The Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri ended this season with comments like:
• “We plan on growing as a team”
• “We are not going to make any crazy quick fix decisions here.”
• “I know we have a lot of decisions to make and we plan on making the right ones and going after aggressively our guys. We feel we should have some continuity and continue with this team, the core of this team.”
• “Priority for us will be the draft first. We have that coming up and we have to attack that as hard as we can.”
Toronto will select with the 20th, 37th and 59th picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and Ujiri has experience selecting in the first round of the draft in this range. With Denver, Ujiri selected Kenneth Faried 22nd overall in 2011 and the next year he took a young European wing Evan Fournier with the 20th pick. Ujiri is not afraid to draft outside of the US college system.
The Raptors most obvious needs are a bigger wing player with a strong defensive game and another big man with shot blocking potential. Based on how Casey likes to run his offense and the types of players Ujiri has brought in since he arrived, a decent jump shot with range out the three-point line is definitely in the nice to have category.
The other obvious change from past seasons is expectations for the Raptors will be higher next year. That means there will be fewer, if any, minutes for the typical project players often taken in the second round. It doesn’t mean Ujiri will not bring in two or more rookies into camp next October, it just isn’t likely there will be minutes available to develop that many players. The 20th pick will be the most likely spot to grab a player Casey can insert into the rotation unless Ujiri can trade up.
1) T.J. Warren, NC State sophomore 6’8 SF/PF, Rank 16/20
2) Jerami Grant, Syracuse sophomore 6’8 SF, Rank 20/19
3) Rodney Hood, Duke sophomore, 6’8 SF, Rank 22/16
4) Adriean Payne, Michigan State senior, 6’9 PF, Rank 21/24
It will also be worth watching 6’8 SF/PF Cleanthony Early from Wichita State, 7’ PF Kristops Porzingis from Latvia, 6’11 PF Clint Capela from Switzerland, 7’1 C Artem Klimenko from Russia.
A lot can change between now and draft day. Sometimes a player is held back by the system they played in or the role they were given and players do work on their weaknesses ahead of the pre-draft workouts. Here are some quick and dirty summaries based on the Draft Express evaluations.
Warren is “as gifted a scorer as you’ll find”, but they question his ability to defend small forwards in the NBA.
Grant’s “length, athleticism and competitive streak could help him fill a role early in his career.” He has a 7’2 wingspan and is expected to be able to defend at the next level. However, at this point, he is a slasher with a questionable jump shot.
Hood was a knockdown three-point shooter at Duke, making 2 three-pointers per game on 42 percent shooting, however, “Hood’s biggest weakness as a NBA prospect likely revolves around his defense” and that is going to be an issue for a coach like Dwane Casey.
Payne is a 23-year-old senior and is likely more NBA ready than most prospects. By staying in college, he developed a three-point shot and became an effective stretch-four and teams will have a very good idea about what he’ll bring to the table. From a Raptors standpoint, “defensively in general Payne has never been considered a real stalwart” and that could be a real problem.
The 18-year-old Porzinigis would be a longer term project, but Ujiri hasn’t shied away from either acquiring Europeans or developing talent. The Latvian is athletic and mobile with good ball-handling skills and stretch-four potential, however, it’s his shot blocking ability that might tweak Ujiri’s interest. “The 6.6 blocks he averaged per-40 minutes this past summer at the U18 European Championship is the highest rate of any player in our database since 2012 by a wide margin. His 2.9 blocks per-40 is also the third best rate in the past fifteen seasons in Spain among players under the age of 20.”
There will be a lot of players visiting Toronto over the next month or so and perceived fit and chemistry will be as important as skills. All these kids have talent and potential. It will be as interesting to see the effort they show in the workouts and how they look in a gym full of players with similar abilities as how they performed in college.
This is one list of prospects that is very subject to change and Ujiri could easily have a few tricks up his sleeve in terms of trades involving draft picks.