Raptors Cage

Meet The Rooks

The NBA draft has concluded and fans everywhere are excited over their new rookies. Zion Williamson, Sekou Doumbouya, Nassir Little, Bol Bol, these are just some of the amazing talents that were scattered throughout the board. Then you have the Toronto Raptors. Although we only had one pick this year, and that pick has been the second last in both rounds of the entire draft, the team managed to draft an impressive prospect in Dewan Hernandez. On top of that, our front office has found 5 undrafted rookies from this draft class they are giving the chance to show out during the summer league to secure a spot on the Raptors 905, and eventually the team.

While I only expected our pick and about 2-3 of the undrafted talents to advance, they are all interesting to me. I have spent the last week or so researching them, and today I would like to present to you my thoughts on each player. Note, considering where they were drafted there are two common themes with these players. One, they are relatively old for rookies which limits their upside as they have less time to develop, and their upside is not anything too stunning at the moment. Chances are these players will be role players or solid starters at best (ironically, they look like potential replacements for Gasol, Ibaka, and VanVleet, all free agents next year).

Dewan Hernandez – Power Forward/Centre, Miami (FL)

Strengths:
Despite missing what would’ve been the third and final season of his college career, it appears that the Miami native has made some significant improvements over the last year. Prior to being banned from the NCAA, he had claimed he was looking to establish himself as a shooter and attempt over two threes a game. Although he did not get to show that off, what we saw from his shot was a fast fluid jumper that needed tweaking. So when Hernandez’s shot was reported to look “revamped” in workouts, it was clear how hard he has been working. As a matter of fact, he has been so impressive lately, that his G-League Elite Camp performance was enough to earn him a spot at the exclusive NBA Draft Combine.

So what did we learn about Dewan there? Well, he is very fast, very agile, very strong, has great stamina, and has really big hands. All-in-all a very fascinating physical and athletically gifted specimen. This is something that was evident throughout his college career. Thanks to advanced mobility, which makes him a big threat in transition and a very versatile defender. His defence also carries on into the paint as he has showcased a lot of potential as a shot blocker/rim protector thanks to the aforementioned athleticism. This applies to his rebounding potential too, as he had averaged a respectable amount of them in his last season.

Of course, these skills apply to offence, where he has shown great promise too. Most of his points come off of drop-offs and pick situations, as he is a great roll-man. In the case that his shot develops he could also be a threat in pick-and-pops, but I’m curious if he could be the ball handler on occasion. For a big, he has shown to be an awe-inspiring ball-handler, and he has also been blatantly working on his ability to shoot off the dribble. The concept of having five players on the court, all who can handle the ball and create opportunities is a very appealing one. Dewan Hernandez holds a lot of promise in his large uber-athletic body.

Weaknesses:
When talking about Hernandez, I made sure to make it clear about how much potential and promise he has. Reason for this being that he is a really raw talent that still needs a lot of polish. For example, while he has potential as a blocker and rebounder, he will need some work to be capable of doing it well at the NBA level. He has shown that he needs to commit more when contesting shots and grabbing boards, plus it does not help that he has struggled to play with his back to the basket. This is something that is expected out of centres as it is a common practice for them, making this a must for Dewan.

While his shot has reportedly seen much improvement, it is hard for us to dictate how much at this current moment, and how well it will translate to the league. While it is fair to be optimistic, you can’t completely ignore the fact that he shot .687% in Miami and was 0/5 in back-to-back seasons. Based off what we as fans have been able to witness, there is reason to not start jumping head over heels about this, but why didn’t we get to witness what would have been his third season? The NBA had found Hernandez tied to the NCAA corruption scandal due to circumstantial evidence, and while many who are knowledgeable of the situation seem to believe he was unfairly treated, I am sure may find concern over this due to “off-court troubles,” even though they should not.

