There are few nights in the Toronto Raptors franchise history which shaped the trajectory of the team more impactfully than June 23rd, 2016. In a span of a few hours, the Raptors added Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet to their roster. At the time, not much was expected from any of them – even the Austrian hammer, who was drafted ninth overall. Fred VanVleet had a slow start to his career and never truly got an opportunity to play until Delon Wright got injured. Siakam had an up-and-down rookie year, initially starting after Jared Sullinger got injured, but then finding himself playing more in the G-League than in the pros. Poeltl was consistent, but overshadowed by Jonas Valanciunas, and never truly shined like a lottery pick diamond.
Only two years after the draft, Poeltl was dealt to San Antonio in order to net the best player the Raptors have ever had, Kawhi Leonard. A few months thereafter, Pascal Siakam dropped 32 points on 14-17 shooting in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Two more weeks down the line, Fred VanVleet found out that he had received a vote to win Finals MVP.
All in all, despite going into the draft with only the 9th and 27th overall picks, the Raptors may have poached three of the most valuable players from the entire draft class. Below, we’ll look at the top ten players from the 2016 Draft, and see where the Raptors selections rank.
Philadelphia 76ers – Pascal Siakam
It does not feel homer-ish to say that Siakam may be the best player from this draft class. There is uncertainty surrounding Jamal Murray’s future after his injury; Jaylen Brown has never had to carry the weight of an offense in the same way that his draft class counterparts have; and Ben Simmons is simply too lethargic of an offensive player to be dubbed a superstar. Siakam is the only player from this class to make multiple All-NBA teams, and he’s likely a top-three defender among this group as well.
Los Angeles Lakers – Jaylen Brown
There may be some recency bias rooted in this selection, merely because of the incredible Playoffs run that Jaylen Brown is having with the Celtics, an All-Star selection to his name, and career averages of 16.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, there’s no regret in taking a player of Brown’s caliber second overall.
Boston Celtics – Ben Simmons
Knowing what we now do about Simmons, and extrapolating to assume that he may never develop a three-point shot, his draft stock has obviously fallen considerably. As opposed to the LeBron James comparisons that he drew in 2016, it’s safe to say that Simmons is no more than an elite defender, fastbreak player, and facilitator. Still, his game isn’t completely nullified by the extremities modern basketball, and if surrounded by complementary players, Simmons could soon return to his All-Star form.
Phoenix Suns – Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray has yet to make an All-Star team in his career, however much of that can be attributed to the fact that he’s been stuck in a stacked western conference for his entire career. Prior to tearing his ACL last season, Murray was averaging a career-high 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. He may never regain his pre-injury explosiveness, however even with his craft and defensive intensity, he could have an All-Star appearance or two in his future.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Fred VanVleet
The pool of players eligible to be named fifth best in the 2016 class is large, and full of All-Stars. From Domantas Sabonis, to Dejounte Murray, to Brandon Ingram, and of course, the former Rookie of The Year, Malcolm Brogdon. Ultimately, I believe VanVleet is the best among this group because of his unequivocal impact on winning – something that each of the other names in this batch have yet to demonstrate early on in their career. Click here for betting odds on whom the Raptors might select using their 33rd overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.