Before we dive into how one person thinks the Raptors should approach today's Draft, let's clear one thing up: nobody knows anything about anything.
From the discussions of upside, floor and fit to the feeble attempts at determining who the best players available are at any given time, all any prognosticators are really doing is making educated guesses that they hope don't make them look stupid. For every person who pegged Giannis Antetokounmpo as the steal of the 2013 draft, there's a handful of experts who had Ben McLemore turning into a stud two guard. The Draft is fickle. Blue-chippers will disappoint, anonymous prospects will pop -- the situations players get drafted into matter, and what appears to be common knowledge on June 23rd, 2016 won't necessarily hold up as this year's class matures. Not to mention, trades and unexpected selections will inevitably alter what we think to be true about the draft board at this very moment.
To illustrate how wayward draft-related proclamations can go, here's a snippet of what I wrote about Delon Wright the night he was drafted in 2015:
At 23-years old, the 6'6 Wright should be able to contribute right away and provide a defensive boost to the Raptors' second unit ... given that the Raptors already have two long-term projects occupying the end of the bench in Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, it makes complete sense to select a more NBA-ready prospect like Wright. It's somewhat unclear whether or not the Raptors are legitimately looking to "win now," but they should once again be playoff worthy next season, and having a rookie actually capable of contributing from the start of the season will surely be useful.
This makes me look great, doesn't it? But believe it or not, people were actually talking themselves into Wright being the first point guard off the bench behind Kyle Lowry after he was selected -- I wasn't the only one, I swear. So yeah, take everything that is said on Thursday night about whoever the Raptors select with the understanding that player projections are an ever-moving target.
With all that fun-smothering out of the way, let's get in to what the Raptors could and/or should look to do on Draft night. Thanks to Masai Ujiri's mastery in fleecing James Dolan and the Knicks, we have twice as many chances to look silly with our projections.
For the purposes of this exercise, we'll disregard the possibility of trades shaking up the Raptors plans. With most teams in the top-10 apparently looking to trade out, the ninth pick isn't a super valuable trade chip. The selection could be a nice accompaniment with a Raptors roster player serving as the main course -- but if that player is, for example, Terrence Ross, the financial details don't lend themselves well to a Thursday night trade. (If Ross is dealt after his extension kicks in with the start new league year, and he's paired with the ninth pick, signed to a rookie deal, the Raptors will be able to take on substantially more salary in a deal -- it would just have to be done 30 days after the ninth pick is locked up).
Enough preamble and caveat-stating. It's time to look into what the Raptors should be looking to do with each of their first round picks.
Pick No. 9 - Draft for need, or aim for potential?
As I discussed in my profile of Marquette's Henry Ellenson, "drafting for need" is kind of a myth. Every team would love to patch up a roster hole with a cost-effective rookie who can fill in from day one. But the reality that we're reminded of, year after year, is that most rookies are out of their depth in their debut seasons.
Last year was the exception, not the rule. Still, the success of last year's draftees will surely and unfairly skew the expectations for the incoming class. Guys like Myles Turner aren't supposed to immediately fill the front court void that existed in Indiana with Roy Hibbert and David West no longer around. And second-round finds like Norman Powell and Josh Richardson don't find themselves playing crucial playoff minutes very often. The 2015 draft class was an outlier in its brilliance. Don't expect the same from the 2016 group.
A couple needs do stand out when you scan Toronto's roster. Power forward is an obvious one. Whether it's a starting-caliber player who can act as an antidepressant to those who watched Luis Scola this season, or a dependable back-up who can bump Patrick Patterson into the starting five without compromising the second unit's effectiveness, the Raptors are surely after a power forward this summer. On top of that, the back-up centre minutes behind Jonas Valanciunas are going to have to be soaked up by somebody when Bismack Biyombo inevitably makes stacks elsewhere.
Neither of those needs are ones that can be erased by the draft.
Plenty of mock drafts have the Raptors "solving" their front court issues with someone like Ellenson or Jakob Poeltl. Maybe a team at the bottom of the standings could entrust substantial minutes to an incoming rookie big man. But for a team like the Raptors, coming off a franchise-best season and perhaps having just one more run with a cheap, in-his-prime Kyle Lowry, asking a rookie to play a meaningful role isn't feasible. Those aforementioned weak spots are more than likely going to be mended via trade, free agency, or internal growth from in-house prospects with time spent learning the system.
Therefore, the Raptors, who don't stand to be boosted by a first-year player anyway, should be playing the long game. Drafting for upside isn't a surefire strategy, of course. Guys with other-worldly tools cut their fingers off in the workshop all the time. Toronto clearly believes in its ability to develop players, though. If Ujiri thinks he can groom an incomplete-but-tantalizing prospect into a core player two or three years down the road, he should take the gamble on maximizing what the ninth pick -- a bonus selection for the franchise -- can return in value.
Assessing who in fact will turn into the best NBA player is like measuring intergalactic galactic distances by parallax in the 19th century. It's inexact. But from a personal preference standpoint, any one of Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, Domantas Sabonis or Timothé Luwawu would make sense for the Raptors at number nine -- that is if one of the consensus top-eight prospects doesn't fall into Ujiri's lap.
I can't wait to point out just how wrong I was with that last sentence in a couple years' time.
Pick No. 27 - Draft and Stash
If players at the bottom of the top-10 are hard to analyze, pinpointing who will flourish and who will flop out of the mess of names in the draft's soft middle is nearly impossible.
The good thing for the Raptors' front office, is that they can hone in their focus with the 27th pick. Toronto's roster is loaded with lottery tickets and prospects already -- Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Norman Powell and the soon-to-be ninth-overall pick will comprise a third of the roster, without much certainty in terms of what their 2016-17 contributions will be. Powell should be a rotation player, but after him lies a lot of murkiness. Adding a second 15-man roster-bound player at 27 would only put further pressure on the Raptors' depth.
Because of those constraints, the Raptors will probably look to stash this selection overseas for a year or two until the roster becomes less cluttered. I'm the wrong person to ask about the potential of guys like Juan Hernangomez, Ivica Zubac or Ante Zizic, but don't be at all surprised if one of those names is called out by Adam Silver at 27.
There is also the off chance that the Raptors come to an agreement with a prospect to send him to the D-League for a year before signing him to an NBA contract similarly to what the Thunder did with Josh Huestis a couple years ago. But that would require the prospect to forego an NBA rookie scale salary in the process, so it's less likely we'll see that than from the Raptors than a pure Euro-stash.
Whomever the Raptors select with their second pick in the draft, he'll likely be mostly unknown to you. The important thing you must remember heading into Thursday night, though, is that not knowing isn't only okay -- it's the standard.
What do you think of this base strategy for the Raptors? Is there a different way you'd go about approaching the draft?