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NBA Draft Watch: Selecting for Toronto’s future needs in the first round

Should the Raptors fill in a future playmaking need or get someone to man the middle? We look into a couple of potential first round prospects who could help in either scenario for Toronto.

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The deadline for NCAA underclassmen to withdraw is fast-approaching (August 3rd), and — aside from the pandemic — it’s one of the main reasons the major mock boards remain unchanged. By the time we roll out the next Draft Watch, there’s a good chance that we’ll see some movement where the Raptors expect to pick (1st round - 28th), along with an overhaul of the second round.

In related news, the league has invited a bunch of hopefuls for a potential NBA Draft Combine. Hopefully, by next week we will have a better idea of what the NBA is cooking, as there’s no set date/format/location — or assurances it will actually happen. Perhaps the early success of the NBA’s Bubble gives the league more confidence that they can pull it off.

The NBA invited 105 players, and it’s understandably heavy on the local prospects. For Raptors fans, the question is if there’s any value on draft prospects that did not get invited. Fred VanVleet (2016 - Undrafted) and Josh Richardson (2015 - 40th) are two notable past names that got snubbed from the combine, for example.

However, the typical combine would have around 65 invitees. Last year received a bump to 77 invitees, as the NBA did a better job setting up less heralded players to improve their stock via the G League Elite Camp. Of note: Terence Davis, Oshae Brissett, and Dewan Hernandez were some of the standouts from that camp that initially were not invited to the Draft Combine.

Potential First Round Prospects

This week, we’re back looking into potential first round prospects for the Raptors based on the mock drafts. Previously, we looked into Tyler Bey (28th best prospect based on ESPN’s big board) and Aleksej Pokusevski (slated to get picked by the Raptors on Tankathon’s board).

Now we’ll be looking at two contrasting prospects: Leandro Bolmaro (SI’s mock draft Raptors pick) and Vernon Carey Jr. (CBS Sports’ consensus pick for the Raptors). These two prospects present a potential need in the future for Toronto: a playmaker and a starting centre.

Leandro Bolmaro, SG - FC Barcelona (Argentina), 6’7”, 19 years old

Why Leandro?

After watching a ton of video, I came to a conclusion: Leandro Bolmaro is a Nick Nurse guy. For one, he’s a real scrappy defender, continually putting pressure on the ball and being a pest. His excellent defensive awareness is on display in situations where he has to switch, rotate, or just make good reads on what the ball handler is trying to do. Bolmaro’s quick decision making, especially in broken plays, makes him an ideal Raptor based on how Nurse wants his defense: as disruptive as possible.

When people talk about Bolmaro, they’re quick to jump on the Manu comparison. If anything, I think he sits somewhere in the slider between the younger versions of Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez. Bolmaro tracks as a flashy point guard with excellent court vision. I like how his passes are not just about hitting the open man — often he makes these passes that lead his teammates to the opening for the shot. Bolmaro not only sees the floor well in the moment, but he projects his teammates’ movements and manipulates defenders in advance. In this way, he reminds me of Rajon Rondo as well.

There aren’t that many prospects in this draft right now who can play hard both ways. Bolmaro will earn himself short bursts of playing time as he’s always looking to make an impact every minute he’s on the court. He is pretty much what Raptors fans would like Pat McCaw to be.

Areas of Concern

Bolmaro’s shooting percentages aren’t pretty, but his shot mechanics won’t require a huge overhaul and he’s shown willingness to shoot from the perimeter. He’s still young and his newer highlights show he’s making an effort to improve his shot. However, Bolmaro will need more reps shooting in various situations to get more comfortable. If he can consistently shoot behind the arc, it can unlock his game and increase his ceiling.

Should the Raptors draft Bolmaro, it would be good to bring him in as early as possible instead of stashing him in Europe. He’s not slight like Pokusevski, but he’s likely not strong enough yet to absorb contact at the NBA level. A lot of his drives to the basket would likely get hampered as he tries to absorb the bumps along the way. As such, he’s not strong enough yet to consistently finish through contact either.

Another reason why a team like the Raptors should bring him to the fold right away is the fact that he’s spending most of his time with his current team’s reserve team. It would be best for Bolmaro’s development (physically and skills-wise) to get exposed to increased competition.

Bolmaro’s athleticism is average at best, and while he’s quick on his feet moving laterally on defense, he lacks the explosiveness to get a quick first step on his defender. Often, he resorts to a contested floater because he can’t get by his defender.

Roster Fit

Bolmaro would probably have to spend a year developing in the background, getting stronger and working on his perimeter shot. If the Raptors want him to develop into an NBA level back-up point guard or combo guard — like the aforementioned McCaw — it would be wise to hand him the keys to the Raptors 905. At his height, the Raptors can create various mismatch opportunities if he turns into a viable point guard option.

Bolmaro’s playmaking could also allow the Raptors to have a two-point guard lineup without sacrificing defense in the backcourt. His presence alongside someone like Fred VanVleet would allow Toronto to play VanVleet off the ball.