Anyhow, in the event that his outside shot has not yet come along, he does not have many post moves. As I stated, he is a quality roll-man and is pretty good at making the most of drop-off passes. However, when it comes to creating his own opportunities in the paint, Hernandez appeared to look devoid of options. Dewan is someone I really like, and I do think we can develop him into a pretty good player. However, although he has the potential to be a good talent (prior to getting banned, NBA scouts suggested he stay in college one more year as he could go first round if he did), it could possibly be a challenge to chisel this stone into art.

Plays Like: An unpolished and undisciplined Bam Adebayo

Sagaba Konate – Power Forward/Centre, West Virginia

Strengths:
Prior to a knee injury cutting his third college season short at eight games, Sagaba Konate was on pace to have his best campaign to date. His defensive prowess was as sharp as ever, even being dubbed the most dominant shot blocker across the whole NCAA, and why wouldn’t he be? Averaging 2.8 blocks at the time, and 3.2 the season prior, his style is one that is one of the most efficient techniques I have seen to date. He is great at positioning himself to contest a shot, even if he has to do it in a few halves of a second. This showcases great awareness and quick yet intelligent thinking on his part.

He then uses his great lateral ability to meet the ball at the apex of the attempt where he will then deny it. What makes this impressive is his accuracy of hitting the ball and not the arm, and how well he times and anticipates everything. This leads to a relatively minimal amount of fouls for the shot-blocker. Sagaba being in the paint off his rim protection skills alone can and will make any player think twice about going against him, especially as he has the strength to contest anyone. There’s more to his defence than that, though, as Konate has the ever-coveted trait of a giant who can effectively switch onto guards and wings, thanks to great mobility. Regardless, let’s get back to his paint presence because there’s more to that than blocking too.

Pulling down 7.7 boards per game in his latter two seasons, he uses his weight, strength, motor, and vertical ability to pull as many boards down as possible to create more opportunities. These traits also make him a potential lob threat in traffic, and he has proven he is someone that can make the putback baskets that go a long way. The part that separated the shortened season Konate was having from the one previous, was his three-point shooting. Having gone from not even attempting a three, he went 9/23 (.391%) from deep, and the .795% free throw shooting he displayed was encouraging as well.

Weaknesses:
While his shooting form may be quick and effective, he can often be hesitant as well. It was not uncommon for him to seemingly second guess himself, and or jab stepping. While this is a method to create some space for himself, a mixture of him looking to gain more confidence his non-existent ball-handling (sub-par, even for a big) will make this something he won’t be able to get away with at the next level. On top of that, 8 games is a small sample size, and despite the high potential as a shooter he does have we can’t be sure just how well his ability will initially translate, and how effective it will become.

The importance of Konate shooting the three is a little greater than it is for other bigs, as he is a relatively poor scorer inside, making a relatively underwhelming 56% of his shots at the rim, most which being put-backs and drop-offs, as he does not really have any post moves and could still improve as a roller in pick situations. Speaking of that, while Konate is 250 lbs of muscle, and despite what looks like quality length, he is only 6’8”. He will be harder to bully around and finish over, but this gives him a slight disadvantage in comparison to the 250lb 6’11” and 7′ 0” talents of the league who will not hesitate to use this to their advantage.

As a big, he could also look to improve as an offensive rebounder too. Clearly, those are harder to grab, especially for someone who would theoretically be stretching the floor, but this should be something that would mature with age. Another weakness of his that should do the same is how he often gets carried away while blocking shots, looking to rack up a rejection instead of merely going for the contest which in many cases is the more efficient and superior option. However, the thing that may be the biggest concern is how he will be now that his knee injury is healed. Had he stayed healthy and continued that level of play, he could have gone late-first to early-second, which creates some injury concerns.

Plays Like: Ben Wallace with the ability to stretch the floor

Lindell Wigginton – Guard, Iowa State

Strengths:

Lindell Wigginton has been one of the most impressive shooters college basketball had to offer across the last few seasons. Thanks to a quick release that features high elevation that allows him to shoot over taller talents, the Nova Scotia native had shot .379% from deep. What makes this all the more impressive is just how far his range went, and the .488% that he had shot in catch-and-shoot situations. In a team that moves the ball and is as resourceful with floor spacing with as the Raptors, the standout shooting Lindell provides is something they could surely use to their advantage.

