Each year fans fall into the trap of thinking their team can fix what ails them simply by calling a name on Draft night. “NBA-Ready” might be the buzziest of all the commonly used refrains this time of year, yet it’s also almost always devoid of meaning once the new NBA season rolls around. Rookies generally stink. Picking up the nuances of defense, adjusting to the speed and strength of the competition and learning how to, you know, be an adult, all take time. Brandom Ingram shot 40.2 / 29.4 / 62.1 this year. Even the most highly regarded prospects aren’t shoring up a lineup in year one, at least not usually. Because prospect-raising takes time, teams that draft for need usually end the night with the same deficiencies they had when it began. Unless picking within a thicket of close-to-equal blue chippers, the smart play is to aim for talent and upside over positional convenience.
At pick no. 23, the Raptors aren’t going to have a collection of can’t miss rookies to choose from. And while there are free agency questions to answer, a 50-win team like the Raptors doesn’t exactly have a Knicksian situation on its hands — it’s a deep team with few glaring weak spots. If any team should be drafting with eyes on potential and skill in hopes of elevating its ceiling, it’s Toronto. But black and white the draft is not.
It’s difficult to stop yourself from drifting towards certain prospects based on the positions they do or do not play. As constructed (and that’s of course subject to change), Toronto has a cast of solid but imperfect big men on hand. Most mock drafts predict a run of centre prospects to come off the board in the Raptors range who, while unfinished, might boast more potential than anyone else in the mid-to-late first round. Bam Adebayo is a phenomenal athlete who doesn’t quite know how to play basketball yet, Anzejs Pasecniks is 7’2 and can shoot, and Harry Giles was once the most sought after high school player in the States. But what’s appealing about adding another potentially flawed big to a team that employs Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and probably Serge Ibaka? Is there a line where fit can supersede upside?
Power forward might once again be the team’s most pressing need. If Patrick Patterson departs, so to will the team’s best play-making big man. Bigs without traces of guard DNA lose you playoff series in 2017. T.J. Leaf, Semi Ojeleye and D.J. Wilson all look like modern fours, but their upside doesn’t quite match that of their bigger, more paint-bound classmates.
In the back court, Kyle Lowry’s place with the Raptors is still unclear. Problem is, any point guard with a chance of one day occupying the gaping chasm a Lowry departure would leave will be off the board long before Toronto is on the clock. A reach for one of Derrick White or Jawun Evans might make the most long-term sense for the health of the roster; what if it means the Raptors overlook a potential star?
This draft class and the Raptors have one thing in common: the wing position is thin for both. DeMarre Carroll is a prime salary dump candidate this summer, and P.J. Tucker’s return could be an expensive proposition. Terrance Ferguson might be the best positional fit available, and has the raw skills and athleticism to justify being picked at no. 23. He is however, a young 19 years old, and may need a season of G-League seasoning before he’s ready assume a regular role on the big club. Remember, rookies rarely contribute positively from day one.
Sticking to the game plan and picking the best player available is a wonderful idea in theory. But with the imperfect options that such a low first-round pick will surely offer, some compromise will have to be reached in the Raptors’ front office on June 22nd.
With all of this in mind, what position do you think the Raptors need to address most in the draft? Vote in the poll.
What position do you want to see the Raptors address in the draft?
This poll is closed
Centre — those prospects have the most upside
Forward — shooting and passing over star potential
Point Guard — Lowry insurance is crucial
Wing — the right mix of fit and upside