NBA executives are often criticized for their ability to build a roster – almost as if luring marquee free agents, acquiring high draft picks, and making lopsided blockbuster trades that swing the pendulum of the league’s power are as simple as NBA2K makes it seem. Disclaimer alert: we didn’t do much to expose the other side of the coin. Rather, Raptors Cage took our own shot at a roster construction game that Nate Duncan introduced on his Dunc’d On podcast last week, in hopes that we too, might one day be granted access to The Mediadel.
The rules of the game are as follows:
- Two teams must draft a roster out of a pool featuring all current NBA Players
- Using 2019-2020 player contract values, each team’s aggregate payroll must remain under a salary limit of $100M
- Each team can have a maximum of four rookie scale contracts on their roster
- All 15 roster positions must be filled
- Teams are built for the current season only – length of contracts, future extensions, and potential of players is irrelevant
Without further ado, we’ll get into each of our selections, and explain our draft strategies.
- Neeraj Varma – Luka Doncic: 7.43M (Rookie)
He’s the young GOAT, as some say, on a $7.43M contract this season. He was one of the four rookie level players that I chose to take, but regardless of how he’s classified, Luka is the clearcut number one pick in a draft like this. A blind donkey would have done the same. Skip Bayless might have too.
- Jared Goodman – Giannis Antetokounmpo: 25.84M
With just the concept in my mind, I really wanted to start with LeBron and Kawhi and “fill in the rest”, but the (presumable) back-to-back MVP getting paid nearly a full $12M less than LeBron made Giannis, in my eyes, a better building block in terms of building a complete team. Of course, Giannis isn’t completely proven in the playoffs yet. Us Raptors fans have seen his shortfalls with our own eyes, and if he had fallen short of the Finals in the postponed 2020 playoffs then real questions may have persisted. For now, though, he has pulled the rare feat of improving on an NBA season, and at far less than max money right now he is obviously an excellent option for the purpose of this exercise. Drafting Giannis first meant a clear change to strategy as I wanted to continue knowing that I should be able to have lineups with four real shooters with him to ultimately optimize his incredible talent.
- Jared – Kawhi Leonard: 32.74M
With Kawhi Leonard, there’s no such thing as a fit problem. Many call him the best in the league, and pairing him at a max slot with a superstar in Giannis may have made things tougher during the rest of the draft, but can a team headlined by somebody a year removed from an all-time playoff run and the league’s top young star really face any real concerns? Kawhi can do it all. Though I firmly believe even an aging LeBron could be considered the NBA’s best player, Kawhi’s fit with Giannis as a deadly three-point shooter sealed the deal on this pick. Plus, the defense on this team!? Are you kidding me? All I’ll say is that Luka is in for a real treat.
- Neeraj – Ben Simmons: 8.11M (Rookie)
Even though all of the rookie level players have the highest value in this draft – aside from maybe Giannis, one could argue – I wasn’t planning on taking them all at the top of my draft. With Jared limited to taking 4 rookies as well, I figured it would be more about finding the underpaid veteran studs, than solely basing it off the best player per dollar. Essentially, my strategy going in was to take the guys with the highest competitive value, as opposed to the highest objective value, but that quickly changed after Jared took two stars in Giannis and Kawhi with his first two picks. The idea of his team having so much star power off the bat left me panicked that if I were to pick a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or JaVale McGee now, he could easily snatch up Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam, or Jayson Tatum right after, and I would have virtually lost on the spot. That’s when my thoughts changed from filling in the best role players first and getting stars later, to just getting cheap stars instead – being those still on rookie deals, and I could afford to build out my bench with a little more money. Simmons is one of the best defenders in the league, and with enough shooting around him (which he’s never truly experienced in Philadelphia), his flaws become much less glaring. Next to Luka already – a guy who isn’t necessarily known for his defense – this pick just made the most sense.
