The Toronto Raptors are expected to go for another deep playoff run and perhaps even win another title. That leaves the Raptors with a tight timeline between the end of the season, the NBA Draft, free agency, and the start of the 2020-21 season.
In that spirit, the upcoming season projects to be a sprint. There’s going to be later start date and potential “Bubble Break” intervals in-between, which could mean little rest time for players, especially for the Raptors; key players. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam logged heavy minutes for the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol (should they return to Toronto) are entering or in the twilight of their careers, and would be ideally load managed, as it were.
In short, the Raptors have decisions to make, with six players entering free agency and some potential dead-weight roster spots. They’ll need to add reinforcements to help them get to the regular season finish line without burning out their key players. And we have to admit that free agency might not be the ideal option because of how the pandemic might change the salary cap math.
If ever there was an NBA Draft in which teams could restock with potential rotation players, this could be the one — and they don’t need to be lottery picks. There are several teams with three or more picks in this coming draft, so there might be an opportunity to buy picks, especially in the second round. With plenty of good seniors and NBA-ready underclassmen in this upcoming draft, there will be plenty of prospect options even late in the second round for Toronto to consider.
To that end, let’s take a look at two possible candidates for the Raptors: Devon Dotson and Isaiah Stewart.
Isaiah Stewart - PF/C, Freshman (Washington), 6’9”, 19 years old
Isaiah Stewart is an old-school big that possesses a post-up and short midrange game that would make Vin Baker and David West proud. He likes to get the ball on the post, bully his defenders, and finish with either hand. Stewart’s excellent hands allow him to get in scoring positions even if bigger defenders fronted him.
A growing part of Stewart’s game is his ability to switch from the post to a face-up and nail a mid-range jumper. Aside from that, Stewart will compete and try to outwork multiple opponents on the board.
Stewart’s excellent motor allows him to rim-run effortlessly. He plays bigger for his size and should project as a small-ball big. His wingspan and his strength make up for his height.
Defensively, Stewart provides a tall and robust wall against post-ups and should be quick enough to be a help defender. He averaged 2.1 blocks per game, and this is a testament to his effort, reads, quick reaction, and length, as he doesn’t have the elevation to block the ball up high.
Areas of Concern
Stewart’s old-school game is a problem, as the modern NBA game rarely dumps the ball to the post anymore. He’s also got issues in the post — he’s more of a finisher in the post than a playmaker, so Stewart often forces the issue, resulting in turnovers or bad shots.
Stewart’s perimeter shot is not reliable at this point, and his ceiling could be unlocked if he can hit them at a respectable rate. Stewart’s shot mechanics would probably need to be reworked a bit for this improvement to happen.
Stewart is an undersized big with limited athleticism. His standing vertical leap and even his max vertical leap have to be below average, limiting him to a below-the-rim finisher, which is a bit disappointing as he’s got quick hops. Because of this limitation, Stewart won’t be a lob threat unless it’s clean, and would likely not be a big dunker in traffic.
If there’s a prospect in this draft that I would like as a replacement for Serge Ibaka, it would have to be Stewart. Stewart can play as Nurse’s small-ball big, and his quickness, motor, and length should allow him to patrol the middle of Nurse’s zone defense. He’s an effort guy, so his motor and physical tools should allow Stewart to adapt to whatever defensive schemes that Nurse might throw him into.
Stewart should provide a physical roll man for the Raptors’ ball handlers, and his effort and activity in 50/50 balls would quickly earn him fan-favourite status. Nurse might be an ideal coach for someone like Stewart who’s got a somewhat outdated game. Nurse might be able to use Stewart’s post-up game and create some problems for opponents.
Devon Dotson, PG - Sophomore (Kansas), 6’0”, 21 years old
Outside of the lottery, there aren’t many skill sets that I’m 100 percent positive would pan out at the NBA level. Devon Dotson’s ability to get in transition and lap everyone for a transition bucket is one of them.
Even though Dotson is undersized for his position, he posses elite speed and quickness that he fully takes advantage of to get to the basket. Watching Dotson put on the jets makes me think someone’s pressing the turbo button. Once he gets that half-step on his defender, it’s a layup waiting to happen. The fun part of Dotson’s speed to the rim is that he doesn’t need a lot of dribbles to get by his defender as he’s got a lightning-quick first step.
Defensively, Dotson is such a pest on the ball. His lateral quickness and willingness to be in-your-face has caused a lot of issues for opponents. Off the ball, Dotson is a ball-hawk in the passing lane. He makes excellent defensive reads, making the right gambles going for the steal, or making a quick rotation, beating the recipient for the pass with his quick hands and feet. From there, he looks like Super Mario who just got some Star Power in transition.
Areas of Concern
Dotson’s speed can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, it looks like he’s out of control, and his one-track mind to go right for a layup makes it a bit easier for opponents to force him into a turnover or a bad shot — that is if they can keep up with him. His reluctance to use his off-hand or floaters makes his moves to the basket more predictable.
Dotson’s passing and court vision are a bit all-over-the-place, but I wonder if better recipients at the NBA level would show his true capabilities as a playmaker.
Lastly, Dotson’s shooting needs improvement. His mechanics seem OK, e.g. they’re consistent enough and won’t need a complete overhaul. The issue with Dotson’s shooting is that he tends to “push” his shot especially when he’s shooting them from NBA range. Whoever ends up getting Dotson would need to work with his body mechanics to generate power from his core and legs.
Did I mention that Dotson is undersized? Dotson stands barely 6-feet without shoes and has a short 6’3.25” wingspan. To NBA Draft analysts, that’s a big negative, especially if the prospect can’t shoot from the perimeter consistently. The lack of size and length is often associated with a projected negative defense at the NBA level.
But don’t tell the Raptors that. Toronto’s starting backcourt is smaller in wingspan than Dotson. Lowry and VanVleet are both listed at 6’ and with a wingspan of 6’2” and 6’1.5” respectively. They lack height/size but make it up with their compete-level and basketball IQ, both attributes that Dotson has.
Dotson can be a change-of-pace guard off the bench for the Raptors, and his pick-and-roll game should work in the NBA. He should be able to contribute right away as a third point guard that can take more minutes if Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet is out due to injury or rest. With uncertainty regarding Patrick McCaw’s situation, the Raptors should probably look to invest in a third (or fourth) point guard.
It would be good to see Dotson as part of the ragtag bench unit that Nick Nurse could use to generate chaos — I’m convinced he’s an ideal candidate for this purpose. Besides that, Dotson’s style of play on both ends of the court would benefit from acting as an understudy to Lowry and VanVleet.