After four days of pre-draft workouts at the Air Canada Center, the Raptors have taken a look at 27 prospects and they have seen some decent talent. Some potential first round picks that should get the Toronto fans excited and more than a few second round possibilities that really could contribute something even if it’s not immediately. For the moment at least, the Raptors select at 20, 37 and 59 and have obviously put a ton of work into preparing for the second round.
The best player to walk into the gym so far has been Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis and while Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has seen Ennis play several times and heaped praise on the young Canadian, he acknowledged they do not expect Ennis to be available when they draft at 20 in the first round. Ujiri also indicated he likes the shooting guards in the first round, however Canadian Nik Stauskas still hasn’t made an appearance in Toronto and he isn’t expected to be available when the Raptors get to pick either. So unless Ujiri can make a deal, and everyone believes they are working hard to get something done to move up despite the team’s strongly worded cautions to the contrary, Toronto will not be drafting a Canadian in the first round. Trading up in any draft is hard to do.
Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman practically laid out what the Raptors are looking for in a draft pick this year.
“If you draft a guy who is a defensive guy – maybe his shot isn’t perfect or he doesn’t have the best ball handling skills – you can work on that,” Tolzman said. “That is the whole idea of assistant coaches working on player development. Defense might be what gets him on the floor as a rookie because he busts his tail, because he isn’t afraid to mix it up defensively and all that other stuff will come over time and that’s where they develop into better players that way.”
20. K.J. McDaniels, Clemson Junior
Of the players Toronto has looked at, McDaniels easily stands out as the guy the Raptors should take in the first round at 20. Probably the most athletic player in the draft after Andrew Wiggins, McDaniels is the defensive-minded wing that will tickle Head Coach Dwane Casey’s fancy. A no step vertical of 33” and a wingspan just shy of 7’, the 6’6 196 lb McDaniels averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.8 blocks last season and Tolzman practically drooled over his potential.
“(McDaniels’ athleticism) will absolutely translate,” Tolzman said. “He is a dynamic player who it’s hard to see how good he is in this setting because in 5-on-5 with help-side defense that’s where he flourishes. I think with the way the spacing in the NBA is and the rotations and defensive principles are so important, a guy like him, he can fly in from the wing and get blocks – like nothing. That’s what gets guys time in the NBA.”
Tolzman believes it is easier to teach a defensive player how to improve on offense than the other way around and that McDaniels has already started down that path. The Raptors are willing to work with their pick to help him realize his full potential over time.
“When he first started, he was just a high wire interior type guy and in his last year, he was all over the floor and did all different types of things offensively,” Tolzman said. “I don’t know if he is comfortable enough yet to come in and shoot the NBA three, but that’s definitely the type of thing as he gets more comfortable stretching his range out, he be that type of guy. He can get on the floor because of his defense and from there, the sky could be the limit for him because he does have all the athletic tools.”
An athletic defensive wing with a developing offensive game who can rebound and block shots at a high level, now that’s a Coach Casey draft pick.
37. Khem Birch, UNLV Junior (Canadian)
The Raptors have been looking at a lot of second round point guard prospects and if that really is a priority, then they should be seriously considering Louisville senior Russ Smith, however, in the back of everyone’s mind will be that the team intends to re-sign both Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez and Toronto has bigger holes to fill. If for some reason Toronto traded their first round pick or moved up, Melvin Ejim would make a solid choice here. However, if things don’t change, Tolzman’s explanation for why shot blocking isn’t a priority pretty much confirms it’s a priority.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a priority, but it’s definitely something – I don’t want to say we lack – but we could have used – we can use,” Tolzman said. “Jonas (Valanciunas) is not a shot blocker, but he protects the rim, the same with all of our other bigs. Our second line guys, we don’t have a big time rim protector out there and I wouldn’t say it’s a priority, but it’s a roster need for sure.”
Birch was a junior at UNLV who saw his production increase dramatically over each of his three college seasons to a double-double with 3.8 blocks per game. A hustle player and traffic rebounder, the 6’9 209 lb Birch is reminiscent of a player Ujiri drafted in Denver – Kenneth Faried, but with better size and shot blocking ability.
“Khem (Birch), he is so athletic and he’s got the length and the shot blocking and the rebounding,” Tolzman said. “He is an intriguing player because he is the type of player that the NBA is going to more – athletic, nimble types of bigs and he is right in that group.”
Being limited offensively shouldn’t be a deterrent when the Raptors are selecting players at any point in the draft and especially in the second round.
“Coach Casey was here and he absolutely has some input on the type of guy that we look to bring in,” Tolzman said. “That’s why Melvin (Ejim) and Khem (Birch) are both on our board because they are defense-first type players and anything they can give us in addition to that would be icing on the cake. Because of the style of Coach Casey, we kind of gravitate towards players that fit into that naturally.”
Birch may not be ready to play in the NBA right away, but most second round picks aren’t and his potential is very intriguing. There are more NBA ready players that should be available in the second round at this point, however, Toronto isn’t likely to have a lot of minutes for the player they select here. Someone with a high upside that they can develop in the D-League like Birch better fits the Raptors needs.
59. Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State (Canadian)
One of the big Canadian names at the Raptors first day of NBA pre-draft workouts in Toronto was the Arizona State 7’2 senior Jordan Bachynski. The big man is known for his defense in the paint and the Pac-12 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year averaged 4 blocks per game last season, is the Pac-12 Conference career record holder with 314 blocked shots and led the nation with 133 blocks as a senior. If the Raptors want to add rim protection and size, they can’t go too far wrong with Bachynski.
“My role at ASU was a defensive presence,” Bachynski said. “To protect the rim and that’s something that I prided myself on. I am a team guy. I do what my coaches want me to do. Did I like that I didn’t get all the shots I wanted – no, everyone wants more shots. Even if you all the shots, you still want more shots and I embraced my role at ASU, but I felt I also showed that when I did get the ball, I was effective. I think I averaged something like 5 (or) 6 touches a game and I scored 12 points. In the tournament I got the ball a lot more and I was able to score 27 points on really good bigs and I think that shows that given the opportunity, given the ball down low, I can do something good with it.”
This senior is more mature than the typical NBA draft prospect. Bachynski is a late bloomer whose game has grown dramatically over four college seasons and it appears that he has the work ethic and the experience necessary to keep improving even if he doesn’t see a lot of court time in the NBA right away. Unless the Raptors go the draft and stash route with a European player, Bachynski is a safe pick at 59.
The draft typically gets pretty slim at the back end and with only one pick left after the Raptors at 59, if Toronto took a different player, in all likelihood, they could still add Bachynski to their Summer League roster and sign him as a free agent later. As with every draft, there will be a lot of talented young men that do not get selected and Toronto has looked at several likely suspects that fit into that category already.
Presently, Toronto has two more workouts scheduled for the coming week and no one believes that will be the end of it by any means. There are still a number of highly-rated players Toronto wants to get a look at before the draft.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Says Draft Is Overrated
Surprisingly, but not unfairly, Ujiri believes this draft is overrated, but perhaps a better word is overhyped. There is a lot of talent available, however, this draft would have a lot to live up to if it were to match some of the historically great NBA Draft classes.