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Toronto Raptors 2019 NBA Draft Primer

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The Raptors have the 59th pick entering the 2019 draft; we take a look at some of the best prospects potentially available at that spot, and ponder the possibility of trading up in our draft primer.

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NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Draft Day! As you may know, the Raptors traded their 2019 first round pick in the Kawhi Leonard trade, but, for the first time since 2015, they actually have a 2nd round pick in this draft; as of this writing, barring any moves, they’re slated to pick at no. 59. Good players frequently go undrafted, and at least one All-Star has been selected in this range in recent memory, so while getting value out of this pick will be difficult, it’s not impossible.

We’ll go over specific guys that I think they should target eventually, but first we’ll look at the traits, in general, that steals in this range and productive undrafted guys tend to share.

The Anatomy of a Draft Steal:

1. A glaringly obvious, un-ignorable flaw (or two, or three!)

Most draft steals have something wrong with them as players or prospects that jumps out at you. I know, it seems bizarre to focus on the negatives, but if a player is available at this point in the draft then there’s gotta be a reason for that. For many draft steals that reason is something about them, or their game, that grabs the attention of observers and refuses to let go. Some glaring, overwhelming flaw that causes scouts and executives to look past the steal’s various strengths.

We can see this in the Raptors’ own Fred VanVleet: the fact that VanVleet was a ground-bound, sub-6-foot point guard caused scouts to look past his shooting ability, his exceptional motor, his physicality and basketball IQ. As a result, VanVleet fell out of the draft altogether. Two-time All-Star and former 60th pick Isaiah Thomas also springs to mind as an exceptionally talented player allowed to fall past the 59th pick because he had an obvious deficiency (again height) that led to scouts overlooking his strengths.

If a player is falling to the 59th pick you shouldn’t really be thinking “why are they falling this far?” You should know exactly why they’re falling this far, and hope their weaknesses prove to be more aesthetic than functional.

2. Defense first:

Most players who fall this far but still succeed at the NBA level are defense-first players. The reason for this is pretty obvious; if you fall this far, you’re probably a role player at the NBA level. Offense is typically the responsibility of the team’s stars, while role players are tasked with filling in the offensive gaps and making the bulk of their contributions defensively.

An offensive role player who’s an average to bad defender is usually a below replacement level player in the NBA: take NBA journeyman Ian Clark (most recently of the New Orleans Pelicans) for example. Clark can make a catch-and-shoot three, and while he doesn’t have the ball skills or passing vision of a true point guard, he’s not a ball stopper either, he’ll consistently make the extra pass. He can push the ball himself in transition, and can create an un-embarrassing shot for himself if put up against a short clock. In other words, a fine offensive role player. But Clark is also undersized at 6’3”, essentially a single position defender. He doesn’t make defensive plays, and is below average at the point of attack. Clark has, as result, consistently had a massive negative impact ever since he started to crack NBA rotations, hurting his teams’ defenses while having minimal impact on their offense.

Impactful draft steals typically look more like P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, Royce O’Neale or Torrey Craig: long, high-effort guys. Guys who you know will defend, and who can hopefully develop into capable offensive role players eventually. This is a mindset that Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ front office have applied consistently applied to the draft, even in the first round, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they invoked it again.

Who the Raptors Should Target at Pick no. 59

Alright, now, let’s talk about actual real-life players, rather than lingering in the abstract. Here are my two favourite potential picks at 59, starting with:

Jontay Porter (6’10” C, Sophomore, Missou)

Porter, the younger brother of Denver Nuggets’ lottery pick Michael Porter Jr, was projected to go early in last year’s second round after a nice freshman year, but chose to return to school, the thought presumably being that a weaker draft class this year could see him climb as high as the lottery. Early mocks would have Porter in that range, but, on October 21st 2019, Porter tore both his ACL and MCL in a scrimmage, an injury that would sideline him the entire college season. Most mock drafts still had Porter going in the early 2nd round throughout the year, but then, while rehabbing in March of this year, Porter tore his ACL again, an injury that would presumably see him sidelined for most of the upcoming NBA season. Porter’s draft stock tanked as a result, with NBA sources telling Sam Vecenie of the Athletic that there is a very real chance Porter ends up going undrafted.

Porter’s flaws don’t stop at his knee injuries, as even prior to getting hurt he was viewed as a subpar athlete with mobility issues. Porter is almost totally groundbound in traffic, a limitation that showed up in his finishing as a freshman: he shot just 50% on two point shots, a very poor number for a college big, largely because his lack of athleticism gave defenses chances to recover and provide effective contests on his shots near the rim.

