Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors used both their draft picks Thursday night at the 2016 NBA Draft, and used them on a pair of international big men.
While the Raptors likely won’t be making headlines around the league, the team hung onto their picks in order to draft two solid, and also huge, players.
The Raptors kicked off their night by selecting Austrian centre Jakob Poeltl ninth overall. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the pick nearly ended up in the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Raptors attempted to orchestrate a deal that would send Serge Ibaka to Toronto, but OKC shot the deal down, choosing instead to send Ibaka to Orlando.
There was a general consensus leading into the draft that a clear group of eight players existed at the top of the draft (Simmons, Ingram, Brown, Bender, Hield, Dunn, Murray, and Chriss), if any players in that group were to fall, Ujiri made it clear he would snatch him up. Alas, none slid into the claws of the Raptors, so they went with the next best option.
The team chose to fill a need with a proven, safe choice in Poeltl. With Bismack Biyombo all but on the bus out of town via free agency, the Raptors needed to find a solution at backup centre. Poeltl gives the team a solid presence on both sides of the floor. The 7-1, 240lb big man is part of a dying breed of back-to-the-basket big men who can also turn around and protect the rim. One of Poeltl’s most exciting strengths is his ability to run the floor with confidence, making an impact on the fast break.
Poeltl has the type of personality the Raptors have shown they covet. He’s a workhorse. He tirelessly tries to improve his game whatever way he can. That mentality translates to the court, as he often out-works his opponents to gather boards and bully the ball into the hoop.
Even better, his former Utah teammate, Delon Wright, will be one of his Raptor teammates. Understandably, Wright was ecstatic about the Poeltl choice:
Delon Wright on college teammate Poeltl: “He’s legit… Great teammate, really works hard,” says he rolls hard, finishes, has great hands
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) June 24, 2016
The feeling was mutual:
Poeltl just told me in a 1-on-1 that he’s thrilled to be reunited with Delon Wright and is excited by the fit in Toronto.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) June 24, 2016
Poeltl is a solid, if un-sexy, pick. It fills a clear need with a guy who can likely contribute somewhat meaningfully next season. At the very least, having Poeltl challenging Bebe Nogueira for the back-up centre job should push both players closer to their potentials, should they both remain on the roster at the start of the season.
Ujiri continued the trend of making un-sexy picks when he selected Cameroonian PF Pascal Siakam 27th overall for the Raptors second pick of the night.
The pick likely generated some confused looks from Raptors fans, but it’s not as shocking as past Ujiri pick Bruno Coboclo. Siakam, a senior who played at New Mexico State, was expected to go only slightly later in the draft. Even with high-potential freshman like Deyonta Davis and Skal Labissiere still on the board, Ujiri likely wanted to choose a player that wouldn’t be too much of a project. Siakam will likely see a lot of time in the D-league (possibly even a full year D-league stash) but Ujiri knows he’s getting a bruising power forward with a field goal percentage over 60.
According to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, Siakam is best described as a “Tristan Thompson-lite.”
Since the conclusion of the season, Ujiri has been saying he’s open for trades. For this reason, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on purchasing your Poeltl and Siakam jerseys for now (despite how great those names are). The team has to wait 30 days before it can trade freshly drafted players, but once they’re signed it becomes a little easier to make trades work due to salary matching rules. I wouldn’t be surprised if these rookies (especially Siakam) are packaged in potential deals.
While Ujiri had mentioned he was interested in trading these picks, it would have been difficult to acquire established talent with the Raptors’ current cap situation. On July 1st, Terrence Ross‘s extension bumps his cap value up significantly, making him a much more trade-able asset. Ross is often cited as the most likely Raptor to be moved in a deal, and it become much easier for Ujiri to do so in the coming weeks. The summer is young.
While the Raptors might not have made the biggest splash on Draft Night 2016, Ujiri continues to make calculated, confident and reasonable moves. While that’s not the most thrilling approach, it’s a great roadmap to success.
Follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter @mattjamieson12