- Jared – Zion Williamson: 9.7M (Rookie)
This was a difficult one, and the other option I had was snagged immediately after. Ultimately, at around 23 PPG during his very short NBA career thus far, Zion has already shown star-like flashes. Getting such a dynamic player under 10M is difficult to pass up on from a pure value perspective. Though he has seldom hit from three in his rookie season, other than a magical first game, Zion can provide a spark for my team on offense when the other two stars don’t have the ball, and will also defend like it’s nobody’s business. What I saw from Zion in limited time was special, and all I know is I want somebody like that on my side. He can play the four next to Giannis in a small ball lineup, provide a spark playing alongside the bench, and ultimately be the versatile burst of energy a team needs down the stretch.
- Neeraj – Pascal Siakam: 2.35M (Rookie)
Call me a homer, but I’m just surprised he wasn’t picked earlier. Yes, it was my third rookie deal player in my first three picks, but on a minuscule contract and being an All-Star Starter, Siakam has as much value per dollar as anybody. Raptors fans saw this season how much his game had elevated from his Most Improved Player campaign, showing that he has more diverse scoring ability than anybody previously thought. He also proved to fans that his 36.9% shooting from deep in the 2018-2019 campaign was more than a benefit of finding open looks playing next to Kawhi Leonard – it was a legit stroke. In the most recent (and hopefully returning) campaign, his percentage dropped off slightly to 35.9%, but on 3.3 more attempts per game, a lot of which were off the dribble as opposed to just catch-and-shoot threes from the corners.
- Jared – Wesley Matthews: 2.56M
It’s money crunching time. With Matthews, the idea was to have perhaps the best minimum contract guy in the league on my team, since those are ultimately some of the more valuable players in a draft like this. Matthews has been starting for the team with the league’s top record this season and, while his numbers don’t jump off the page, they haven’t had to. With three huge names on my team, in the middle of the draft I was simply looking at grabbing value numbers to complement my stars.
- Neeraj – Jayson Tatum: 7.83M (Rookie)
The takes on Jayson Tatum over the years have been all around the map. After his rookie Playoff Run in which he went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, he was unanimously pegged to be basketball’s next superstar. After adding nothing to his game during his sophomore season, and being overshadowed by the antics of Kyrie Irving, he quickly became labelled overrated – albeit still arguably the best player from the 2017 Draft class. This season, he finally broke through. Bad for Raptors fans, but the driving factor of why I drafted him to equip my roster with enough star power to compete with the two-headed dragon of Kawhi and Giannis. With the scoring ability of Siakam, Luka, and Tatum, along with the versatile defensive presence of Spicy P and Simmons, my top four was essentially rounded out at a mere $25.72M.
- Jared – Kyle Korver: 3.44M
Believe me, I don’t love taking so many Bucks. Though Korver, as shown in his Finals minutes against the Warriors, will always get picked on defensively, he remains one of the best three-point shooters in the entire NBA. Basically, a more experienced Matt Thomas. Korver is a guy I’d love to plug in with bench lineups to hopefully provide some relief to the starters in the form of long bombs. He fits in the Wes Matthews category of value contracts and will hopefully bring his new chemistry with Giannis all the way to my team. It was going to be incredibly interesting to see what kind of minutes and what role he would play with the Bucks in the playoffs, and though he wouldn’t see too much time for my team, he’s a great value player to have.
- Neeraj – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: 2.5M
Every team needs a hustle guy. When Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster signed RHJ just a couple days after Kawhi duped them, I doubt they ever imagined how tumultuous his journey with the Raptors would have been. He was called out in training camp by Nick Nurse for not working too hard, then he was benched for the first month-ish of the season, before finally breaking into the rotation simply because the Raptors became so injury-ridden and had no other choice but to give him an opportunity. That would become one of the best things to happen to the defending champs all season. His offensive skillset is about as lacking as the last 18 games of the 2019-2020 season, but he makes up for it on the other end of the court. Not that I was planning this far ahead during our draft, but he’s also flaunted his ability to excel as a small-ball centre at times.
