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Reviewing the Raptors at the 2021 NBA Draft

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The Raptors zigged when everybody thought they would get a Zag. It looks like Toronto could be done with the small lineup, as they look to reinvent themselves as a versatile and position-less basketball team.

2021 NBA Draft Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

As the first shocker of Thursday’s NBA Draft night, the Raptors selected Scottie Barnes, a versatile point forward from Florida State University. It felt like 99 percent of the mocks (and the entire Raptors fanbase) had Toronto picking star point guard Jalen Suggs. It makes sense, he was the consensus fourth-best player in the draft, and he presumably could have filled the void in the case of a departure from Kyle Lowry.

During GM Bobby Webster’s pre-draft presser, he was asked about Toronto’s draft strategy. Do they choose the best player available or a prospect that could be the better player 3-4 years from now? He responded with, “I think we’re always going to go with the latter, which is who we think long-term is (going to be) the best player.” The key here is that they see Barnes as the better player in the long run. By this way of thinking, the Raptors don’t seem to mind having current roster issues; better that than finding out the roster down the road is not good enough.

SI’s Jeremy Woo reported that Suggs had an underwhelming workout with the Raptors, and we all know how Barnes felt about his workout and fit with the Raptors. Perhaps that played a factor? It didn’t feel like Suggs tanked his workout, given how he spoke glowingly about the Raptors during his pre-draft presser.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is this: the Raptors see something in Barnes that convinced them that he’s their guy and will be one of the franchise cornerstones in the future. It’s not a secret that the league has trended into a big-wing league, with teams fielding lineups of “small-ball” large wings — especially in the playoffs.

Going over the second round, the Raptors selected Canadian Dalano Banton 46th, and David Johnson 47th. (This, despite BJ Boston, Sharife Cooper, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Aaron Wiggins, heck, even Scottie Lewis still being available). It really does seem like the Raptors front office prioritized positional/defensive/playmaking versatility over all else.

“The positionless of the NBA now, I don’t think yo ucan have too many of these big two-way wings. So i think from a positional standpoint, we don’t see it as an overlap. Let’s have all five guys look like him and OG and Pascal and all that.” — Toronto Raptors GM Bobby Webster

A real position-less basketball team? Coach Nick Nurse has already been on the record envisioning OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Barnes all on the floor together.

Let’s review the selections:

1st Round

4th Overall - Scottie Barnes, Point Forward

  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6’7” w/o shoes
  • Wingspan: 7’2.75”
  • School: Florida State (Freshman)
  • College Stats : 10.3 PTS (50.3% FG%), 27.5% 3P%, 4 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.5 BLK, 2.5 TO

Scottie Barnes is a physical marvel, and he can be something special assuming the Raptors can sharpen and develop his skills. Maybe that’s a big ask, but the Raptors obviously believe they can do it. They’ll have to start with everything related to his ability to score in the half-court. No big deal.

From the jump, Barnes may get a chance to start, as Pascal Siakam is expected to miss some time while rehabbing his shoulder. As a result, Barnes could get some secondary playmaker reps, which would allow Fred VanVleet to play at his best, off-ball, sniping behind the arc. For the most part though, Barnes will be down the pecking order on offense, with the goal will likely to be, much like OG Anunoby’s rookie year utilization, to get him in the corners and start from there with his three-point shot. Fortunately, Scottie already fits in as a grab-and-go transition forward, so he’ll be ready to literally hit the ground running.

The challenge will be when Siakam’s back in the lineup. Will the Raptors go centre-less with all three of OG, Siakam, and Barnes or will the rookie move to the bench? One hope here is that by adding another facilitator with size, Nurse and his coaching staff can get even more creative on some of their play sets to take advantage of Barnes’ skill set. They’ll have to because it’s clear they won’t what Barnes taking too many outside shots just yet.

Nurse likes his team to run, get into early transition for scoring opportunities, or create mismatches. As mentioned, Barnes is a dual-threat here. He’s a threat to get the transition game started, and he’s awesome going downhill, especially with his physicality. Barnes is also a willing passer in transition, and he’ll give up the ball early for a hit-ahead pass or create a 2-on-1 opportunity for his teammates for an assist. His excellent motor should also allow him to zoom to the other side of the floor, much like what we’ve seen during Siakam’s early years.

