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Syndication: The Courier-Journal Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Raptors Draft Watch: Can Cason Wallace help revitalize the Raptors’ defense?

Cason Wallace is one of the best defenders in this draft and could be the next in line for that “Kentucky Effect” glow-up.

We are fresh off a season where we saw the emergence of Tyrese Maxey, De’Aaron Fox, Immanuel Quickley, Malik Monk, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. We all know what Tyler Herro and Devin Booker can do, and we just saw Jamal Murray help the Denver Nuggets get the chip. That’s a healthy turnout for John Calipari’s blue blood program.

Cason Wallace appears to be the next in line for this “Kentucky Effect,” and he might be poised for an NBA “glow up” as much as their predecessors. Measured at 6’2.5” without shoes and a +6” wingspan, Wallace is a solid individual and team defender who can cover many mistakes of his teammates on the fly.

Wallace put up 11.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists while shooting 34.6% from the perimeter. Wallace’s numbers don’t pop much, as injuries hampered his season and his play. It also doesn’t help that Kentucky’s a little weird when assigning roles to their guards. Wallace had to split his season between playmaking and playing off the ball.

Why Cason?

I’m going to name-drop some players again, so indulge me here. Lu Dort. OG Anunoby. Malcolm Brogdon. Jerami Grant. Mikal Bridges. Marcus Smart. Bam Adebayo. Jrue Holiday. Jimmy Butler. Kawhi Leonard. Most of these players entered the NBA known more for their defensive potential than their offense. Their ceiling levelled up once their offensive skill set got unlocked.

For a prospect with excellent defensive instincts paired with the effort he’s shown as an on-ball/off-ball and help defender, I see Wallace as a potential upside pick that doesn’t have to be a complete project. His offense is limited right now, but he doesn’t have anything offensively that’s not correctable.

Wallace’s strong, compact frame, length, and good hip mobility allow him to be switchable from 1-3 defensively, and his defensive instincts allow him to freestyle and help create defensive stops. Even while retreating, his active hands and excellent footwork complements his lateral quickness, allowing him to be a good defender without having to go for the home run steals. I can’t help but be excited about how his defense would look when he adds the systematic and analytic approach and the scouting report to enhance what he can on the defensive end.

Wallace should be able to provide combo guard utility to whichever team would draft him, as he can run the offense, execute pick-and-roll plays, occasionally do advantage creation, and he takes care of the ball well. He should slot in as a 3+D option right now, as he looks comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations and hunts for them around the perimeter with his sneaky active relocation.

Overall, what I really like about Wallace is that he makes winning plays on both ends of the floor. His hustle, effort, and not giving up on a play, along with his unselfish game and willingness to make the simple yet right play are some traits that you would want on your team. Watching him play, sometimes he also gives off some shades of Kyle Lowry.

Areas of Concern

I’m not too worried about Wallace’s shooting, as his mechanics and what he’s shown so far indicate that it should get better. If anything, he needs to do a better job getting himself better rhythm shots, especially on his pullups.

Wallace’s handle can definitely use some work, as he struggles to dribble through traffic, especially going to his left. He also needs to gain high-level use of generating an advantage through advanced dribble and change of pace movement, along with utilizing the threat of playmaking. This is why I’m high on him, as this part is correctable, and once he figures this part out and pairs it well with his decent first step and ability to absorb contact, his game can get unlocked without needing the Kyrie Irving finishing package.

Raptors Fit

The Raptors struggled with their point-of-attack defense last year, to the point where former coach Nick Nurse was forced to play Malachi Flynn. Wallace will be an instant upgrade at the backcourt position on the defensive end. Out of the prospects at this range, He is also the best fit should the Raptors run it back with Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.

Should VanVleet take his talents elsewhere, there’s a scenario where Wallace can start, and he’s the pseudo point guard, with Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes taking the lion’s share of playmaking. Bare minimum, he should be able to do OG Anunoby’s role during his rookie year. His ability to adapt his game to what the team needs from him — to some extent, and as a potential defensive disruptor should make it hard not to play him. Wallace’s at-rim finishing is also a clear upgrade over Vanvleet and Trent Jr. so that’s something new to see.

Wallace doesn’t need the ball to be effective on the floor. His ability to impact the play on both ends and unselfish play will make him an instant fan favourite. I don’t know what kind of defensive scheme the new coach Darko Rajakovic, but I can say right away that “yes, he’ll fit in.”

Wallace only worked out for two teams, with the Raptors being one of them. Is there a promise here? A two-way player that makes winning plays? That smells like a Raptors-y player right there. Now, if the Raptors can sort out their developmental system, perhaps they can unlock Cason Wallace’s hidden ceiling.

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