- Jared – Donovan Mitchell: 3.64M (Rookie)
This is the pick I was waiting for and loved. With his first All-Star appearance in February, Mitchell was quietly leading the Jazz to an excellent season before… You know. After a shaky start, Mitchell has actually been more efficient this year than either of his first two NBA campaigns at a 45-36-86 split. A gifted scorer, he is an excellent option to put alongside Giannis and Kawhi in the starting lineup as just the third starter I have selected. It can be argued, in my eyes, that his sub-$4M contract is actually the most valuable contract we’ve had so far given his standing as a late-lottery salary.
- Neeraj – JaVale McGee: 4M
By this point I was just getting nervous that I still didn’t have a true big man, and while I knew I needed someone who could preferably shoot so that they could play alongside Ben Simmons, McGee’s $4M contract was too good to pass up on. He protects the rim, he catches a lob anywhere within a three metre radius, and he runs the floor as well as any big man in the NBA.
- Jared – Dwight Howard: 3.04M
After a few Woj tweets late in the offseason about how the Lakers had met with Dwight Howard and made sure he knew that he could be cut loose at any time, D12 was actually putting together an excellent year for the LeBron-led Lakers. His body transformation, rebounding and really understanding what he did well, made his minutes some of the best the Western Conference leaders had. For me, Dwight will act as the team’s best real center, splitting minutes with Giannis, who will usually play the five in my small-ball and potential starting lineup, along with a mystery center pick I have in my back pocket!
- Neeraj – Spencer Dinwiddie: 10.61M
This was when my mind started to turn more towards building out my bench. I knew I still needed a starting centre, but I still had a lot of picks and a lot of cap space to figure something out. Right now, my bench consisted of RHJ at the 3 and McGee at the 5 – neither of whom can do much offensively. I had narrowed my choices for this pick down to Zach LaVine, and Spencer Dinwiddie, both of whom can fill either guard position, stretch the floor, and give you a bucket whenever you need it. Even though LaVine is the better scorer of the two, I decided to go with Brooklyn’s finest, simply because his contract was around $9M cheaper.
- Jared – Avery Bradley: 2M
Another value play! Though Bradley is not the player he used to be, this is about filling out my team and he is certainly more of a cheap, veteran depth piece than anything else. Bradley’s usage has plummeted this year with the move from Memphis to LeBron’s Lakers, but he has maintained a job in the starting lineup and looked to be one of the guys they trusted in a fairly shallow team come playoff time. Bradley will split backup SG time behind Mitchell with Korver for me, likely depending on who’s on the other side.
- Neeraj – Anthony Davis: 27.09M
I knew I was going to take either AD or Nikola Jokic to fill out my starting lineup, and I knew I had time to decide since Jared couldn’t afford either of them. Both guys can shoot, but beyond that similarity, their play styles compare far and between. AD is way more athletic, is a much better defender, runs the floor swiftly, handles the ball like a guard, and is a more polished offensive player. Jokic’s edge comes with his size, weighing nearly 300 pounds, and his playmaking ability that could only be compared to Arvydas Sabonis or a prime Marc Gasol. It was really a toss-up for me, but AD’s elite defense is what won the war, and jumped my team salary to $69.92M.
- Jared – Bam Adebayo: 3.45M (Rookie)
One of the few rookie contract All-Stars to choose from, I love having Bam. He has been one of the 2019-20 season’s best surprises, emerging as a genius selection for the Heat. I know that running Giannis at the five all the time isn’t practical, and the center lineup of Giannis, Bam and Dwight will tire the hell out of whoever is playing against me. Bam is a smart defender, great rebounder, and an overall terrific interior presence.
- Neeraj – Austin Rivers: 2.37M
With seven roster spots left to fill out, and $30.8M in cap remaining, it was time to break out my list of budget ballers. I still lacked scoring off the bench, and while Austin Rivers never filled the shoes of the #10 overall pick that he was in 2012, his $2.37M deal was enough for me to want him on my team in this draft style. After almost being exiled from the league, he seems to have found a home in Houston, and is cementing himself as solid catch-and-shoot guard, making good on 35.8% of his looks from deep this season.
