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Draft Watch: Who should the Raptors select in various lottery landing spots?

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While the NBA Draft positions remain to be determined, let’s do some research on who the Raptors should select at the various lottery positions they might end up at.

The NBA Draft Lottery is just one week away, and it’s hard not to get excited as the Raptors have a chance to add talent from the top tier of this coming NBA Draft. The last time the Raptors were in this position was in 2016, when they had the ninth overall pick — thanks to the Andrea Bargnani trade — which they used to select centre Jakob Poeltl.

The Poeltl selection was not a sexy pick as other notable names such as Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, and some guy named Pascal Siakam were some of the names picked after Poeltl. However, Poeltl was valuable enough to be used as a sweetener in the Kawhi Leonard trade with the San Antonio Spurs. We know how the rest of that story goes.

Right now, all we can do is speculate as to what will happen in the NBA Draft and Lottery. Given that vagueness, we looked at this year’s top prospects and came up with a plan for the Raptors at every possible lottery position. For reference, here are the lottery odds via Tankathon. The Raptors could either land in the 1-4 range, stay at 7th, or slide anywhere from 8th-11th.

2021 NBA Draft Lottery Odds via Tankathon

Now let’s make some selections. If the Raptors make it to the number one slot, they should go with...

First Overall Pick

Cade Cunningham should be the pick here, as he would not only give the Raptors a piece to build around in the future, but that future could very well be as early as next season. Cunningham’s size and versatility at the point should be a perfect complement with Fred VanVleet in the backcourt.

There’s not much more to add here: Cunningham is the consensus number one pick and if the Raptors luck into that spot, they’ve gotta go with him.

Final Pick: Cade Cunningham. Let’s not overthink this one!

Second Overall Pick

Here’s when it starts to get tricky. I like Evan Mobley at this spot, but Jalen Suggs is also intriguing. Picking Suggs might allow the Raptors to fix their past mistake of picking Bargnani over Brandon Roy. I believe VanVleet and Suggs can coexist in the backcourt, and he should be ready to contribute from Day 1, which is essential if the Raptors are trying to stay competitive with the core they have now. Then there’s Jalen Green as well.

Now, even if the Raptors end up taking a step back this season — through a combination of bad luck or injuries or who knows what else — Evan Mobley would still be the best pick at this spot. He’s the best player available that checks all the drafting philosophies of Toronto: they’d be drafting for upside, talent, fit, and positional need. A frontcourt of Mobley-Siakam-Anunoby could cause a lot of problems for opposing teams — assuming Mobley realizes his potential. It’s hard to find a centre that fits the Raptors’ system, let alone a potential All-Star talent. In all, I think Mobley could help in the short and long-term for Toronto.

Final pick: Evan Mobley, especially if Kyle Lowry comes back.

Third Overall Pick

If Mobley is still available at this point, he’s our guy. But who should the Raptors get if Mobley is out of the picture: is it Suggs, or should the Raptors take a hard look at the Ignite kids in Jonathan Kuminga or Jalen Green?

I’m probably out on Kuminga at this pick, as Suggs and Green would likely be much better options at this point. There’s a significant overlap between what Kuminga can do offensively (for now) and what Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby can already do for the Raptors. Meanwhile, there’s some overlap between Suggs and VanVleet.

Green gives the Raptors a big shooting guard that can potentially become the bucket-getter they haven’t had had since DeMar DeRozan (and Kawhi, but that’s a different story). For a team that lacks a scoring punch, Green fits that immediate need for the Raptors. He would bring decent size and much-needed athleticism in the backcourt.

Green should be ready to contribute right away, as we’ve seen him play in the G League. His game might be rough around the edges, but he should be able to show us a better skills package than what DeRozan flashed during his rookie year with the Raptors.

Final pick: At this point, it would have to be:

  1. Evan Mobley (assuming he was still available at #3)
  2. Jalen Green (my go-to for #3)
  3. Jalen Suggs (my fall-back for #3)

Fourth Overall Pick

By the time commissioner Adam Silver gets ready to announce the fourth pick, two names are likely to be gone: Cunningham and Mobley. As noted above, I was on the fence between the two Jalens, but ultimately I’ll go with Green for the third pick. At least one of them would be available at this point, along with Kuminga and Scottie Barnes.

This position may actually be the easiest selection to make for the Raptors. My gut tells me it’ll come down to choosing which of the two Jalens — Green or Suggs — is still available.

