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SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft: The Toronto Raptors Select Kobe Bufkin 13th

In the 2023 iteration of the SB Nation Mock NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Kobe Bufkin with their 13th pick in the first round.

The annual SB Nation blogger mock draft has dropped, and the Raptors HQ had the opportunity to make the 13th pick for the Toronto Raptors. As a side note, this exercise has no trades, so it’s a straight-up mock draft. We won’t be entertaining a package of Pascal Siakam for Anfernee Simons and the 2nd overall pick, even if our friends at Blazer’s Edge beg us.

Selection Process

To take a step back and give a bit of an insight into the thought process of selecting Kobe Bufkin, here’s how the last six picks went before we were on the clock:

Gradey Dick and Cason Wallace went consecutively before the Raptors were on the clock, which would have been an interesting thought experiment, having to deliberate on choosing Bufkin over Gradey or Wallace. From there, it was pretty easy for me to go with Bufkin, my BPA remaining. I did revisit Keyonte George and Jordan Hawkins, but it came down to Bufkin vs George for me.

Bufkin and George is an interesting pairing, as they have some similarities and glaring differences. George is the type of player who will brute force his way to a shot, using his array of skills in his bag, and problem-solve as he makes his move deeper into the defense. On the other hand, Bufkin manipulates his defender and has shown to do the same with the strong side defense and looking for his spots, utilizing his misdirection, change of pace, and long slinky steps to get to his spot on the floor. George probably will have the better “pop” as a three-level scorer. At the same time, Bufkin gives any team a better ball handler, especially if they need someone to play the point.

Fit-wise, both fare well in the immediate and long-term future of the Raptors. Defensively, both seem to die on screens and struggle with screen navigation, but it’s rare for rookies to be good at this right away. Bufkin appears to have the size advantage, as he’s measured at 6’4.25” w/o shoes, and a +3.5” wingspan.

I did not want to hold up the draft like Masai Ujiri did with the trade deadline, so I went with Bufkin as the 13th overall pick for the Raptors. I went with utility versatility and, in my opinion, a slightly higher upside (more on both of these later).

Why Kobe?

Bufkin doesn’t have Cason Wallace’s defense, Keyonte George’s dynamic offensive bag, or Jordan Hawkins’ proficiency from the perimeter on a heavy diet. However, what Bufkin doesn’t have is a glaring hole that most of the guys at his range would have.

Bufkin is the ultimate combo guard starter pack of this draft. He’s not too raw where he would need to be developed from scratch, but he can be developed with an already good base skill set. The beauty of it is you can go in a few different directions with his development. At the very least, he’ll slot in as a combo guard, someone that can play either guard spot depending on the play or lineup. There’s a path for him to develop as a true point guard or perhaps a backup shooting guard.

Bufkin is a three-level scorer and can play off the ball. He can play the point to run the offense and be utilized to create an advantage for himself or his teammates. He’s very crafty on/off the ball, and there’s a smoothness to his game that makes basketball look easy.

Usually, I look at a couple of things regarding prospects. First is the growth arc. Does the prospect look the same from when you look at the start and end of the season, for better or worse? Second is how this person impacts the game, especially when it comes to winning.

Bufkin checks off both boxes; He had an incredible developmental arc to his sophomore season, and every time something good happened to Michigan, he’s almost always involved. Bufkin was put in a spot where he had to scale up his usage and carry a team, and he responded well.

I’m probably higher on Bufkin than most people, as his upside is being slept on. Despite being a sophomore, He has youth on his side — he is younger than the Thompson twins, and several freshmen mocked in the first round, like Jarace Walker, Brandon Miller, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and his teammate Jett Howard. Bufkin also fits the modern guard role, as the NBA’s been trending away from pure point guards, and scoring, or at least an off-ball skill set, is required as teams lean on other positions for playmaking and advantage creation.

Areas of Concern

Bufkin is not perfect. Otherwise, he would have been mocked higher. One of the things that will need to get addressed is his strength. He was listed at 175 lbs as a freshman and 186 lbs at the Draft Combine. His physique has improved if you look at his freshman, the start of his sophomore season, the end of his sophomore campaign, and now, this image of him with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Once he gets stronger, he’ll be able to finish much better while absorbing contact and be much more willing to go through the chest of his defender. The added strength should help him fight over screens, something that he’s struggled with being put in pick-and-roll situations defensively.

As-is, Bufkin projects to be a neutral defender. He reminds me a little bit of Bradley Beal, where he would show you flashes of above-average defense, screen navigation issues, and sprinkled in with subpar defense. He also makes a lot of medium to high-risk gambles trying to go for a steal.

Aside from that, and it feels like I’m nitpicking at this point, Bufkin’s perimeter shooting needs to improve, as he’s more of a streaky shooter right now, converting two or more three-pointers on only 12 of 33 games.

Raptors Fit

Ultimately, I went with Kobe Bufkin as he fits the Raptors regardless of the direction that they want to go. Suppose Masai wants to continue this experiment of putting the ball on Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. In that case, Bufkin can play as an off-ball guard for them, a role that Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton struggled with for the most part.

If coach Darko Rajakovic needs someone to run the second unit, Bufkin is ideal for this role. You can also envision him as the “Robin” to Siakam or Barnes’ transition lineups. There’s also the upside of him being a microwave scorer off the bench.

Looking long term, if Barnes is the point guard of the future, Bufkin’s skill set is a good complementary piece to him. If Barnes is not ready to take on the mantle consistently, Bufkin can share the workload.

The least ideal scenario for a Bufkin selection is if the Raptors keep Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., but I guess that’s a conversation for another day.

At the end of the day, Bufkin checks all the boxes on the Raptors’ roster grocery list. He’s skilled enough that he should be able to earn his playing time, having the versatility to adapt his game to what’s needed from him and be able to scale up his usage if called upon.

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