Speaking of ball movement. Wigginton has shown some interesting potential as a passer. Making some very tough and impressive passes while displaying what appears to be good vision, one would hope that the 6’2” guard would be able to continue to grow in this aspect. Another aspect of his that holds good potential is his finishing ability. Making 68.2% of his attempts at the rim, his great athleticism allows for him to elevate high off the ground, giving him a bit of comfort as he looks to go against rim protectors, and his crafty acrobatic nature allows for him to execute and even draw a high amount of fouls.

As for his own defence, he has what I like to call the Lowry complex. Despite weighing in at 6’2 and 189 lbs, he shows no fear and nothing but 110% effort no matter who he switches onto. If he were to find himself trying to defend Zion Williamson on the perimeter, he would without a doubt in his mind that he’s capable. Although he would likely struggle, as most would, the surprising (core) strength he possesses goes a long way, helping him to take more contact than others. This tenacity is something that shows up in a number of hustle plays as well and is a reason why he averaged 4 rebounds last season which is a pretty sizeable number for a small guard.

Weaknesses:
Regardless of all that, due to his size alone, he will be hunted down on mismatches by bigger players such as the aforementioned Zion Williamson, but that’s to be expected in many cases. The problem is, his size creates more problems than that. The Iowa State product is 6’2’ and 189 lbs, about the typical size of a point guard. Problem is, he does not play like one and has some ways to go before he becomes one. He is naturally a shooting guard, and despite his great passing abilities, his playmaking still leaves much to be desired. Not that he has poor vision or he can’t be a great playmaker, but he often a little wild on offence and can be found making the wrong choices.

This is something that carries into his scoring as well, as he has poor shot-selection. Wigginton takes a few more pull up jump shots than he should. Not only is he 20.9% on shots off the dribble, he only makes 23.4% of his two-point jump shots. As a guard shooting in all types of ways from any spot is very important, and it is even more important to properly pick your spots which Wigginton has trouble with. Of course, his ability to draw fouls compensates for this, but the .687% he shot on free throws is not the most flattering number. It also brings up some question marks about how well he can really shoot at the next level despite showing great range.

With free throw shooting being a more accurate depiction of shooting potential than three-point percentage at the college level, the possibility does exist that Wigginton may not be as much as a deadeye as he has been advertised to be. Hopefully for his sake that is not the case, as it is going to be the skill of his that continues to elevate his career, especially if he fails to develop as a playmaker. Lindell is a very talented player with a strong work ethic, he just needs to polish his skill set, but more importantly, he needs to become a more intelligent player and decision maker on the court.

Plays Like: A raw and undisciplined George Hill

Matt Morgan – Guard, Cornell

Strengths:

Here we have a dynamic scorer. Matt Morgan is a player who has excelled at being a threat everywhere on the court, primarily attacking the rim and inside. Thanks to excellent backdoor cuts, he is able to get himself to the rim. He is not completely reliant on others making plays for him, though, as he has a very solid handle and is more than capable of getting to the rim himself. He makes an astonishing 70.2% of his shots coming from that area, which is a rather promising number for a guard looking to take the jump to the NBA. What’s even more promising, however, is his shooting.

Morgan shot .431% on 7.7 deep attempts last season and .860% on 5.8 free throws. He is already a sure shot to be a deadeye marksman if he were to be given time on the NBA court. His form is almost picture perfect. Quick yet calculated a very technically sound. His ability to shoot contested shots is impeccable, and the talent he has shooting off the dribble on top of his catch and shooting is very useful. His elite footwork often implements itself into his shooting, as he uses an array of moves to create better/more comfortable looks to shoot that the defence can’t do much about.

