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NBA Draft Watch: Should the Raptors keep their first round pick?

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What should the Raptors do with their first round pick in 2020: keep or trade it? For the former, we’re also looking at a couple of prospects in Tyler Bey and Aleksej Pokusevski.

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2017 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

What should the Raptors do with their first round pick in this delayed 2020 NBA Draft?

Regardless if Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol decide to move on from Toronto for a better payout, the team’s key rotation still looks decent. Should they retain most (if not all) of these champs, then whoever the Raptors pick will most likely spend time in Mississauga. In that spirit, let’s review the options.

Option 1: Trade the Pick

Why should the Raptors move out of the first round? They can potentially flip this pick (for a future pick) to another team that wants a crack at this year’s prospects. Last year, for example, Detroit’s 30th pick was traded for four future second-round picks. Or should they use the pick to dump Stanley Johnson if he opts into his contract next season? Choices!

With the emergence of Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson Jr, Johnson might find himself out of the rotation again. Johnson has a player option next season for about $3.8 million, but is his contract big (or valuable) enough for which to cough up a late first round pick?

Could this be the draft where it’s worth the risk of getting out of the first round? Considering the mock drafts out there now, it looks like the consensus is that there’s not much talent separation from the 20s all the way to late second round. Can the Raptors convince a second round prospect to decline being drafted for a high-stakes chance to earn a roster spot (e.g. the Fred VanVleet “Bet on yourself” special)? Admittedly, when you describe it out like this, it suddenly doesn’t sound so crazy for the Raptors to trade the pick entirely.

Option 2: Flip the Pick to Move Up/Down

There are a few fringe lottery prospects that are unlikely to fall to the Raptors in the first round. By my count, it would be nice for Toronto to nab Saddiq Bey, Theo Maledon, and Kira Lewis Jr, to name a few. However, it’s doubtful these prospects will fall all the way down to the 28th slot.

In last year’s draft, some teams moved up to the mid/late 20s to get their guy:

  • The Sixers traded their 24th and 33rd pick for the Celtics’ 20th pick to select Matisse Thybulle;
  • The Grizzlies traded the 23rd pick and their 2024 2nd round pick for the Thunder’s 21st pick to select Brandon Clarke.

As mentioned above, the Raptors can move back into the second round, just like what the Pistons did last year. Especially if the Raptors think they can get their guy in the second round or via undrafted prospects. Again, the thinking here is sound assuming the Raptors do their homework — and when have they not done that?

Option 3: Keep the Pick

Flawed prospects with higher ceilings are loitering in the 20s up to the early second round. A few of them will require multiple years of development, and not just on their skills but also physically. Can the Raptors pass up on the opportunity to see whether their developmental system can turn someone like Aleksej Pokusevski turn into an unlikely unicorn?

The Raptors can also elect to pick an almost-NBA-ready prospect, creating a cheap cost-controlled asset for the next few years. The 28th pick last year was earmarked for around $1.6 million to start annually for multiple years, compared to signing someone to a vet’s minimum for just a year.

Mock Draft Activity

Various Mock Draft sites’ projected Raptors pick

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie just updated his mock draft (it’s behind a paywall, but his insights and analysis are worth it) with major changes. He now has the Raptors picking Daniel Oturu in the first round. Vecenie previously had the Raptors picking Jalen Smith. Some prospects, like Leandro Bolmaro, Tyler Bey, and Aleksej Pokusevski, made big jumps on his board.

Here’s the updated comparison on how these draft sites see the other prospects:

Comparison matrix of projected Raptors pick across various draft sites

Now let’s look at a couple of prospects.

Prospect Highlight

Tyler Bey, SF/PF - Junior (Colorado), 6’6”, 22 years old

Why Tyler

Tyler Bey is around 6’7” with at least 7’ wingspan, and he fully uses his length, athleticism, and motor on the defensive end. He projects to be a switchable defender from 1-4, which is ideal for the Raptors. While most prospects rely on their physical tools and athleticism when it comes to defense, Bey takes it to another level. He’s one of the few prospects this year that has displayed pretty good defensive instincts and high defensive IQ.

Most athletic freaks rely on their physical gifts to recover when they’re beaten, but not Bey. He makes excellent defensive reads on the ball. While he has a respective 1.2 blocks per game, what’s underrated about Bey’s defense is the Kyle Lowry Defensive Special: vertical defense, even in transition.

Offensively, Bey has a nice touch around the basket and can finish with either hand. Since he’s playing the power forward spot, he’s capable of posting up and creating his own shot this way. From my vantage point, his post moves (especially footwork), are much more polished than OG Anunoby’s continue to be. Much like Pascal Siakam, Bey is excellent in transition as a rim-runner.

Bey is very comfortable in the dunker’s spot, and his bouncy game allows him to quickly go up for a dunk or a layup. He’s a putback threat off the boards too. If no one puts a body on him, Bey will use his quickness and leaping ability to get that rebound before anybody else.

