Toronto’s own Melvin Ejim spent four years at Iowa State as your typical undersized (for the next level) power forward that needs to become a big wing if he wants to play in the NBA. However, as a defensive player and the Raptors sitting with three picks, Ejim could become Toronto’s next best option at small forward under any number of possible circumstances.
Draft Express has ranked Ejim outside of the top 60 picks in this year’s draft at 87, however, in fairness, the differences between players taken in the mid to late second round and those just on the outside looking in can be very hard to discern. Head Coach Dwane Casey ranks defense as his top priority and the Raptors have been making a concerted effort to land players that fit with their coach’s style giving Ejim a shot he might not have gotten in the past.
“Melvin (Ejim), he is another guy that is intriguing because he plays so hard defensively,” Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman said. “Because of the style of Coach Casey, we kind of gravitate towards players that fit into that (style) naturally and Melvin is a powerful defender on the wing and that goes a long way in the NBA.”
Melvin Ejim audio
As a senior, Ejim was a Big 12 Champion and Conference Player of the Year. His game has grown by staying those extra years in college and that should help him to shed some of the preconceptions about what he can and cannot do.
“I am a small forward and I bring the versatility to be able to defend bigger guys,” Ejim said. “I have a strong body and can do a lot of things defensively and offensively. I can shoot the ball and play inside and out. If you don’t consider those good things, then tweener is a bad thing. I just it depends on how you view the role. A tweener – playing small ball, that’s an asset you can use to help you win games. I am just trying to show I can play defense, I can defend the perimeter, defend small forwards and be a leader, shoot the ball and be aggressive.”
Ejim’s scoring improved from 11.3 points per game as a junior to 17.8 as a senior and he almost doubled his makes and attempts from three-point range as a senior to 1.3 of 3.7 per game.
“You like to see players that are stair-stepping towards (us when) we get them because that’s a natural trajectory that you want to see,” Tolzman said. “That’s the progression you want to see because when we get them, we expect that same thing because as a rookie they are always going to struggle just getting used to the number of games, the physicality of the game and I think that we would expect the same type of hard work progression to make yourself a better player and I think Melvin proved that that’s the type of guy he is.”
Ejim is finding the pre-draft workout process to be a lot like going from high school to college. He thought he was past all of that, but getting drafted is proving to be a lot like the job interview process every college grad goes through. Ejim has to convince his potential employers that he’s worth bringing on board.
“It’s kind of like senior year in high school all over again,” Ejim said. “It’s kind of like you are going out for college, but this time the schools aren’t coming to you, you are going to these teams. It is just as important as it was then to show how good you are, to go out and play well, conduct yourself in a well manner. It’s kind of a shame going back to that, but it’s something I’ve been a part of, we have all been a part of and it’s just exciting to be back in a situation like this where you have a chance to go and potentially get drafted to the NBA.”
It’s the tweener label that Ejim has to either shed or possibly own. The best case for Ejim is to prove he really can play small forward in the NBA and has the size and skills to slide over to power forward when needed.
“I have yet to see anyone say you’re a tweener, we don’t really do tweeners over here,” Ejim said. “I have been getting a positive vibe and honestly, it is not even about being a tweener, it’s about being a player. If you are somebody that can go out and play basketball on different levels and play different positions, then you are valuable – you are a good player. It’s not really a tweener, it’s not really a small, it’s not really a big, it’s a good player. I think it is something the NBA is heading towards and it is becoming more of an asset instead of something that is defining you as less than a great player.”
“Guys still get characterized as tweeners,” Tolzman said. “It is just a way to kind of group guys together to see what they do, but I think you now look at players that are versatile enough to guard multiple positions. It is almost a positive in today’s game because you want the flexibility if a team goes big against you, you have the ability to just shift guys over and keep your best players out there.”
The Raptors have said they will take the best players available in the second round regardless of position – with the usual caveats about fit, draft and stash possibilities and need. However, if Toronto takes one of the many big wings in the first round, they’ll likely be looking at some of the many point guards and rim protectors at 37 and 59, but Ejim would make a great option if the first round of the draft plays out differently for Toronto.