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NBA Draft Watch: On the Combine, Toronto’s workouts, and what’s next

With the playoffs and lottery over and done with, we’re keeping on top of the latest draft news for Toronto with a look at their recent player workouts, Assistant GM Dan Tolzman’s media scrum, and more.

It’s been a while since we last updated this NBA Draft corner, and there have been significant developments since before the playoffs started. Thanks to the “Stanimal” Stanley Johnson and his game-winning ways in the Bubble, the Toronto Raptors finished with the second-best regular season record in the league, bumping their pick down to 29th overall.

Whether moving down one spot makes much of a difference remains to be seen. Six years ago, Masai wanted to pick Tyler Ennis at the 20th spot, but the Phoenix Suns needed a sixth point guard on their roster and selected Ennis with the 18th pick. (The Raptors went with Bruno Caboclo instead and years later had Ennis on the G League’s 905.)

The NBA finally held the Draft Lottery in late August but pushed back the draft to November 18th. With that, the league has made arrangements for teams to get a closer look at some of the prospects in-person. This was initially prohibited because of the pandemic, but now teams are able to do both virtual interviews and some in-person workouts too.

On The Updated Draft Combine

The NBA came up with a modified Draft Combine format that should be well underway right now with 85 prospects invited to participate in drills, interviews, medical examinations, and physical testing and measurement.

The interview part is interesting here. There are two rounds: the first is generic with the same set of recorded questions made available to all the teams. The second will allow teams to request 30-minute direct interviews with specific prospects, with up to a max of 20 requests available per team. On the flip side, the prospects are only allowed to interview for 13 teams.

The NBA also allowed teams to workout players in-person but limited it to a max of 10 prospects. As of this writing, the Raptors have worked out Devon Dotson, Malachi Flynn, and Tyler Bey. That leaves them with seven more workout slots.

Drafting Philosolphy via Nick Nurse’s Book

I recently reviewed Nick Nurse’s book, and he touched upon some things that might be worth considering with regards to Toronto’s approach to the NBA Draft. In his book, Nurse blasts the online draft experts and their evaluations of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The reviews marked them both as being too old, and many were unable to look past VanVleet’s less-desired physical attributes.

Nurse provides a bit of insight into how the Raptors look at prospects differently. They try not to be handcuffed by the same biases of which draft evaluators are often guilty. For Toronto, it’s not always the allure of having above-average physical attributes, athleticism, and the higher potential customarily tied to younger prospects.

By sharing his thoughts about Siakam and VanVleet, we get a better idea of the other factors they consider. The Raptors try to gauge game tape and workouts regardless of whether so-and-so prospect played with and against lesser competition. Age is also less of a factor for them when it comes to imagining a given player’s ceiling. It allowed the Raps to see Siakam past what talent evaluators had said of him during the draft. Lastly: winning or winners do earn some extra merit from the Raptors. This last sentiment comes to the fore when Nurse is critical of evaluators focusing more on a prospects’ limitations instead of their potential — particularly when they help a team win.

One more aside here: according to Nurse, he had no voice as an assistant coach during the Raptors’ draft process. Even as a head coach, his role as an a talent evaluator usually only comes up when the team is looking for undrafted free agents for training camp.

The Words of Dan Tolzman

Raptors Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel Dan Tolzman had a scrum last week to talk about the upcoming draft for Toronto. He downplayed any potential advantage for Toronto based on how different this draft process has become, but he did not say the team was at a disadvantage. He did lament, though, that they cannot bring prospects to their gym, have in-depth workouts, and meet with the staff in-person

It’s worth noting that NBA teams now have limited interaction with players and few personnel are allowed to conduct their scouting in this draft combine format. Nevertheless, it’s good to know it doesn’t stop them from trying to get their job done.

Watch Tolzman’s full interview here:

Tolzman was also asked about Toronto’s development capacity and the uncertainty of the typical developmental tools like the Summer League, training camp, and even the G League. He did acknowledge that there will be an impact, but they are quite comfortable with their development program adding: “As long as they bring in the right types of guys that are wired the way that all the guys that they had success with.”

Regarding upcoming free agency’s effect on their pre-draft process, Tolzman deflected by saying the draft always come up before the free agency and that they don’t really base their decisions on what may or may not happen in free agency. As a result, it doesn’t change anything for them. It’s worth noting, however, that the Raptors have worked out two point guards in Flynn and Dotson.

Another key takeaway from Tolzman’s scrum is that he thinks it’s a very balanced draft where they could be looking at about 50 different players. Based on that statement, there seems to be little talent separation in the late lottery, all the way to the mid-second round.

Tolzman also thinks that there are plenty of rotation-level players from this draft and that the undrafted market could be huge. Part of the reason for that, as Tolzman notes, is that many propects won’t get the chance to boost their stock via the various typical means — e.g. college tournaments, March Madness, the Portsmouth Invitational, the NBA G League Elite Camp, and other workouts.

Hopefully, the Raptors know who these players are though and are ready to pounce if and when the time comes.

Interviews and Workouts

News has been trickling out over the past few weeks about who the Raptors have interviewed and worked out. As mentioned, Toronto has reportedly worked out Devon Dotson, Malachi Flynn, and Tyler Bey. I profiled Devon Dotson previously, as I did with Tyler Bey. And worry not, I will be doing a feature on Malachi Flynn for the next iteration of the Draft Watch.

Raptors Draft Tracker

Prospect Position Age Height Weight School Class Interview Workout
Prospect Position Age Height Weight School Class Interview Workout
Devon Dotson PG 21 6'2" 185lbs Kansas Sophomore X
Malachi Flynn PG 22 6'1" 185lbs San Diego State Junior X
Tyler Bey F 22 6'7" 218lbs Colorado Junior X
Zeke Nnaji F 19 6'10" 240lbs Arizona Freshman X
Karim Mane PG/SG 20 6'5" 195lbs Vanier N/A X
Isiaha Mike F 23 6'8" 215lbs SMU Junior X
Nate Darling SG 22 6'5" 200lbs Delaware Junior X
Desmond Bane SG 22 6'6" 215lbs TCU Senior X
Isaiah Joe SG 21 6'5" 180lbs Arkansas Sophomore X
Tyrell Terry PG 20 6'1" 160lbs Stanford Freshman X
Jalen Smith F 20 6'10" 225lbs Maryland Sophomore X

Based on who the Raptors have interviewed so far but haven’t worked out yet, my guess is that Zeke Nnaji, Tyrell Terry, Desmond Bane, and Jalen Smith are also within range for Toronto at the 29th pick. The rest of the team’s potential prospects track as either late-second round picks or undrafted hopefuls.

It looks like the Raptors scouting team’s first draft combine stop was the Impact Academy in Las Vegas. Flynn, Bey, and Dotson were among the group of prospects who reported to that combine site. It’s interesting to note that Nnaji was at Impact Academy, but we did not hear any reports that the Raptors worked him out.

One Last Bit of News

The Portsmouth Invitational and the G League Elite Camp may have been cancelled this year, but there’s some good news for prospects not already invited to the draft combine.

The NBA will invite a select number of prospects who did not get NBA Combine invites to participate in virtual evaluations and have an “NBA Pro Day.”