The best big man in the 2021 NBA Draft class happens to be a perfect fit for the Raptors. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely Evan Mobley will fall to the number four spot in the draft — and unlikely still that the Raptors will pay the price to move up to select him.
We saw how decent the Raptors looked when Khem Birch, a solid if functional centre, came into the picture late last season, but he’s entering free agency in the coming weeks. Maybe Birch will return to Toronto, which would be good since, really, the Raptors are not necessarily looking for an All-Star big man. What they need is a centre that fits their style of play. There’s no reason to break the bank unless it’s for a premier free agent big man.
The Raptors scraped the bargain bin last free agency, but it didn’t work out. So now what? With two picks in the second round (and a potential market of undrafted players to choose from), can the Raptors find a big man (or two) who fits their system? Again, fit is a big factor for this exercise. If the prospect is a lumbering centre — someone that’s slow, flat-footed, looks like fish out of the water outside of the paint defensively, lacks defensive IQ, poor lateral quickness — they are out as options.
With that said, let’s take a look at who could be available for the Raptors with their 46th and 47th picks in the second round. And let’s note that Makur Maker, Ibou Dianko Badji, and Ariel Hukporti withdrew recently, so the class of big men in the second round has thinned out a bit. Are there still any decent ones available? Let’s investigate.
- Age: 22
- Height: 6’9”
- Wingspan: 7’1.25”
- School: Seton Hall (Senior)
- Draft Range: Late 2nd Round - Undrafted
Mamu is a skilled big that can do many things offensively — he can score in various ways and has the ability to space the floor. He can handle the ball, attack on the post, or ISO his defender from the perimeter. Mamu can do all of this and also maintain the vision to find an open target along the way. He’s not elite at anything in particular, though, perhaps due to his average athleticism. Still, Mamu presents a well-rounded game that could bring versatility and different looks for whichever team he ends up with.
Mamu struggled as the number one option at Seton Hall, but he’s improved his numbers every year. With the Raptors, he won’t have to carry the offense as he did in college. His best attribute right now is his versatility — Mamu can play both PF and C positions, and he’s a decent threat anywhere on the floor, with that bonus playmaking capability from the post or on the move. Mamu is a solid enough defender and should be able to get out on the perimeter against average players, but he doesn’t offer as much in rim protection.
- Age: 21.9
- Height: 6’11”
- Wingspan: 7’8.5”
- School: Shawnee State (Senior)
- Draft Range: Undrafted
Onu killed it against lesser competition and four years at Shawnee State allowed him to expand his game outside of being just a rim protector. As is, he should immediately slot in with similar usage to Nerlens Noel, providing rim protection, help defense, and a vertical threat. Onu’s got an intriguing developing offensive game, including perimeter shooting and face-up game.
Onu could provide the Raptors with the rim protection they sorely missed last season. He’s mobile for his size, and he gets from point A to B very easily in help defense situations, often with every ill intention to swat shots with extreme violence. Offensively, Onu will be a vertical lob threat and as a roll man. If he continues to develop his perimeter shooting (he shot 40 percent on almost four attempts as a senior), Onu would just need to learn Toronto’s defensive system to fit right in.
- Age: 22.5
- Height: 6’11”
- Wingspan: 7’3.5”
- School: Kentucky (Senior)
- Draft Range: Undrafted
Olivier Sarr is another athletic energy big man, but he’s got enough polish offensively to maybe provide something more. He’s got some tools in the bag in the post, a work-in-progress face-up game, and he can hit the mid-range jumper well enough. Sarr’s got a little bit of early Serge Ibaka in him where you don’t want him to do too much outside of his skill set — but he could be money from his spots. Given his overall tools (physical, athleticism, motor, and fluidity), perhaps he can be developed into being able to do more offensively (as with Ibaka over time).
Defensively, Sarr’s got a lot of work to do, as he sometimes finds himself out of position and ends up fouling, which led to several games of foul trouble at Kentucky. He’s light enough on his feet and should have the lateral quickness to stay in front of the ball, but sometimes, it’s the decision-making that gets him in trouble.
Sarr projects to be overlooked as an older prospect. However, given his physical/athletic profile, and the Raptors’ willingness to look past the “old prospect” label, Sarr could be someone the Raptors take a closer look at. Perhaps he can be a two-way prospect and someone who can clean up his game after a year’s stint with the Raptors 905.
In all, Sarr can potentially be a floor-spacing big, as his free-throw shooting has improved every year in college. His perimeter shooting volume is quite low, but he did shoot 44 percent (albeit on just over a shot attempt per game) from behind the arc.
