With a Coach Casey led team, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Raptors are looking at defense first when prospective rookies strut their stuff in Toronto ahead of the NBA Draft. A lot of the players President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has brought in were defenders in college including two top shot blockers last season, Canadians Khem Birch and Jordan Bachynski.
On Thursday, the Raptors had a look at some very interesting prospects including Kyle Anderson, K.J. McDaniels, DeAndre Kane, Jordan McRae, C.J. Fair and DeAndre Daniels. Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman explained what the team is looking for and what they expect at 20 in the first round of the draft.
“We were actually talking the other day how we wished free agency happened before the draft and we would have a so much easier time,” Tolzman said. “The biggest thing is to not make draft decisions based on that – on your current roster and your current situation. You keep it in the back of your head and you’ll take it into account when you are drafting players, but if the most talented guy or the highest guy on your list happens to be at a position you are loaded up with, you can work stuff out later. You can use all those guys as assets later. Everything is in play in the NBA and you never know how stuff is going to play out.
“I think at 20, the chances of you finding a guy that can be that ‘one-guy-away’ are slim to none to come in right away and do that. Those guys aren’t available at 20. Whether it’s the best player available or the best player on your board, if it fits with the culture of the team and the makeup of the locker room – all that stuff in addition to being a project, I think you roll the dice on a guy like that because you have a little bit more of an opportunity to develop that person as team just builds on its own.”
Tolzman indirectly just explained the parade of point guard prospects the Raptors have been looking at, but unless Tyler Ennis slips dramatically, it’s very unlikely Toronto was looking at any of those prospects as potential first round draft picks at 20. However, including the point guard prospects, the team has been bringing in a lot of college players known for their defense and on Thursday they looked at a couple of solid first round prospects in Anderson and McDaniels who could be available when the Raptors make their pick.
“I have always thought that if you could get defensive minded players that’s more important than offensive minded players because all of the (skills like) shooting and offensive-type principles, you can work on those, you can build on those, but the mentality of a defensive player, a lot of time, it’s ingrained,” Tolzman said. “If you get a guy who is not into playing defense or just doesn’t buy into that, that’s always tough to develop a guy like that to become a defensive player. Whereas, 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. 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.”
McDaniels has “arguably the best athleticism of any wing player in the draft not named Andrew Wiggins” according to Draft Express. A no step vertical of 33” and a wingspan just shy of 7’, the 6’6 McDaniels averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.8 blocks as a junior at Clemson. He has even shown some progress on developing a three-point shot, but it’s his defense that has the Raptors attention.
“(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.
“In his three years at Clemson, (McDaniels) showed progress (offensive improvement was) already happening. He improved as a shooter every year and he got more comfortable as a perimeter shooter. 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. 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.
“We were talking about that with Melvin Ejim yesterday. The same type of thing where (we) are looking for guys that can come in and impact the game without needing the ball or without needing a big role on the team and it’s guys like that, they kind of carve out a niche as a defensive minded guy and then they improve all the other things and they become so much more well rounded. (McDaniels) is the same way, 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.”
The 6’9 Anderson is a very different player from guys like McDaniels or Ejim. In the right situation on the right team, Anderson could start and be a key player from day one. A lot of teams will want to take a look at what Anderson brings to the table and a team like the Cavaliers that needs a playmaker to pair with Kyrie Irving should be looking for ways to get this kid on their roster.
“(Anderson) is the definition of versatility,” Tolzman said. “That guy, he can play just about every position on the floor. Just about everything he did in college should translate to the NBA just because of the pace that he plays at and the level of I.Q. that he plays with and the composure he shows when handling the ball, it’s an NBA level no question.
“It is pretty remarkable how a guy so big and so – I don’t want to say non-athletic – but that’s just who he is. He is a below the rim guy, but he is so smart with the way that he uses his body and the way that he plays the game that it’s pretty remarkable. He’s like a throw-back player – he’s an old school guy.
“He can definitely play the point, I think it’s defending the point that’s the thing, but so many point guards are scoring guys now, so that means you have 6’ guys who are on the floor just to score and then you have a guy like Kyle who is on the floor to do the actual running the team and on offense that sets up fine and on defense you can just switch men.”
“He is going to handle the ball wherever he ends up because that is what he is so good at. I think if a team drafts him it’s to have him do that. You are bringing him in to be a guy right away to do that.”
There are a number of teams in the lottery that could use Anderson’s skills, but probably will not want to use that high a pick on him – like the Cavaliers and the Kings. This kid is someone to watch on draft night.
There is a pattern forming in the types of players the Raptors are bringing in and in how the team talks about them afterwards. Defense will trump offense and Head Coach Dwane Casey’s fingerprints will be all over whomever the Raptors select on Draft Night.
Shot Blockers, Guards And Canadians At Raptors Workout
At the third day of pre-draft workouts in Toronto, the Raptors looked at some prolific shot blockers, a couple of high scoring athletic guards and a pair of Canadians. Montreal’s Khem Birch and Toronto’s Melvin Ejim were the featured players.
Toronto Raptors Workout Some Athletic Point Guards
The Raptors brought in some athletic point guards expected to be taken in the second round on Tuesday including Jordan Clarkson, Nick Johnson, Russ Smith and Jahii Carson.