Raptors Cage

Raptors 2014-15 Draft Day Preview

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Our vacation is over, and one of the most exciting events on the NBA calendar takes place Thursday the 25th – Draft Day! For Toronto Raptors fans, this day is the as masochistic as it gets. The Raps faithful count the seconds off the clock, hopefully anticipating the next prospect that will take Canada’s team to the promised land. We chant names such as Andre Drummond, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, or LeMarcus Aldridge hoping they will be called by the Raptors rep at the actual Draft. Then it happens, our hopes and dreams of better things are replaced with agony as we see the likes of Rafael Araujo walk on the stage and put a Raptors hat on.

This year will be different. Masai Ujiri is known to take risks but, calculated ones. He is also patiently rebuilding the franchise into a contender and two full seasons of regular season success capped by quick playoff exits has given him the information he needs to make the right moves. Until he reveals his diabolical plans, here are some names I am hoping are called when the Raptors choose at #20 this Thursday night:

Montrezl Harell:
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Strengths and Weaknesses:
Toughness and energy are two words frequently used to describe Harell. He is a junkyard dog who fights for every rebound. He is a great defensive communicator that will implement Dwane Casey’s complicated schemes. The downside is he is not a skilled player for the NBA level. He won’t be able to create his own shot unless he develops into something more. Final thoughts: He is the second coming of Jerome Williams(the original Junkyard Dog)- A hustle player who comes off the bench and energizes the team by gathering tough rebounds and scoring second chance points.

Why the Raptors Want Him:
Harell brings everything this Raptors team is sorely lacking. His toughness, energy, rebounding ability and defensive skill are all areas the Raptors desperately need assistance with. His weaknesses are things that can rarely be addressed in the draft at the 20th spot. It is rare to get a franchise player, or even a play making second option this late in the first round. So if the Raptors use this pick, they must do so with the sense they are going to plug some holes rather than fix the entire franchise. Also, Tyler Hansbrough, and Amir Johnson are becoming unrestricted free agents and are unlikely to return, if Harell is chosen he will have all the minutes he can handle. Lastly, just because Harell doesn’t have a complete game now doesn’t mean he won’t have one as he develops. In sports, underdogs rise to the top everyday-that is why we watch.

Cameron Payne:
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Strengths and Weaknesses:
Payne’s chances of being available at #20 are diminishing. It seems as though scouts have done their homework and Payne is climbing up the draft board. Some even have him as a lottery pick. If he does fall to the Raps they may acquire a defensively tough PG with a high basketball IQ, and great handles. Payne is also a very accurate shooter. Some scouts who aren’t as high on him list his lack of athleticism as their primary concern. They cap his potential to that of a backup PG. Also he is very small framed. At 6’2 180lbs he doesn’t have much meat on his bones making it hard for him to finish around the rim.

Why the Raptors Want Him:
Hopefully an off-season miracle happens and Greivis Vasquez is no longer a Raptor come October. His frustrating addiction to putting-up ill advised shots and his inability to defend anybody hurts the Raptors. Payne as the Raptors back-up is a vast improvement. His ability to score and defend is exactly what the Raptors need. He can take pressure off Kyle Lowry and maintain or even extend leads without letting opponents run wild in the pain. Payne’s addition immediately plugs a whole in the Raptors roster and frees up Vasquez as a bargaining chip to be moved…good riddance. If he lives up to the hype Payne may be the Raps future starting PG; someone they can ease into the rotation as Lowry exits his prime.

Kevin Looney:

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Strengths and Weaknesses:
A lock down defender. In college the former Golden Bear defended all five positions and frustrated opponents with his size, reach, lateral quickness and hustle. At 6’9, 222 lbs Looney is a bit tweener who won’t match up will against quick PG’s or C’s at the professional level. His polished defensive ability will still be enough to make a difference against the 2,3,4 positions. As a fierce rebounder he can plug a hole in many NBA rotations. A big issue with Looney’s game is he can’t shoot the ball. He has an awkward stroke he is actively trying to fix and some scouts say he has made progress but who really knows how much that can change. If a team that believes shooting is a learned skill is on the clock I can see him coming off the board earlier than 20. But if not the Raptors want him…

Why the Raptors Want Him:
Defence and rebounding are two of the Raptors bigger needs. As mentioned earlier the Raps have one PF committed to the 2015-2016 roster (Patrick Patterson). Drafting Looney fills multiple holes in one shot. There are two reasons why Looney’s lack of offensive ability shouldn’t hurt the Raptors too much. First, they can use this as an opportunity to add a legitimate shooting coach to Casey’s staff-they desperately need on. Also, the Raptors have offence. Ignoring the dumpster fire that was last year, and looking at the 2013-2014 season, we had an offence that fired on all cylinders. Ball movement, spacing, and working the pass to generate opportunities for uncontested shots was a fundamental part of Raptor basketball. If we can get back to that level of play and add a defensive road block like Looney the Raptors will be better for it. Lastly the Raptors want him b/c his last name provides commentators with a treasure chest of Canadian Dollar jokes…he just may be The Raptors Lucky Looney.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson:
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Strengths and Weaknesses:
Another defensive player. At 20 years of age has an NBA ready body with a 7’1″ wingspan that causes opposing teams fits. He is great at picking-up the open man and guarding the perimeter. Low stance and he knows how to use his wingspan. He is also a rarity as a young player who takes pride in his defensive ability. Offensively, he is a beast. RHJ stays in motions throughout the possession and as a result can create without the ball in his hands. He has a soft touch inside and arc and plays above the rim. Quite frankly he is only a #20 prospect because this year’s draft is full of talented small forwards. His only weakness is that he can’t provide the spacing a team wants. He has very little accuracy from downtown and without a major improvement can’t be the 3 and D wing many teams covet.

Why the Raptors Want Him:
Insurance: I think Terrance Ross should be given one more year to see what he is capable of. If he continues to play basketball like it is a spectator sport it is time to move on to bigger and better. It may not be bad for the Raptors to give RHJ limited minutes to develop while making a final decision on the T-Ross project. Another reason the Raps may be interested in RHJ is if they do draft him, they can cut and run from T-Ross completely. It seems as though teams are still interested in him, by picking up his incumbent we can move on from him without too much concern. However, if the Raps go in this direction they are still left searching for that 3pt sharp shooter who forces defences to be honest.

Nobody:

The Raptors have 6 unrestricted free agents, and two players who may be solid rotation guys given the opportunity. Bruno Caboclo and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira need minutes. The reduction of role players on the roster will give the Brazilian Brothers a chance to develop into more than D-Leaguers playing spot minutes in the NBA. Drafting another player who needs to develop may not be in the Raptors best interests if they want to give Bruno and Bebe more burn. Also, packaging this pick with other pieces (please let it be Vasquez) can net a promising return in terms of a veteran defender who can settle this young team down when needed.

Predicting what Masai will do is like playing darts in the dark. You know you will hit something, but no idea what. Regardless of what Ujiri does I still have faith he will take a patient approach, balance the short-term and long-term goals and ultimately do what is best for this franchise.

I can’t wait for draft day!

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