So, we know why he might slip to this point, but what makes him an NBA prospect despite those problems? Porter combines a very smooth shooting stroke for a big with an exceptionally high basketball IQ that shows up on both ends of the floor. It’s honestly very difficult for me to watch film of Porter without immediately being reminded of the role Marc Gasol played for the Raptors in these playoffs. Porter occupied so many of the same spots as Gasol for Missouri offensively, finding shooters and cutters out of the low and high posts, banging spot-up threes when the defense collapsed and providing a pressure-release with occasional post scoring. Porter also showed some offensive toughness: he was willing to play through contact, and pulled down offensive rebounds and got to the line at a fairly high rate considering how often he spaced out to 3-point range.

Defensively, despite his physical limitations, Porter averaged nearly 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He recorded many of these while barely leaving his feet, demonstrating his good hands, co-ordination and timing, to go along with an excellent understanding of the principles of verticality for a player his age. Porter will certainly not block as many shots in the NBA as he did in college, but he nonetheless has the potential to hack it as a rim protector. His good hands and anticipation also allowed him to pick up 1.2 steals per 36 minutes; Porter had the highest steal percentage of any center projected to be picked in this years draft. He was already slow before the injuries, a limitation that will only presumably have gotten worse, but he may still be able to defend in space better than one would expect given that.

Porter is also exceptionally young for a sophomore, having not even yet turned 20. While he’s not exactly raw, it’s still possible he has a couple leaps in him: maybe, for example, being exposed to NBA coaching and mentorship helps him go from a willing, nascent passer to a truly elite passing big. He should also project to get substantially stronger physically, which would help him a great deal with his currently lacklustre interior scoring.

Porter would make sense as a Raptors pick in a few ways. Firstly, Masai Ujiri has shown a willingness to disregard injury risk and trust in the Raptors’ medical staff when acquiring new pieces, as demonstrated by his picking OG Anunoby back in the 2017 draft, and in his acquisition of the injured Kawhi Leonard this past offseason. Porter is much, much younger and more talented than the average 59th pick, so if Ujiri trusts the Raptors’ medical staff to pull another rabbit out of a hat in this case, then he could view Porter as a potential steal. Also, while the successful selections of Pascal Siakam and Anunoby have given Ujiri a reputation for prioritizing rawer, more athletic players, he’s also shown a predisposition for heady players who make the most of relatively limited athleticism, with picks such as VanVleet, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl. Lastly, as previously noted, Porter has an ideal mentor on this Raptors’ team, sharing as many qualities as he does with Gasol.

Josh Reaves (6’5” G/F, Senior, Penn State)

Why Reaves would slip to this point is, again, fairly obvious: he was an offensive role player in a bad college offense, even as a senior. He had a below average usage rate every single year he was in college, putting up most of his points in transition, on cuts and on spot-up three point attempts. He was an slightly below average three-point and free-throw shooter in college, which means he basically projects as a non-shooter in the NBA. Even high-volume college shot-creators often struggle to attack closeouts in the NBA, leaving a shooting challenged college role-player like Reaves as, essentially, a total offensive zero in an NBA halfcourt. He’s also both an older player and a sub-elite athlete, he measures at 6’5” with a 6’8” wingspan, which is long, but not the freakish length you see from most elite defensive prospects.

The hope for Reaves, offensively, is that he gets locked in the gym and puts up shots until he learns to shoot. He shouldn’t be that far off. He went 87-for-238 from three over his junior and senior years in college, that’s 36.5% on a reasonable volume. His form looks passable. He might shoot in the mid-to-high 20s as a rookie, but I can see him being a fine wide open catch-and-shoot guy by his sophomore year. He also managed a positive assist-to-turnover ratio every single year in college, which, when paired with a respectable 17.6% assist percentage for his college career, indicates that he can be trusted to make the extra pass. Add in good timing on cuts and a relentless effort level running the floor and there might be a passable offensive role player in there.

On defense, meanwhile, the stats read like the product of a college zone. Reaves managed a truly ludicrous 4.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per 100 possessions; the only other power conference player to match or exceed those numbers this year was projected first round pick (and noted zone product) Matisse Thybulle. Playing in a zone, especially playing as a zone freelancer like Thybulle did, makes it markedly easier to rack up such numbers, as it increases the amount of time spent as a help defender. It also makes it harder to evaluate how good a player will be at guarding the ball at the NBA level, as the amount of time spent sliding one’s feet and navigating screens is fairly limited. Still, the numbers for Reaves are impressive.

Oh, and also, Penn State didn’t actually play a zone. They played a man-to-man defense almost exclusively all year. Josh Reaves just plays defense like he’s shot out of a cannon.

