After all the rampant speculation, it's finally here: the 2015 NBA Draft! Our insane guessing games can finally come to an end. (Until free agency starts next week; then get ready to get nuts.) The Draft is a special time on the basketball calendar - a day reserved for hope, promise and, frankly, abject horror.
For their part, the Raptors have made 33 picks in the 18 drafts in which they've participated. (They had no picks in 2007 and 2013.) Some players have been good, some have been bad, and some have been Michael Bradley.
While my grasp on the current crop of prospects is tenuous at best, I can, with the benefit of hindsight, expound on the lessons I - and by extension, we as Raptors fans - have learned over the years of draft picks. As many a grand philosopher has said: those who forget their past, are doomed to repeat it. (Note: this axiom does not apply to Isaiah Thomas and the New York Knicks.)
Anyway, on to the lessons!
1) Not every European player will be the next big thing
In 1998, the Milwaukee Bucks picked a gawky German kid named Dirk Nowitzki with the ninth pick. (They'd quickly trade him to the Mavericks for Robert Traylor, RIP.) While Nowitzki was hardly the first Euro player to make a splash in the NBA, in Dallas he became a perennial All-Star, All-NBAer, and one of the most noteworthy and valuable players in the league.
The rest of the league naturally scrambled to find the next Dirk. (Spoiler: they're still looking.) The Raptors have not been immune to this urge as well. And while I know you're expecting me to trash talk Andrea Bargnani here, I'd like to point you to another far more egregious pick the following year. With the 12th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, the Raptors selected Aleksander Radojevic, a 7'3" centre out of Montenegro. (Pause for collective groan.)
In a sterling - and injury-riddled - 15 game career (15 games total!), the big Radojevic managed a total of 26 points and 36 rebounds. You're not going to believe this, but his career never took off.
2) Don't draft a player who runs like a duck
On the face of it, this seems pretty obvious. Ducks are not athletic animals. They can swim fast, sure, but on dry land (where basketball is typically played) they're useless. This fact of nature, however, did not stop the Raptors from burning the eighth pick in the 2004 Draft on noted duck-runner Rafael Araujo. The pick marked the beginning of the truly psychedelic Rob Babcock era in Toronto. We should have seen the signs of trouble immediately. I mean, look at those feet go!
On the bright side, it could have been way worse. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP could have been selected right afterwards with the ninth pick. Wait, what--
3) Sometimes second round picks take time to develop
P.J. Tucker holds a rare place in Raptors lore. Drafted by Toronto in 2006 with the 35th pick, he played in a mere 17 games for the Raptors before being waived by the team in March of 2007. Tucker would go on a legit basketball odyssey through Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany before, what's this, returning to the NBA in 2012-13 for an upstart Phoenix Suns team.
After making around $2 million in total in the NBA, Tucker is now signed to a trill $16.5 million contract as a multi-positional wrecker for the Suns. (Sure, the team has imploded as of late, but that's hardly Tucker's fault.)
And that rare place in Toronto lore? He remains the lone Raptors second round pick to make something of himself in the NBA. (All this after they held on to Roko Ukic for a full four years.)
4) Muscles do not always make the man
And heeeeeere comes the Joey Graham lesson. You knew it was coming. In retrospect, the 2005 Draft remains one of the most bizarre screw-ups in Raptors history. (Would you believe they finished 27-55 the next year?) The Raptors had the seventh and 16th picks and many figured they'd go for Danny Granger at seven. Instead, they reached on Charlie Villanueva (a lesson in itself, but I digress) and, since Graham was pegged for around that 16th spot, decided they'd look dumb to let him pass-by. This plan did not work out.
In Graham's defense, he looked the part; the guy was and remains an absolute specimen of a human male. Once he was in the NBA, he'd do things every so often that would remind you of this. (See here as he dunks on Alonzo Mourning, an NBA rite of passage.) Of course, as the years ticked by and Graham resolutely did not put it all together, it was clear the Raptors had a lemon. A muscular lemon, yes, but a lemon nonetheless.
So yes, somehow with two top 20 picks, the Raptors managed to miss on Danny Granger twice. He went next at 17 to the Pacers. And I will forever blame Joey Graham's muscles.
5) Two years away from being two years away is a long time
We all know the story now: in the 2014 NBA Draft, GM Masai Ujiri blew everyone's mind when he selected little-known Brazilian, Bruno Caboclo, for the Raptors with the 20th pick. Afterwards, noted draft savant Fran Fraschilla said that Caboclo was "two years away from being two years away," and instantly a meme was born. (I'm still scratching my head as to why Fraschilla didn't just say "four years away" but then again, I'm not on TV.)
After year one of this presumptive four year process, we're still a long ways away from knowing what the Raptors have with Bruno. He's been juggled back and forth between the D-League and a suit on the bench. He's been reduced to tears. He managed to get into eight games in his rookie season and, over-the-top fan reaction aside, did make a couple of eye-opening plays in garbage time. He's got a long shooting range, even longer arms, and a quick step for someone with his height. He's also slight, shy, and almost painfully young.
Four years is a hell of a long time in NBA years. Entire empires have come and gone in that time. The Raptors will undoubtedly be a completely different team by the time Bruno comes into his own. (Assuming he actually does.) The franchise, of course, hopes Bruno will be great; the city and its fans hope he'll be amazing.
Ultimately, this is the final teaching of the NBA Draft: it is a lesson in endless optimism.
We hope, we hope, we hope.