- Jared – Fred VanVleet: 9M
Three centers and no point guards left a lot to be desired on this team. For a non-expensive starting option, I went with FVV Sr. to lead the helm. Like it or not, Fred is going to get paid this summer. Getting him at such a low price point to be a guy that doesn’t have to take every shot, but can knock down threes and more importantly add to my incredible defense, will make my starting five all the better. As we’ve seen, Fred has ice in his veins and plays about a foot taller than he actually is. I love him at PG with the stars around him.
- Neeraj – Markieff Morris: 1.75M
God bless the buyout market. Throughout his whole career, Markieff Morris has always been a solid role player, and while briefly forgotten about during his stint with the Detroit Pistons, he was on the verge of recovering his relevancy aside LeBron James in L.A. He’s had his off-court issues in the past, and of course we can’t praise him too much given the infamous scuffle he had with OG Anunoby, but troublemakers often lose their spikes when they’re playing next to stars whom they respect, and next to Simmons, Doncic, Tatum, Siakam, and AD, I’m sure Markieff Morris would be more than willing to sit in the backseat.
- Jared – Marquesse Chriss: 0.76M
The lowly Warriors took a lot of swings this year and missed on, well, basically all of them. The one decent signing was Marqueese Chriss, who is practically free for me and can provide pretty decent minutes like he did for the Warriors. Chriss won’t be asked to do a ton, but he is another big body to throw at Neeraj’s team, which doesn’t have any bigs we’re particularly scared of quite yet.
- Neeraj – Marcus Smart: 12.55M
While Jared was essentially scouring the market of minimum contracts to find players that a casual fan might’ve heard of, I still had a friendly $26.68M in cap room to dangle. I had already drafted Hollis-Jefferson as my hustle guy, but going all-in on a grit and grind mentality with the star power I already had couldn’t hurt. Plus, Marcus Smart has a much more filled out offensive game than Hollis-Jefferson, and could even be slotted into a wing position to fill RHJ’s role completely.
- Jared – Ivan Rabb: 0.37M
Filler, filler, filler. With a few other options in mind, I snagged Rabb since I can wait however long I want for the last rookie-scale deal I have in mind given that Neeraj has used all of his spots. Rabb is a guy that makes peanuts but can still, if I have injuries, fill some minutes. I’ll admit, part of this was debating which rookie-scale player to end with, but I’m happy with who I ended up with.
- Neeraj – Nemanja Bjelicia: 6.83M
By this point my rotation was filled out and it didn’t really matter who I picked. I could go with Alex Caruso, Tacko Fall, Bol Bol, and Patrick McCaw if I really wanted to, but I had tried so hard to come to this point, and as Michael Jordan might say, you’ve gotta step on their throat. My starting five was impeccable. My bench was strong and defensive-minded, but outside of a few stars, I lacked shooting. I was deciding between Davis Bertans, Joe Harris, and Nemanja Bjelicia for this pick, but because of Bertans’ inability to defend, and Harris’ size, the Serbian forward gave me the best fit.
- Jared – Caris LeVert: 2.63M (Rookie)
I love Caris LeVert. In a distant memory, he scored 51 points just before the season was stopped in March. LeVert isn’t necessarily a PG but can simply be a backup guard to VanVleet and Mitchell, hopefully playing a load of minutes. Tasked with a scoring load without Kyrie and KD in Brooklyn, he has more than delivered, and I will rely on him to mix-and-match with different lineups, sometimes as a ball handler and potentially other times as a wing player.
- Neeraj – Danuel House: 3.72M
When you need a burger, you go to McDonald’s. When you need groceries, you go to Metro. When you need 3-and-D wings, you go to the Houston Rockets. This was a choice between Ben Mclemore and Danuel House, and I’m not going to pretend like a detailed amount of thought went into this decision. I’m just a fan of House’s story and his resiliency to find his way to the NBA.
- Jared – Dion Waiters: 0.5M
Who else is going to bring a little pick-me-up for my team on our plane rides?