Areas of Concern

Bey’s perimeter shooting is suspect. While he shot 42 percent behind the arc as a sophomore, it was on low volume. His three-point total attempts in college each year: 6, 22, 31. In comparison, one of the prospects within the Raptors draft pick range, Zeke Nnaji, only attempted 17 three-pointers in his lone NCAA season. The difference? Nnaji’s much more comfortable popping out to the high mid-range all the way to the arc, while Bey’s tendency is to post his man up or take the ball to the basket. A couple of things probably need to change: mindset, and tweaks to his shot mechanics.

If you watch Bey’s highlights, you will see him drop some nifty passes, especially short passes now and then. That shows awareness, feel, and IQ seem to be there. The problem is he doesn’t do it often enough. Could it be a product of the team’s style of play and his role?

Bey can sometimes look unfocused, as his play sometimes turns sloppy and leads into turnovers. He is an energy guy who plays with a lot of emotion, which seems to keep him engaged. When Bey is not locked in, you can tell that his intensity is not there, and it shows in his activity on the floor. Maybe it’s a chicken/egg situation, does he lose steam when things don’t go his way or vice versa?

Finally, Bey needs to transition into a wing. He basically has the Shawn Marion starter-pack skill-set, and sometimes it feels like watching Montrezl Harrell playing in Marion’s body. It’s really tough for an undersized pure power forward prospects to flourish in the NBA nowadays. Bare minimum, Bey needs to hit his three-pointers at a decent clip. And for him to take his game to the next level, he needs a better handle and/or face-up game.

Roster Fit

The best case scenario for Bey is for him to come into a training camp with a workable perimeter shot. A reasonable expectation on the Raptors would be for him to have a similar usage/role as then-rookie OG Anunoby. Bey would provide a 3-and-D presence while being the fifth option on offense, ready for a kick-out to the perimeter.

Bey’s activity around the rim, transition game, defensive versatility, and rim protection can potentially get him into coach Nick Nurse’s good graces. That can translate into minutes as another agent of chaos like Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

With the Raptors, Bey would have the opportunity to work on his game with the Raptors 905 development team. There, he can work on his perimeter shooting and face-up game. If the Raptors can transform his offense to complement his 3-and-D potential, he would be an excellent addition to Nurse’s growing collection of versatile two-way players.

Aleksej Pokusevski - SG/SF, Olympiacos B (Serbia) 7’, 18 years old

Why Aleksej

Pokusevski is very raw, another “two years away from being two years away” candidate in this draft. As such, Masai Ujiri could take a swing on him. Pokusevski would need to get up to speed with a higher level of competition in the NBA. On top of that, it would take a couple of years to develop him physically. Still, it might be worthwhile for Toronto to stash Pokusevski in the 15th roster spot and grow him within the team’s environment.

If Pokusevski turns out to be a unicorn, then his ceiling puts him among the cream of the crop of this draft. His game shows promise and versatility: offensively, he plays like a wing, and has shown an all-around game.

Pokusevski can do a lot of things. He can space the floor (his shot mechanics need a bit of fine-tuning for consistency) via his catch-and-shoot and pull-up jumper ability. He can play-make with the ball on his hands, and he does a great job threading the passing lanes, whether it’s on a half-court setting or in transition. Pokusevski’s handle is good enough that he can create some separation to get his shot off, even around the perimeter.

Areas of Concern

So here’s the skinny (pun intended) on Pokusevski. He’s rail-thin, and he doesn’t strike me as someone that would or could bulk up. Pokusevski doesn’t necessarily have to get jacked, but he’ll need to be stronger to compete in the NBA.

Another concern is the level of play Pokusevski’s competing against right now. Does he look good because of the inferior competition? Sure, Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing on a similar playing field before he came to the NBA, but does that logic extend to this particular prosect too?

Defensively, Pokusevski has the length and the IQ to read plays and potentially alter shots (not necessarily block). He’s not going to be guarding bruising bigs any time soon, and his foot speed defensively might get exploited by the small guards that would take him to an island on the perimeter.

Nevertheless, Pokusevski might be someone who skyrockets up draft boards as various team’s talent evaluators start looking at the prospects closely. Some teams might value the potential upside and take a swing on him in the late teens or early 20s, which would leave the Raptors out of it entirely.

Roster Fit

Can the Raptors turn Pokusevski into a versatile position-less player? His playmaking skills and high-level basketball IQ would be a great addition to the team. As the Raptors have seen with Gasol, having a big that can take playmaking duties from the key players would be a boon for the Raptors.

Assuming Pokusevski gets NBA-ready, he could fit in nicely with Toronto. By then, the Raptors would have Pascal Siakam, Terence Davis, and OG Anunoby peaking (hopefully VanVleet, and maybe another player from Greece). There may be some holdovers from the current group as well. The future of the Raptors’ roster is shaping up to be predicated in length, athleticism, versatility, and shooting — all powered by an excellent motor.

If the Raptors can unlock Pokusevski’s skills, just imagine the lineup combinations that Nurse could throw out there. Contrary to some of his evaluations, I think his floor is not as low as they make it out. If Pokusevski’s body gets strong enough, his basketball IQ should enable him to be an NBA calibre player. Now, this is if he lands on a team that can develop him real well.

*****

Did we miss a valuable draft resource? Let me know in the comments so that I can integrate it for the next edition of Toronto’s NBA Draft Watch.