As the Raptors’ roster gets older, they will require future playmaking help. Kyle Lowry won’t be around forever, and there’s no assurance that VanVleet will be the Raptors’ point guard of the future. That’s the prime reason for Toronto to give Bolmaro a look.

Vernon Carey Jr., C - Freshman (Duke), 6’10”, 19 years old

Why Vernon?

Vernon Carey Jr. pretty much lived in the paint in his freshman year, and you can’t blame him for that. His size and strength allowed him to muscle his way into position for good shots. He’s a low post threat that attracts the entire defense’s attention. Carey often would only need a few dribbles to get his shot off, either spinning left into a lefty hook shot, or spinning right and using his size to put himself between his defender and the basket.

While Carey doesn’t have the above the rim athleticism of most bigs, he does excel in taking the hits going up for his shot, and his wide frame gives him the ability to shield his shot. His defenders often have little choice but to foul him once he gets that inside position.

Going back in the post, Carey showed composure when defenses did collapse on him. He’s got a good awareness of where his teammates are, whether he’s stationary in the post or on the move. In comparison, our boy Jonas Valanciunas would have to take a while to process playmaking from the post, and his awareness of where his teammates were on the floor was often non-existent when he made his move.

Carey has shown flashes that he can be a good drop coverage big. He’s nimble enough to keep up when he gets switched onto guards, and he uses his length and a quick hop to recover and try to alter or block the shots.

Carey’s shot mechanics look good, and I can see him developing a perimeter shot. He has shown a willingness to camp around the arc and he shoots without hesitation. He’s also shown that he can put the jets and run out in transition.

Areas of Concern

Looking at Carey’s highlights, it’s easy to see everything there is to like about him. His size, strength, inside game, mobility, and natural scoring ability show tons of potential. However, he’s one of the prospects who has fallen in most mock drafts despite excellent boxscore production.

After watching multiple full games, you can see why this is the case. In between flashes of potential on both ends of the floor, Carey’s lack of defensive awareness rears its ugly head. One play, it can be him getting lost in the defensive scheme, not reading how the offense is unfolding, and looking unsure how to react. He’s terrible whenever he gets switched to the off-ball player, and if you look at him, it’s as if his side of the play ended, with little effort shown to do anything else. There are some shades of Bruno Caboclo here, though at least Bruno would process a second later that he needs to find a body to box out.

Other times, it’s Carey’s lack of effort making the hustle play on defense, which is disappointing as he’s shown that he can run the floor for a transition basket. He also sometimes gets boxed out too easily, with low chances on any 50/50 rebounds. I don’t think it’s an attitude problem like some people are saying. Many of his effort/awareness issues can be seen to some degree from the younger bigs like DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and even Karl-Anthony Towns. The AAU/high school circuit is not exactly the breeding ground for prospects to get better defensively. For someone like Carey, maybe his earlier success due to his size and strength made it too easy for him and contributed to what he is right now.

I’m not concerned too much about Carey’s game being too old school. Looking at his old high school highlights, he’s got a pretty good face-up game, and he’s willing to look for his shot beyond the arc and in the midrange. He might have developed a game similar to someone like Towns, but that looks to have changed when he got to Duke. Given the areas of concern I outlined here, it’s important that he lands on a team that can develop him — like the Raptors.

Roster Fit

We don’t know whether the Raptors will bring back Serge Ibaka and/or Marc Gasol, which makes the hunt for a big man in the draft of some importance. While I’m optimistic, we still don’t know whether Dewan Hernandez will pan out as a rotation NBA big. It should be said, however, that Hernandez and Carey would offer different looks at the middle. With Carey, he is someone that can potentially defend the bigger centers like Joel Embiid. Once he fully grows into his body, he should be able to bang with anybody in the paint.

Carey’s offensive game should add a new wrinkle to the Raptors’ offensive capabilities. He’s a nice big target off a pick-and-roll, and he’s good at finding an opening behind the defense for a quick dump off. Carey’s got good hands catching the ball down low, even in traffic, and can quickly go up for a shot without relying on a gather dribble. In contrast, Ibaka and at times, OG Anunoby often require that “gather dribble” once they catch the ball in the paint.

Carey should also provide the Raptors a scoring threat in the paint. His ability to pass from the post, even through double teams, could unlock the team’s perimeter shooting at the very least and provide the necessary scoring punch off the bench. However, for him to be more playable in today’s NBA, Carey would have to go back to his high school days, where he was doing a lot of face-up and perimeter-oriented moves. Otherwise, he will provide the same floor spacing as some like Greg Monroe.

Regardless of the benefits he brings, the Raptors’ coaching and developmental team will have their hands full unlocking Carey’s defensive potential. As it is, he won’t see anything outside of garbage time because the Raptors’ defense is rooted in excellent awareness, activity, and high compete-level — something Carey hasn’t shown consistently yet.

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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.