- Neeraj – Nerlens Noel: 2.03M
Honestly, he was a guy that I had pretty high up on my list throughout the entire draft, and after taking JaVale, I didn’t have much of a need to take Noel anymore. If this were a real team though, third string centres don’t get any better than this dude. He revived his career in Oklahoma City, and should be due to get paid this offseason, but as long as he’s making $2.03M, he’s on my team.
- Jared – Justin Anderson: 0.09M
Another salary filler, the once Virginia Cavalier helps me fill out my roster. All in all, I’m very happy with who I’ve selected. I wish young Luka and AD, who share one combined playoff series win, all the best defending and scoring on a lineup that looks like FVV-Mitchell-Kawhi-Zion-Giannis 🙂
- Neeraj – Bruno Caboclo: 1.18M
Imagine if he was on the championship roster, grabbed the microphone out of Adam Silver’s hand on that mystical June 13th night, and shouted from the bottom of his lungs, “TORONTOOOO, THIS IS FOR YOU!”
Team Jared: Nick Nurse
Other candidates: Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra, and maybe even Phil Jackson to help burn our memories after the season is over. I settled on Nurse, because imagine a box-and-one with FVV up top and Kawhi, Zion and Giannis inside the three-point line. Good thing Neeraj doesn’t have any Warriors because the PTSD would be terrible. We’ve seen Nurse can get the most out of a star like Kawhi and is creative enough on offense to command respect from his peers. A front-runner for Coach of the Year this year, it’s not at all homer-ish to say that Nurse has catapulted to being around the top-tier of coaches in the NBA. He’s never lost a playoff series! Because this team is fairly set defensively, I wanted to select a coach that would help reach it’s potential scoring the ball. In terms of the lineup idea, there will certainly be a lot of mixing and matching given the three terrific wings. I’ve listed the crunch-time five below as starters, but a lineup like FVV-Levert-Mitchell-Kawhi-Giannis to go super-small could help at points and any combination with Bam at center for a little more size would do as well. With AD as the biggest threat on the other side, I love the options that can be thrown at him. Pascal had a lot of trouble when covered by elite defender like Giannis last year as well, which could be key for my team. Ultimately, Nurse is a great option for any team and I’d be happy to have him coaching.
|F. VanVleet||D. Mitchell||K. Leonard||Z. Williamson||G. Antetokounmpo|
|C. Levert||K. Korver||W. Matthews||M. Chriss||B. Adebayo|
|D. Waiters||A. Bradley||J. Anderson||I. Rabb||D. Howard|
Team Neeraj: Erik Spoelstra
Nick Nurse was obviously my first choice to have coach this team. Honestly, he’s still very early in his NBA coaching career, but he never fails to impress me: game-in, and game-out. It’s blasphemous, but I really do think he’s going to go down as one of the greats, just because of how he’s able to get the most out of every player on his team, and every possession of the game. He’s not afraid to be unorthodox, and that’s what makes the great ones. Without delving too deep into my opponent’s coach, there were obviously a bunch of other great coaches remaining on the board for me. From the man whom many say is the greatest of all time in Gregg Popovich, to Brad Stevens – a man whose value was being compared to LeBron’s a few years ago, or even Steve Kerr, who has won a championship in three of the five years that he’s been an NBA head coach – a remarkable feat despite the talent that was at his disposal. Rather, I turned to a guy who has long been underappreciated as a head coach, Erik Spoelstra. Coach Spo is the only guy to have coached a team before LeBron played for them, lasted the entirety of LeBron’s tenure with that team, and remained the head coach in their post-LeBron era, and while not using LeBron’s agreeableness with him as a measuring stick for his success, it demonstrates his ability to manage egos. Focusing on players, and not just the game is a valuable aspect of coaching not just basketball players, but in the modern age, mega-celebrities. With a roster as star-studded as this one is, Spo seemed like the perfect fit with his adaptability and modern perception of the game, but also his proven track record of working with exorbitant stars.
|B. Simmons||L. Doncic||J. Tatum||P. Siakam||A. Davis|
|S. Dinwiddie||M. Smart||R. Hollis-Jefferson||M. Morris||J. McGee|
|A. Rivers||D. House||B. Caboclo||N. Bjelicia||N. Noel|