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Should the Raptors trade up in the draft?

With the NBA Finals having concluded last night in Orlando, Florida, and LeBron James earning his fourth championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers, the attention of the basketball world has shifted towards the 2020 NBA Draft, which is currently scheduled to take place on November 18th.

Unlike each of the past two years, the Toronto Raptors will have their own first round pick this time around. The Raptors’ 2018 first rounder was traded away to Orlando as part of the deal which landed Serge Ibaka in Toronto, and their 2019 pick wound up in San Antonio as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade. This year’s draft will be the first time that Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have opportunity to draft in the top-30 since 2017, when they scooped up OG Anunoby with the 23rd overall pick.

It goes without saying that OG was one of the biggest steals of that draft, and it’s not uncharacteristic of the Raptors’ front office to find hidden gems later in the selection process as well. Look no further than Pascal Siakam, who was taken with the 27th pick in 2016, Norman Powell, who was taken 46th overall in 2015, or even Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis Jr., who both went undrafted and were quickly added to Toronto’s roster. Credit is due to the Raptors’ player development staff in addition to their scouting department for converting overlooked prospects into contributing role players on winning teams, but overall, Toronto has a great program for finding and developing young talent, which isn’t going anywhere.

With such an elite program in place, the Raptors drafting in the late 20’s is equitable to a less competent team drafting closer to the eighth overall pick, or even a mediocre team drafting in the mid-teens. That begs the question: what would the Raptors be able to do if they were picking higher in the draft, and could select a prospect with exponentially more raw talent? Could they just continually breed superstars through their system? We might be on the brink of finding out.

Rumours have been flying throughout the past few weeks about how the Raptors might look to trade up in this year’s draft. Leovegas – the online casino with slots – holds that it remains unlikely for the Raptors to trade up and select in the top-10, however with Masai and Bobby in the front office, anything is possible.

Any such deal would most likely include Toronto’s #29 pick, and Norman Powell. Among a couple of targets for Masai and Bobby to look at if they’re intent on securing a higher pick would be the Atlanta Hawks, who currently own the #6 pick, the New York Knicks at #8, or the Phoenix Suns at #10. Each of the aforementioned teams already have a strong young core, and so looking to take on another project player and convert them into a star might not be the best allocation of their resources. At the same time, each of the aforementioned targets is missing a wing scorer who can provide a consistent and efficient 15 points per game off the bench. Norman Powell is exactly the type of player who can fill that role, and as an NBA Champion who has been to The Playoffs in every year of his young career, he knows how to do it in a winning way.

While a light package of Powell and the 29th pick may not be enough to fetch a top-six pick, Toronto could certainly look to dangle another future first in the deal if there’s a player in the lottery that they have their sights set on.

Swinging for the fences and trading up in the draft this year would give the Raptors more wiggle room financially for next summer, when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and other marquee superstars will have the choice to hit unrestricted free agency. Currently, the Raptors have $48M on the books for the 2021-2022 season, but unloading Powell would cut that figure to $36M. Additionally, the cost of paying a tenth overall pick versus paying a 29th overall pick would only be a difference of approximately $2M per season. If the Raptors can scout the right player and develop that prospect into a star, just as they’ve done so well with Siakam, Anunoby, and VanVleet, that will make Toronto one heck of a free agent destination, just in time for the Greek Freak to reunite with his family friend, Masai Ujiri. Even if Giannis were to pass up on an opportunity to play for the Raptors, a core of Siakam, Anunoby, a top pick this year, and potentially VanVleet would be one of the top teams in the East for the next eight years.

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