When he’s on defence, there is a good amount he can do though. Thanks to aforementioned footwork, he has the ability to defend the perimeter rather well. However, the parts of his defence that catch my eye the most are his post work and the way he plays the passing lanes. He has quality anticipation when it comes to timing and expecting passes, but does not make huge gambles when going after them. His post defence had developed as he was guarding an unusual amount of wing players that would hold a size advantage over him. He has developed a technique that makes it more difficult to push him around. His physicality also has played a part in his great guard rebounding, snagging down 4.5 missed shots last year.

Weaknesses:
When it comes to weaknesses, Morgan’s all originate on the offensive end of the ball. Depending on where you look, Matt is 6’2” or 6’3 and either 174 lbs or 180. Either way, it is undeniable that he is the size of a point guard and traditionally undersized to play the 2 spot, although he could in some specialized rotations thanks to defensive toughness. Anyhow, considering he has the frame of a floor general you would expect that he has the skills of one, but that just is not the case. He has shown average vision and passing skills while making a number of poor choices. 3.4 turnovers per game at the college level is not a good sign.

What else is not the best sign is the level of competition he played. Cornell is in the Ivy League, which is often considered to have some of the weaker competition in the NCAA (one of the reasons aside from racism as to why Jeremy Lin was overlooked). I have seen the claim that the Ivy League was actually relatively impressive in terms of their competition this year, I’ve seen this brought up as a concern more often. What this means is that some are left debating whether or not his game will carry over will, and if so to what extent? As someone whose value was pretty much reliant on offence, scoring to be specific, how much of that would be effective in the NBA?

His ability to shoot the ball from deep would surely be unfazed, but how well would he get these shots? Morgan had the ball in his hands quite a lot, and at times was a bit of a black hole when given in those situations too. Like many players who are accustomed to having the rock in their possession, Matt’s off-ball movement is pretty spotty. Not that he is incapable of being great at creating offence for himself as someone else handles the ball, as he has shown high levels of potential when navigating screens and such. The problem is his motor gives out and he seems disinterested, hovering around a specific area waiting for a pass. This makes it easier for the defence to close in while the offence stagnates,

Plays Like: Malik Monk

Jessie Govan – Centre, Georgetown

Strengths:
Having a 6’11” man who weighs 255 lbs is a pretty intriguing thought, especially considering some sources having said he has lost a significant amount of weight, which makes sense why you can find Govan weighing in as 270 on some sites. He tends to use his size best on the offensive end. Often using his big body to set firm screens, Jessie is mobile enough to get down low to receive the pass and finish off the play. Of course, his mobility is not only limited to these plays. Like many of the other (up-and-coming) centres of the sport, this makes him a more versatile defender who can deal with quicker players on the perimeter when need be.

His play on the perimeter has been what has set him apart, though. Last season he shot .412% on 3.5 three attempts (and .766% on free throws). He can shoot off the dribble or immediately fire once a pass is thrown his way, but Govan was a humongous threat from deep who stretched the floor greatly for Georgetown. The release is quick, confident, and technically sound. Thankfully, he does manage to score in other ways aside from pick and rolls and deep ones though. Using his strength to get himself down low, Jessie gets himself into a comfortable position where he can use his height and length to score down low. Whether he is using his respectable (for a big) dribbling to post up if he’s triggering an inside pass, and of course the put-back shots.

Rebounding and defence is something he does use his size to help him with those. Imagine being contested or boxed out by a literal giant with immense strength and a 7’3.5” (as of 2014) wingspan. Someone of Govan’s stature can become a big deterrent to those who dare attack the rim and is someone that can give any big a run for their money as his physical attributes can match up with just about anyone. Having a traditional big who can score from literally anywhere on the court (even his two-point jumper is efficient at 45.8%) and switch onto perimeter talents is something that can go a long way.

Weaknesses:
As appealing as Govan’s body happens to be, it also manages to be his biggest weakness. Despite being an absolute hulk, Jessie’s athletic ability has often been brought up as a huge concern regarding him. The most glaring hole in his game that this creates is his defence, primarily against other bigs. Those from Joel Embiid to Willie Cauley-Stein will, in theory, be able to take advantage of the lack of verticality and lateral movement that the Georgetown Giant possesses. This can also become an issue, thanks high-flying slashers such as Zach Lavine who may feel a little more daring thanks to how much they can challenge Govan as a rim protector.