Aside from shooting, Barnes has a lot of things to work on. He needs to tighten his handle so that he can get to the basket faster and with more explosiveness. And Barnes will have to find his comfort level with being a willing shot-taker (not necessarily just in the perimeter) to be a constant threat. It’s a big ask — but again, the Raptors believe they can get there with Barnes.

Pick Analysis: Like almost everyone, I had Suggs 4th on my personal board. But I also don’t mind the Raptors picking Barnes. He gives them another multi-skilled forward who seems upbeat, smart, and ready to develop his game. If nothing else, the floor on him is quite high. While there are perhaps immediate fit issues with the current Toronto roster — there’s no guarantee this will be the Raptors’ roster for this coming season (never mind the next one).

2nd Round

46th Overall - Dalano Banton, PG

  • Age: 21
  • Height: 6’7.75” without shoes
  • Wingspan: 6’10.25”
  • School: Nebraska (RS Sophomore)
  • College Stats : 9.6 PTS (41.1% FG%), 24.7% 3P%, 5.9 REB, 3.9 AST, 1 STL, 0.9 BLK, 2.5 TO

Well, look at that: the Raptors picked another point-forward who can’t shoot.

Dalano Banton is an intriguing player who can stuff the stat sheet. Unlike Barnes, Banton was a full-time point guard for Nebraska, so he’s played the position with the defense keying in on him at the point of attack. Much like Barnes, Banton can’t shoot; he went 0-for-6 from 3 in the G League Camp scrimmages (and shot 25 percent behind the arc in his lone season at Nebraska). Still, the Raptors have a history of picking up performers from that setting, with Oshae Brissett as a recent standout.

Banton should bring even more versatility to the lineup and offense, with an ability to actually run it. The problem, of course, is he’ll need to develop a consistent jumper to provide floor spacing, especially if he doesn’t have the ball. Defensively, he’ll shine in the Raptors’ system as his length, long strides, and ability to help (via passing lane jumps and timing at the rim) will be big adds for Toronto. At this point, though, it’s too early to tell whether Banton will be part of the rotation or if he’ll be a lock for the Raptors 905.

Pick Analysis: I had Banton going undrafted, and none of the mock drafts I saw had him going in the second round. I would have taken the chance on some of the names that fell down like Boston and Cooper, but I don’t mind the Raptors sticking to their game plan. Once again, it’s not impossible to believe the Raptors see something we don’t.

47th Overall - David Johnson, Combo Guard

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6’3.25” without shoes
  • Wingspan: 6’10.5”
  • School: Louisville (Sophomore)
  • College Stats: 12.6 PTS (41.1% FG%), 38.6% 3P%, 5.8 REB, 3.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.3 BLK, 3.2 TO

David Johnson is a physical combo guard, who has a little Lowry in his game — he’s got good vision, can run the point, or be a secondary facilitator. Johnson’s slightly limited offensively, though, as he prefers to get to the lane via north-south drives rather than via much lateral movement. Johnson’s shooting is streaky, but he looks lights-out compared to Barnes or Banton. In this, he’s got the potential to break through his ceiling if he develops a consistent jumper (I think he’s close).

Johnson brings IQ and versatility on both ends of the floor. He’s a tough defender and can hold his own against taller players while being able to dish punishment on smaller guards in the post. I’m a little bit iffy if he can defend the shifty, ultra-quick guards of the NBA, as he, like Lowry, struggles with that. Johnson’s scoring mentality should be something that can help the Raptors right away. However, much like the earlier iteration of Lowry, Johnson can be erratic and out of control. Still, at 20 years with his physical tools and scoring acumen, it’s worth taking the chance on him.

Pick Analysis: Much like with Banton, I thought there was better talent available on the board. Aaron Wiggins and AJ Lawson, for example, could have brought size and scoring prowess to the shooting guard position for the Raptors. However, Johnson’s game is still evolving. He’s made a big jump from his freshman year, especially in his perimeter shooting. That shooting can unlock a higher level for Johnson, and perhaps the Raptors’ development program will be just the ticket.