Got a ping-pong ball lying around somewhere at home? Today’s the day to kiss it, and thank it for potentially altering the future of the Toronto Raptors franchise.
As the 2021 NBA Draft lottery ensued on June 22nd behind closed doors in Secaucus, New Jersey, there were 14 ping-pong balls poured into a glass mixing machine, numbered 1 through 14. The procedure called for a member of the NBA’s legal department to pull out four balls – one at a time – from the machine, to form a permutation of four 1 or 2 digit numbers. Each permutation was assigned to a team in the lottery, with teams who had the worst record in the 2020-2021 regular season obtaining the highest odds of landing the number one pick, and the team with the 14th worst record securing the lowest odds of landing the top pick.
Heading into the night, the Raptors had a 7.5% chance of landing the first overall pick, and a 31.9% chance of landing a top-four pick. After the first three ping-pong ball permutations were chosen – giving the first, second, and third picks to Detroit, Houston, and Cleveland, respectively, Toronto’s number was called: 8 – 10 – 4 – 13.
Just minutes later, NBA Deputy Commissioner, Mark Tatum revealed the highly-anticipated results in stressful fashion.
The 2021 NBA Draft has been heralded by many draft experts as a class which has four franchise-altering talents: Cade Cunningham – who has often been compared to Luka Doncic and Grant Hill for his unique mix of size, playmaking, and scoring ability, Evan Mobley – an uber athletic and raw seven footer with the potential to develop into a Chris Bosh-like player with better rim protection, Jalen Green – a jump-out-of-the-gym prospect who shows flashes of an adept scoring ability, and has similarities to Zach Lavine or Devin Booker, and Jalen Suggs – a do-it-all two-way point guard with the ability to push in transition like John Wall.
Of course, with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, if the rankings of these players hold through the Draft Combine, the Raptors will have an easy decision to make, as they can simply choose the only player of these four who is still available. Then again, there are always shifts in the big board rankings during the month prior to the draft. Take Patrick Williams for example: prior to last year’s combine, it would have been unfathomable to think that he could be drafted as high as #4, yet after a series of impressive workouts, the Chicago Bulls were enamored with him and reached to get the defensive-minded forward that they wanted.
Among enticing prospects who could potentially leap into the top four of this year’s draft if they are able to show out at the Draft Combine are Scottie Barnes, Keon Johnson, Davion Mitchell, or even Moses Moody.
The alternative to using the pick for the Raptors would be to trade it. It’s unlikely that the Raptors would trade up, merely because the cost of doing so would likely require the sacrifice of one of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, or OG Anunoby, however trading down, or trading out are both certainly options.
Should the Raptors decide to trade down, there are three interesting teams to keep an eye on: The Oklahoma City Thunder – who currently have the 6th, 16th, 18th, 34th, 36th, and 55th picks in the draft, the Orlando Magic – who currently have the 5th, 8th, and 33rd picks in the draft, or the Golden State Warriors – who currently have the 7th and 14th overall picks.
Beyond the possibility that Bobby Webster opts to turn the Raptors lone great pick into two or more very good picks, is the chance that the Raptors trade out of the draft entirely.
With Bradley Beal going into the final year of his contract extension this season before he can opt out and become an unrestricted free agent in 2022, the Washington Wizards might be looking to move their superstar guard for a bundle of assets to help them re-tool and gear towards the future. To acquire a talent like Beal, it would certainly require more than just the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, but if Beal is on the table, then any general manager would need to kick the tires on the chance to get him.
Another couple of compelling younger targets that the Raptors could look to trade their pick for are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or Ben Simmons. Despite the recent social media clowning that Simmons has been the subject of, due to his multitude of blunders in the playoffs, he is still one of the most versatile defenders in the league, and his unique skillset of size and playmaking ability would allow Nick Nurse to plan out some funky and innovative rotations.
Gilgeous-Alexander on the other hand is coming off a season with Oklahoma City in which he looked capable of putting teenagers on his back and going all the way to the playoffs, before the team shut him down to avoid the risk of him aggravating an existing injury. Still at just 22-years-old, he fits the timeline of what the Raptors are looking to build in Toronto. While the same can be said for Oklahoma City, their general manager Sam Presti – who is notoriously stimulated by the idea of hoarding draft picks – could be talked into buying high for the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft after the ping-pong balls didn’t bounce in his team’s favour.
All in all, the Raptors are in a very good spot, thanks to the luck of the mixing machine, and probably some element of physics. They have options as to what they can do with their pick: swing for the fences and acquire a star to pair next to (hopefully) Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Gary Trent Jr., or draft the best player available and develop them into a future Hall-Of-Famer. By July 29th, we will have answers, but until then, we’ll likely just have to keep guessing.