His problem as a rim protector goes beyond that, though. Yes, Govan is big, he is long, he is strong, and aside from the weak hops, hides motor has been questioned by some when it comes to his defence. Part of this can be chalked up to the 1.2 blocks he put up in 30.3 minutes, and although I’m one who puts less weight into blocks when judging defenders compared to others, this is a pretty underwhelming number. The same concern is often brought up for his rebounds. While he did show off grabbing ten boards a night in 2018, he rebounded at a significantly inferior rate the following year.

Some of this can be chalked up to what seems to be an increase of perimeter play on both ends, but Jessie still does not use his ability to the fullest. When he’s locked in he becomes an amazing rebounder, but the problem is that you are not always going to get that player, and you won’t be able to properly predict what he will do. As icing on the cake to all this, there are still those who want to see how he will perform at the next level for different reasons. Some question skillset, but in this case, they are also wondering how Govan will take to the higher paced action the NBA provides.

Plays Like: Kyle O’Quinn with a three

Jordon Varnado – Forward, Troy (Note, info on this prospect is limited making him harder to analyze)

Strengths:
Jordon Varnado has previously been regarded as a hidden gem in the college season. And why wouldn’t he be? This past season he was the most impactful the Troy Trojans had on their team, and had also managed to iron out the most glaring hole in his game: shooting. After clocking .322% of his three-point attempts throughout his first three seasons, he managed to knock down .407% on 4.6 attempts (and a .783 free throw percentage) during his final season. But he has to be more than just a shooter to arguably be the most impactful player Troy had, right? The answer to that is yes, as he could do essentially everything.

Standing at 6’6, Varnado does not seem that big, especially to be a combo forward. However, weighing in at 235 lbs and being a very athletic individual. This is something that helps him on both ends of the court. Defensively, he is able to guard positions 1-4 (and in some instances, 5). The most interesting aspect of his defence, though, would be his shot blocking, Thanks to great timing, anticipating, and positioning, he is able to sky high to deflect blocks, averaging 1.2 a game (which is not too bad all things considered). It is also showing how hard he works on the court, but the best example of that would be the effort he gives when it comes to the offensive rebounding, averaging an eye-catching 2.2 in 2019.

Often, his defensive rebounding leads to some great transition opportunities. Thanks to his upgraded shot he is comfortable taking pull-ups, but can also attack the rim rather well thanks to his physical traits. This carries into his halfcourt offence too, with 44.3% of his shots coming at the rim he succeeds on, making 66.9% of them, being able to score in the post in a number of ways (from lobs to spin moves to hooks). Nonetheless, his impact offensively is not limited to scoring, as he is a surprisingly good playmaker. With formidable vision and the ability to execute passes that could make Kyle Lowry blush, he’s another smart playmaker on the court. And for someone who had sky-high usage, Jordon had been pretty secure with the ball.

Weaknesses:
The reason Varnado is overlooked enough to be considered a diamond in the rough is because Troy is in the Sun Belt conference. Although he has a well-rounded game with parts that could carry over to the next level, the competition Jordon faced is not bad, ranking 11 out of 32 in 2018 based on BPI, you could say it wasn’t great either. This likely played a role in teams deeming him unworthy, as it obviously allows him to shine more than others, but it was not the only thing. I suspect what played the biggest role in his undrafted status is the off-court issues he seemed to have.

This past February, it was reported that Jordon Varnado was suspended indefinitely. This came off the heels of a few weeks spent where he was supposedly out for concussion protocol. Although we never found out exactly why he was suspended, it cut his season short as he began to fade into obscurity. In spite of the fact that we are unaware of the finer details the situation has to offer, making it harder to better analyze and form an opinion, this raises some questions marks about Varnado as a teammate, locker room presence, model athlete, and representative of the franchise as well.

Plays Like: A more modern Paul Millsap

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