Reaves’ effort level guarding smalls and navigating screens is exceptionally impressive. Even if he gets hit, he consistently makes a second effort, and has the size and timing to recover for blocks.

Reaves isn’t just a lockdown on ball guy, obviously, his gargantuan steal rate is a product of his excellent anticipation and effort jumping passing lanes from the weakside. In a Raptors’ team stocked with good on-ball defenders he would have plenty of opportunities to lurk.

Reaves has a nuclear energy level that reminds me of Pascal Siakam. He does everything at top speed. He tries to dunk the ball at every conceivable opportunity. Effort and intensity are skills that always translate, and Reaves has both in spades. In interviews Reaves consistently talks about how much he loves playing defense, it’s something that registers as true every time I watch him, and it’s similarly true of most of the league’s great guard defenders, guys like Patrick Beverley and Marcus Smart, players who embrace a defensive identity and take the utmost pride in getting stops.

Reaves isn’t necessarily an elite athlete but there’s more than enough there with regards to his frame at 6’5” to be an elite multi-position defender at the next level. Ujiri has shown a willingness to select players with unclear offensive roles at the NBA level (Anunoby and Siakam), and he has clearly placed a priority on character and effort level with selections like Norman Powell, VanVleet and Siakam. I think Reaves reads both like a potential steal and like a “Raptorsy” pick.

Quick Hitters from Raptor workouts

The Raptors had six pre-draft workouts, I’ve pulled out some of the most promising names they worked out for some quick hitter scouting reports. Of note is the fact that the Raptors brought in a Canadian prospect for nearly every workout, and there should be plenty of Canadian talent available late in the draft (as well as Canadian talent taken early in the draft!).

Simi Shittu (6’11” C, Freshman, Vanderbilt)

Shittu was a five-star recruit entering this year. He had a tantalizing combination of size, athleticism, ball-handling skills and passing vision. So what’s the Vanderbilt freshman doing all the way down here? Well, he sucked ass in college. Shittu had a nightmare college season in just about every conceivable way. He was a trainwreck defensively, as his athleticism and size failed to translate into blocks or rim protection for a hopeless Vandy team that went 0-and-18 in conference play. He was also a trainwreck offensively, where he showed absolutely no touch outside of three feet (and fairly limited touch inside of three feet, to be honest) leading to an abysmal 49.7% true shooting percentage. That’s a number which would be worrying for a college guard, let alone a big. The only thing that really translated was the ballhandling, and, to a lesser extent, the passing; Shittu posted above-average assist numbers for a big, but also had a significantly negative assist-to-turnover ratio. This would be a reclamation project pick, something Ujiri hasn’t shown a predisposition for, as he memorably passed on former top recruit Skal Labissiere at 27 back in 2016.

Oshae Brissett (6’8” F, Sophomore, Syracuse)

Brissett was another Canadian who had a pretty disappointing year. The good news for Brissett is that he has something of a floor. He’s 6’8”, strong, athletic and he plays with intensity defensively. That should, on some level, translate. The bad news is… basically everything on offense. Brissett clanked away from three-point range this year, seeing his percentage drop from 33% as a freshman to 27% as a sophomore. He looked lost when he put the ball on the floor, he struggled to finish, is a less-than-natural passer, and has a pretty ugly handle. Brissett’s decision to declare is an odd one. He has a freshman year that showed some promise but also showed clear weaknesses that he needed to improve on. He actually came back worse in most respects, and then still declared for the draft. If the Raptors take him I’m going to assume it’s a character bet.

DaQuan Jeffries (6’5” G/F, Junior, Tulsa)

Jeffries is awesome. A dunk contest, jump-out-of-the-gym athlete, and a correspondingly elite finisher, having made over 62% of his college two-point shots. He can shoot, he was a career 38% three-point shooter in college, and had good free throw numbers as well, making his shooting seem legit. He shows a lot of effort defensively, though it’s frequently misplaced, as he basically tries to block every shot attempt he’s in the vicinity of. Still, that’s something that will be better channelled with NBA coaching and age, and misguided effort is always much better than a lack of effort. For all these reasons, think Jeffries will be gone well before the 59th pick. He’s had a superb pre-draft process and was already a nice draft sleeper, so I think he goes in the early 40s.

