The first big step of the NBA off-season is now behind us. The 2018 NBA Draft took place in Brooklyn last night, and other than a couple of picks trading hands there was very little excitement to be had.
The Toronto Raptors Sat This One Out, and That’s Fine
Sources had said Masai Ujiri was looking to trade into the top 10 of last night’s draft.
According to one league source, no one on Toronto's roster is off limits as the Raptors pursue a top-10 pick https://t.co/AZzCv8fPXD— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 18, 2018
Nothing of the sort materialized, which, if you’ve been paying attention, shouldn’t surprise you: Hardly anything ever leaks out of Toronto’s camp.
So the first round went down without a peep from the Raptors, and then… so did the second!
Which I think is OK. Masai Ujiri has created a three-year window with this core, and I don’t think he wants to abandon it after one—especially one that saw the Raptors break a franchise record for wins. Trading Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan this offseason for a draft pick—even a top-four pick—would be a step back.
While that ultimately might be the move Toronto makes, I think it makes more sense to do that next summer. Ujiri and Toronto have proven over the last three years that they can continue to be very good while improving around the edges, and I’m fine with the team taking that approach this summer.
(Trading Lowry or DeRozan for another star player, who helps the team improve right away, is a different story. But we’ll have to wait a little while longer to see if any sort of deal like that becomes available.)
As usual, Masai Ujiri Found an UDFA to Bring to Camp
If you stayed up late enough, you did see one tiny bit of news: As soon as the second round wrapped, Toronto signed undrafted free agent Rawle Alkins to a training camp deal:
Source: Arizona wing Rawle Alkins has agreed to a training camp deal with the Toronto Raptors.— Jeremy Woo (@JeremyWoo) June 22, 2018
If the name sounds familiar, you’ve got an amazing memory for Raptors minutiae, as Toronto brought Alkins in for a pre-draft workout last year. Atkins then decided to return to Arizona for his sophomore season, but the team clearly liked what they saw.
I will admit to knowing virtually nothing about Alkins, other than what I’ve read this morning: He’s a small shooting guard (6’5”) with a long wingspan who plays solid defense but isn’t a knockdown shooter. Sounds a lot like Norm Powell! The free agent deal will let him get some run with the summer league team and bring him to camp, so the Raptors will get a good look at him and determine whether or not he can contribute at the NBA level.
Draft Highlight: Woj’s Tweets
You’ve no doubt seen it by now, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had more than a little fun skirting the “please don’t tip picks” request from the NBA. He broke out the thesaurus and went to town:
Source: Portland has a laser on Anfernee Simons.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 22, 2018
Source: The Sixers are enamored with Landry Shamut at the 26th pick.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 22, 2018
It was about the only fun part of the entire night, and from pick to pick was certainly the only thing I was anticipating: “What synonym for ‘select’ will Woj come up with next!?”
The Dallas Mavericks pulled off a trade with Atlanta, swapping picks no. 5 and no. 3, and ended up with the most intriguing prospect in the draft, Luka Doncic. It’s true that there is some uncertainty drafting a player from Europe; NBA scouts still seem unsure how to compare and project players who haven’t played in the NCAA. But Doncic was a Euroleague star and is only 19. And now he gets to pair with one of, if not the greatest, international NBA players in Dirk Nowitzki, as Dirk winds down his career. That’s pretty cool.
Drafting second, the Kings took Marvin Bagley III; Bagley might be fine, but there are definitely questions about his defense at the NBA level, and big men who can’t defend multiple positions are getting harder and harder to play. More concerning for Kings fans though, is that the Kings reportedly passed on Doncic because they didn’t want him competing with De’Aaron Fox. I’m a firm believer in “take the best guy available, always” because I think talent trumps all, and I think in an NBA that’s moving away from positions, that’s the way to go. And also, Doncic might be better right now than Fox? Seems like an odd choice to me — but, hey, the Kings are an NBA team! They know what they’re doing, right?
Meanwhile, I really, really thought the Suns were going to take Doncic. Their new coach, Igor Kokoškov, has coached Doncic previously and spoken very highly of him, and the idea of pairing Doncic with Devin Booker for a dynamic backcourt duo seemed pretty awesome (and terrifying for opponents). DeAndre Ayton and Booker should also form a solid 1-2 punch and has the makings of a deadly pick and roll game. But still, I thought the pre-draft Ayton talk was a smokescreen and that Doncic was the guy!
The Canadians Did All Right, Again
Canada has done well in the NBA Draft this decade, and last night was no exception. Although he didn’t go to the Raptors, Hamilton’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did get nabbed at 11 by the Charlotte Hornets; he was then traded to the Los Angeles Clippers where he should get a chance to contribute to a team that’s still reorganizing itself after the Blake Griffin trade. Meanwhile Toronto’s Justin Jackson will be joining our old friend Jeff Weltman in Orlando; the Magic took Jackson in the second round with the 43rd pick.
So, after that drama-free night, can we expect things to ramp up as we head towards free agency on July 1? Maybe, but I think it’ll be quiet. I think everyone’s waiting on LeBron James, and the decision he makes will be the one that sets the dominoes in motion.