he also would address a weakness that was made all too apparent by John Wall and company in April: perimeter defense. With a lack of traditional rim-protection inside, stymieing ball-handlers at the point of attack is of utmost importance for the Raptors. Frankly, they sucked at it this season. Toronto allowed the 6th-highest frequency of shots inside six feet in the league this year. Hollis-Jefferson's M.O. is to keep people from getting to that range at all costs.
The problem with Hollis-Jefferson is his shot. His herky-jerky release translated into a 20.7 percent clip from three-point range this season. It's not as if he shoots like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but his mechanics are going to need more than a couple rolls of duct tape to fix. If he can work out his stroke though, his athleticism could make him the steal of the draft when we look back on this class in a few years:
That genetic defect that makes me go gaga over hyper-athletic guys with little feel for game has me freaking over Rondae Hollis_Jefferson— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 21, 2015
Even with his offensive shortcomings, it's hard to envision Hollis-Jefferson's floor being any worse than that of a player like Tony Allen. A player like that can be a liability at times (see the Grizzlies-Warriors second round playoff series), but generally, it's nice to have a player capable of stopping opposing stars on the roster. Unfortunately, the fit with the Raptors might not be optimal - James Johnson is locked in for next year and floor-spacing from Toronto's forwards is crucial because of DeMar DeRozan's suspect shooting. Excuse me while I go shed a tear.
Trey Lyles, Forward, Kentucky (Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com)
6'10, 235 pounds, 7'3.5 Wingspan
In a draft full of guys that will excel thanks to having one elite skill, Lyles is an outlier. He isn't fantastic at anything, but he can bring something to every aspect of the game. He's naturally a power forward, but guarded threes for most of his college season thanks to Kentucky's loaded front court. Additionally, from that small forward spot, he managed to pull down 9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes - not easy to do with Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor at the same time.
Offensively, he proved he can knock down a mid-range jumper, but struggled from downtown (13.8 percent). However, his shooting stroke is far more technically sound than Hollis-Jefferson, so there's hope that he can learn to knock down at least the odd corner three. Essentially, it seems like he can be a guy who does a lot well, but nothing brilliantly. As Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out in a recent article about Kevin Love: "Doing everything at a "B" level is the new NBA skill."
That would seem to bode well for Lyles, no matter where he ends up.
Bobby Portis, Forward, Arkansas (Zach Harper, CBSSports.com)
6'10.5, 235 pounds, 7'1.5 Wingspan
Toronto is set to endure an exodus of big men from their rotation. Starter Amir Johnson, back-up Tyler Hansbrough and even reserves Chuck Hayes and Greg Stiemsma seem to have reached the end of their Raptors tenures. Portis makes loads of sense for the Raptors as a result.
Defensively, Portis is tremendously mobile, can defend out to the perimeter and can even handle being switched on smaller players from time to time. His massive strides teleport him from place to place on the defensive end with ease. If Johnson is indeed done in a Raptors uniform, Portis might be an ideal long-term replacement (with the potential for even more offensive upside: he shot 14-30 from three while averaging 23.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per-40 this year).
Montrezl Harrell, Forward, Louisville (Blake Murphy, The Score)
6'8, 240 pounds, 7'3 Wingspan
Like Hollis-Jefferson, Harrell is among my absolute favourites. He does a lot of the things Portis does defensively and might even be more capable of guarding smaller players on the perimeter. On the offensive end, he's very much in the mould of Amir Johnson - he doesn't require an abundance of touches to put up numbers. Most of his opportunities will come off of dump-offs and offensive rebounds - and that's just fine in an offense that is so dominated by the perimeter exploits of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. He - very much like Portis - has a wonky release that worked for him from mid-range this year - but his long-range shooting is still lacking (24.3 percent this year)
What he does bring on offense that Johnson never showed, is an ability to run like a gazelle in transition - runs that typically end with thunderous dunks.
Golden State just won an NBA title with one of the most versatile, position-less rosters we've ever seen. Harrell has the mobility to guard wings, and the wingspan and motor stop bigger players inside. It wouldn't be surprising to see a team reach for Harrell with the hopes of morphing him into the second coming of Draymond Green. (Whether or not he has the ability to do that remains to be seen).
Kelly Oubre Jr., Guard/Forward, Kansas (Chris Mannix, SI.com)
6'7, 200, 7'1.5 Wingspan
If people are sick of Terrence Ross, a selection of Oubre might provide hope that the "Three-and"D" role on the Raptors' wing might have a reliable man doing the job; a man with the handle, athleticism and shooting stroke to be even better than Ross. A year ago, Oubre was hanging around the top of most premature 2015 mock drafts, so he's always had hype surrounding him.This year in Bill Self's system at Kansas, he played just 21 minutes per game, so his numbers on the surface are not all that impressive. Pro-rated out to a per-40 minute basis, Oubre averaged 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals (the best among small forwards on Draft Express' Top 100 board).
Playing under Self has caused questions to creep up in regards to prospects in the past (remember how heavily Andrew Wiggins' "lack of killer instinct" was over-analyzed last year?), and it's entirely possible that Oubre will thrive in the more wide-open pro game. At the very least, adding him to the Raptors' roster to compete for minutes at the three could finally light a fire under Ross.
R.J. Hunter, Guard, Georgia State (Andrew Gould, Bleacher Report)
6'5, 180, 6'9.5 Wingspan
Hunter (along with his dad) was one of the darlings of the NCAA tournament, his game-winning shot against 3rd-seeded Baylor propelled his Georgia State team to an unlikely Round of 32 appearance:
That shot showcased exactly what should make Hunter a viable NBA player: his ludicrous range. He clanked a lot of shots this season; seven out of every ten threes he launched failed to find mesh. However, as the undisputed best player on his team, opposing Sun Belt Conference defenses completely sold out to make Hunter's life miserable. Before his junior season, he managed three-point percentages of 36.5 and 39.5. You'd have to assume that against lackadaisical regular season NBA defenses, he will be able to revive that shooting percentage at the next level.
But because of his wiry frame and inability to create much offense via penetration (74.5 percent of his shots were jumpers per Draft Express), his niche will almost undoubtedly be as a spot-up shooter. A player of that style might be a welcome change of pace for the Raptors. After watching Lou Williams so regularly kill the team's ball movement this year, a shooter that doesn't need the ball in his hands could foster more ball-whipping on Toronto's second unit. Fans will have to understand that he probably won't ever bloom into a late-first-round treasure. His potential is confined to a crawlspace - the ceiling is very close to the floor.
Kevon Looney, Forward, UCLA (Scott Howard, NBA.com, Draft Express)
6'9.5, 220, 7'3 Wingspan
Looney feels like a "Three & D" wing stuck in the body of someone who should be able to do so much more. For a large swath of the season, Looney was projected as a Top-10 pick; an ability to defend, rebound and shoot 41.5 percent from deep from the power forward spot will do that. But as the draft has drawn closer, his overall game has been scrutinized to the point that he's no longer a lock to even be selected in the lottery. He has nothing to speak of in terms of a post game, and lacks the strength and bulk needed for an NBA four.
It's dangerous to get too concerned over the strength of a spindly 19-year-old. As his body fills out, his confidence in close spaces should improve (as should his already impressive 11.9 rebounds per 40 minutes). That said, Looney will need to develop slowly and may not be able to provide much production immediately. On a team with two multi-year projects occupying the end of the bench, the fit might not be great.
What do you think about these prospects? Is there one that stands out as the one you'd like the Raptors to take 20th overall?