- Age: 19.8
- Height: 6’9.25”
- Wingspan: 7’2”
- School: Filou Oostende (International)
- Draft Range: Fringe 2nd Round - Undrafted
Amar Sylla is seeing some comparisons to Pascal Siakam due to their similarity in size, motor, athleticism, and activity on both ends of the floor. Like Siakam to start, his offensive game is still raw, but he can provide energy plays and rim protection. Sylla is an upside pick at this point but he tracks as a good project to keep, especially if it’s on a two-way contract.
Sylla is probably two years away — or more, depending on where he ends up. Should the Raptors pick him up, he won’t be a draft-and-stash pick — he’ll be playing his first couple of seasons in Mississauga. Sylla would need a lab to work on his shooting, offensive moves, and learning the Raptors’ system, and there’s no better way to do that than be with the 905. Sylla’s upside is intriguing enough that the Raptors might be able to turn him into a rotation-calibre player in a couple of years. Yes, that feels far away, but the base is there.
- Age: 20.5
- Height: 6’10”
- Wingspan: 6’10”
- School: Loyola
- Draft Range: Undrafted
Santi Aldama is a skilled big and perhaps the only person on this list who can offer consistent floor spacing from day one. The allure here is Aldama can offer not just spot-up perimeter shooting, but he can also re-locate, counter by putting the ball on the floor, or generate some shots in the post. He’s got decent range from beyond the arc, and he’s got good passing vision. Basically, he is fundamentally sound overall. Defensively, he’s a much better help defender than an on-ball defender and reads plays well to be on time in those scenarios.
Aldama would be a good depth piece for the Raptors (e.g. a third centre in the rotation) and could offer a change-up (more offense, passing, floor spacing) than traditional big men. As is, he’s probably not strong enough to bang against NBA big men, but the key defensive skill Aldama does have is an ability to hang with guards/wings in the perimeter. I think he’s got a good overall basketball IQ that translates well on both ends of the court. In time, he could harness that IQ on the defensive end, a la Marc Gasol, to use smarts rather than pure athleticism/quickness.
- Age: 22.8
- Height: 6’9”
- Wingspan: 7’3.25”
- School: Texas (Senior)
- Draft Range: Late 2nd Rd-Undrafted
Right now, Jericho Sims is more of an athlete than a basketball player. To be clear though: he is really athletic and has an incredible physique. Sims leverages his physical tools with his effort and activity, focusing on rebounds, dunks, putbacks and making himself available near the basket. Sims can’t create his own offense at this point, and his game is still very raw. On this note, it’s a little disappointing that Sims never developed his offensive game in four years in Texas. Hustle, energy, and defense are his calling card right now, and he should be switchable against wings on defense. That said, what you see right now could be all you get with Sims.
Sims would be an excellent short-term development prospect. He’s already got the NBA-ready body and athleticism to hang in the paint. He could potentially develop as a backup big, but he’s just a fringe rotation player for now.
Sims’ defensive versatility and effort make him a good fit for the Raptors’ defensive system, and he’s someone that should be quick enough and strong enough to keep up with the biggest and fastest of NBA players defensively (even recent champ Giannis Antetokounmpo). If he can develop any sort of broader offensive game, a frontcourt of OG Anunoby-Siakam-Sims in Toronto could get scary.
- Age: 22
- Height: 6’11.25”
- Wingspan: 7’4”
- School: Utah State (Junior)
- Draft Range: Mid-Late 2nd Rd
Queta is a physical presence in the paint. He’s an old-school big that tries to punish defenders down low, protect the rim, and gobble rebounds. With an NBA-ready body for a centre, he should not have any issues adjusting against the physicality of the league. That said, he’s not so light on his feet, even if he’s just mobile enough to adjust his positioning as a help defender — in this way, he’s got solid anticipation as a shot-blocker. The question with Queta is whether he can develop a decent offensive game from the short range. Right now, he tracks as being just a rim protector/rebounder.
Queta’s defensive presence should allow Siakam and Anunoby to roam elsewhere on the floor, especially against opposing teams’ best players. The Raptors could use that kind of physical deterrent in the paint — even if Birch does return to the roster.
That said, I haven’t seen many instances where Queta has been taken out of his comfort zone (i.e. defending on an island against guards/wings), so it might be best to ease him into the system coming off the bench. It can be all too easy for rookie big men to get lost once put out on the perimeter on a regular basis. The additional challenge here for the Raptors would be to develop Queta’s offensive game so he doesn’t clog the paint for the team’s guards/wings.
Right now, I would probably use one of Toronto’s two second round picks to select one of Sandro Mamukelashvili, Neemias Queta, or even Jericho Sims. Then, the Raptors could see how the rest of the second round shakes out and try to sign one of Amar Sylla or E.J. Onu as two-way contract players or 905 additions.
What do you all think of that plan for Toronto? Are there other players you think the Raptors should take a look at?