Final pick: 1. Jalen Green. 2. Jalen Suggs

Seventh Overall Pick

Assuming the odds line up the way they’re supposed to, the Raptors will be most likely be down in the 7th-8th range. Unfortunately, I think outside of the top four prospects, there’s a drop-off in talent — which is usually to be expected. To start with, some of the names floating around the 5-6 range are Kuminga, Scottie Barnes, and Keon Johnson.

There’s a small chance that one of Kuminga and Barnes might be available at this point for the Raptors. Kuminga offers more current and potential offense — he looks like someone who projects to have a better offensive package on the wing than Siakam and Anunoby. Imaginng a future lineup in Toronto of VanVleet-Kuminga-Anunoby-Siakam with a decent centre is a fun thing to do. If Kuminga realizes that offensive potential, the Raptors could become a big problem in the East.

On the flipside, Barnes’ defense is tailor-made for the Raptors, and his facilitation skills would be a welcome addition to a team that could potentially miss Lowry’s playmaking next season. His offense is not as advanced as Kuminga’s at this point, and he’ll get his points via hustle/energy effort. It will take an offensive jump from him or Anunoby and Siakam for Toronto to see a death lineup of VanVleet-Siakam-Anunoby-Barnes-[functional centre]. But damn, good luck scoring on that lineup.

What if both Barnes and Kuminga are no longer available at this point? Well, there’s still Davion Mitchell, Keon Johnson, and Jalen Johnson. I think the upside of both Johnsons is higher than Mitchell’s — right now though it feels like Mitchell might either get picked much earlier or still be available in the next coming picks. Jalen Johnson’s positional versatility and two-way play have me slightly favouring Jalen over Keon, but I won’t be surprised if the Raptors pick the opposite.

Final pick: 1. Whoever is left between Kuminga/Barnes, 2. Jalen Johnson

Eighth Overall Pick

Now it starts to get sad. The Raptors mailed it in for the last 10+ games to get a higher chance at landing a top-four pick, and ideally the seventh pick overall. If Toronto ends up eighth it’ll be a bummer. If teams like the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings move into the top four, that would likely mean the Raptors are sliding (if they’re not up in the top four as well).

I had Jalen Johnson as the back-up on the previous pick if both Kuminga and Barnes are no longer available. At this point, Kuminga and Barnes should be gone, and there’s a chance that a team might pick Jalen Johnson before the 8th pick. Keon Johnson’s stock is intriguing, given how he’s played in the NCAA as one of the focal points at Tennessee despite having been just 18 years old. He’ll be an upside pick and might not be a regular contributor this coming season for Toronto. Still, he’s someone that could improve drastically throughout the season if he’s part of the bench crew.

Final Pick: 1. Jalen Johnson, 2. Keon Johnson

Ninth Pick to 11th Pick

At this point, I have a lot of guys I like, but none stand out over the other. If anything, a pick in the nine to 11 range will be dependent on what the Raptors really prioritize for the coming season (e.g. immediate impact, positional need, best talent available, etc.). It also feels like this spot marks the second line of demarcation in this year’s draft class, after the first four picks. The gap between the remaining prospects isn’t that great, and it won’t be a surprise if we see someone with a consensus draft ranking of 15th or 16th move up to this spot.

That said, I would reach a little bit here and go for Kai Jones if both Johnsons are off the board. It’s said the centre spot is a dying breed, that players in that position are a dime a dozen out there. Well, the Raptors’ defensive system requires someone that can offer scheme versatility — if a centre is only capable of playing drop coverage, they won’t be good enough. Jones is the best available centre that fits that bill and still projects with enough upside.

For slots nine to 11, my big board would look like this:

  1. Jalen Johnson
  2. Keon Johnson
  3. Kai Jones
  4. James Bouknight
  5. Josh Giddey

And now, for the final ranking of the Draft Lottery, here’s my current ranking:

Draft Lottery Big Board

  1. Cade Cunningham
  2. Evan Mobley
  3. Jalen Green
  4. Jalen Suggs
  5. Jonathan Kuminga
  6. Scottie Barnes
  7. Jalen Johnson
  8. Keon Johnson
  9. Kai Jones
  10. James Bouknight
  11. Josh Giddey
  12. Davion Mitchell

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We’ll be back after the NBA Draft Lottery next Tuesday to see where the Raptors landed and their options are next.