John Konchar (6’5” G, Senior, Purdue Fort Wayne)

Konchar is tough to evaluate. He was one of the most productive players in college basketball this year, and in the past few years as well. You watch film of him and he’s just eating guys’ souls, crossing them and dunking on their heads. He also plays at Purdue Fort Wayne, a mid-major school in a truly terrible Summit conference. PFW didn’t even win the Summit conference, or represent the Summit at March Madness. That honour went to North Dakota State, who were swiftly dealt with by Duke in round one. So again, this guy is hard to judge. Maybe his ball skills are more real than I think, and he’s more than just an offensive role player. Right now, though, my judge of him is that he’ll shoot (lifetime 40+% guy), he’ll push the ball and attack close-outs well (5.4 assists per game this year), and he’ll probably be a pretty bad defender. A lot of what he excels at is just inflated by the poor competition.

Dedric Lawson (6’9” F, Junior, Kansas)

Lawson had a nightmare combine, finishing dead last in the shuttle run and max vertical, as well as next to last, beating out only Tacko Fall, in the 3/4 court sprint and the standing vertical. There were already athleticism concerns when it came to the 6’9” forward, but he shot a good looking ball, was a smart passer and was an immovable object on the glass in college. Before the combine, those factors led to him getting mocked in the mid 2nd round, but, after the combine, he seems to have rocketed down teams’ draft boards and is projected to go undrafted. Picking him would be a bet on Lawson’s skills, physical strength and smarts outweighing his extreme athletic limitations. However, players of his archetype (older, slow, strength based forwards) have typically struggled to translate, so there’s very real risk.

Justin Wright-Foreman (6’2” G, Senior, Hofstra)

JWF is another mid-major dude, and an even more extreme case than Konchar. He averaged over 27 points per game at Hofstra in an awful CAA conference. JWF will shoot, that seems beyond question, as he shot 42.5% from three-point range on a very high volume with most of his shots coming off the dribble. He had an excellent 86% free throw percentage to go along with that, further legitimizing his shooting. He also looks very good pulling-up from the midrange. With that being said, there are glaring weaknesses. He’s undersized at 6’2” and posted bad defensive numbers in a mid-major conference. He will not defend. He’s also never posted point guard-type passing numbers, topping out at 3.2 assists per game in his junior year. He projects, from my point of view, something like an Antonio Blakeney-esque sub-replacement level bucket-getter, an archetype which doesn’t seem very valuable to the Raptors.

Quinndary Weatherspoon (6’4” G, Senior, Mississippi State)

Remember when I talked about Ian Clark way back when? Yeah, same team here. Weatherspoon has all the makings of a passable offensive role player, with shooting, crafty finishing, transition handling and adequate passing. However, his lack of size paired with his lack of point guard vision is a real red flag. Weatherspoon measured at under his listed 6’4” at the combine, and he plays small. To my eyes he reads like a passable but non-versatile defender at the next level. That’s really just not enough to hack it as a role player in the NBA.

Trade up candidates for the Raptors

The Raptors could be in the market to trade up, or buy into the 2nd round earlier. Given the additional money ownership made off the deep playoff run (and the $5 million thrown-in the Kawhi Leonard trade heheheh) Masai Ujiri should be in the necessary good graces with ownership if he wishes to acquire an extra 2nd rounder by throwing cash around. The Raptors have not sent outgoing cash in any trades this year and can offer up to the $5.2 million max in outgoing cash considerations. As such, moving into the draft as early as the late 30s could be a possibility. There’s one guy in that range who really stands out as a “Ujiri pick” and that’s Auburn forward Chuma Okeke.

Okeke is highly reminiscent of OG Anunoby in many ways, he was a sophomore who looked like prototypical 3-and-D prospect, was projected for the mid first round, and then had his draft stock tanked following an ACL tear. Anunoby’s and Okeke’s sophomore year stat lines look nearly identical, with the exception of 3-point and free throw percentage. Okeke shoots a much better ball than Anunoby did, but he’s also regarded as a worse athlete. Calling someone a worse athlete than OG Anunoby isn’t exactly an insult, of course, and Okeke also demonstrates a phenomenal defensive IQ, using anticipation and timing to match Anunoby’s steal and block numbers despite the relative athletic disadvantage. Okeke’s injury would be less of a concern on a Raptors’ team with a mostly solid rotation, and he would have a path to playing time if he came back later in the year, given the Raptors’ tendency towards rest games. Most mocks have Okeke somewhere in the 30s, and, if he slips into the later 30s, then those are picks that teams have historically been able to acquire using cash. Given the “Masai-ness” of this pick (getting value off injury risk, defense first prospect, high IQ, high character guy, long, athletic) I would be far from surprised to see the Raptors make a move for him.

That’s it for my primer. We’ll have a draft thread go up at 6:30 so you guys can talk the draft out among yourselves. Let’s hope we get a good one!