This year’s NBA Draft is touted by many scouts and experts to be relatively weaker than other classes. There are no standout prospects whom one would dare to label “the next LeBron James”, as we’ve done so many times in the past. Rather, this year’s draft class really has two tiers. There are the “pretty good” players, in the range of the first to tenth pick, who may pan out to make a few All-Star appearances throughout their careers, and then there are the “good players” where teams will hope to find some steals between the backend of the lottery and the undrafted pool of free agents. The Toronto Raptors are currently slated to select from the latter portion.
While it’s become a norm for the Raptors to select in the mid-late twenties of the first round given the team’s playoff success throughout the past decade, many have reported that Toronto may be looking to buck that trend this year. Though there have been no real reports from credible sources that the Raptors are looking to trade up in the 2020 NBA Draft, it makes complete sense that they may try to do so. It would allow them to offload Norman Powell’s contract and clear more cap space for 2021, while also finding another young star to pair alongside Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and (hopefully) Fred VanVleet. While there aren’t any elite Canadian talents at the top of this year’s draft, there are offers for Canadian players to place a dollar or two on who they think the Raptors will scoop up this year on November 18th.
If the Raptors do indeed decide to trade up in the draft and select somewhere in the 7th to 12th range, here are three prospects whom I believe could help the Raptors a great deal both next season, and throughout their careers.
Okoro is the exact type of player that modern NBA executives fawn over. His six-foot-six, 215-pound frame, and elite athleticism bless him with all of the physical tools necessary to be a great three-and-D player in today’s league. He’s also still on the right side of twenty, which makes his potential even more intriguing.
Though the three-point aspect of his game remains slightly underdeveloped, as he only shot 28.6% from deep in his lone college season at Auburn, the Raptors have one of the best player development systems in the league, and have a track record of turning subpar three-point shooters into consistent gunners. Just take a look at Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby, or even Kyle Lowry, who has become one of the best shooters in the entire league throughout his time in Toronto.
On the other end of the floor, Okoro’s intangibles speak for themselves. Defensive smarts are often the best predictor of how good a young player will develop into defensively. You can’t teach feel for the game, and Okoro has all of that. In any list ranking the best defensive talents in this year’s draft, Okoro’s name belongs right at the top. His play style fits the Raptors defensive identity perfectly, and he’s a piece that Nick Nurse would surely love to have. A defensive wing combination of Okoro and Anunoby might not score a lot of buckets, but they’re certainly going to stop a lot of opponents from getting theirs. In terms of a current NBA comparison, Okoro can be thought of a bit like Marcus Smart, or a more sane version of Jimmy Butler.
Devin Vassell is another player whom I really like because he’s multi-faceted. Like Okoro, he’s also a very sound perimeter defender. He doesn’t have the same strength and ability to switch onto bigger players like Okoro does, however he moves his feet very well, and has a knack for deflecting passes with his 6’10 wingspan. This is clearly illustrated through his 1.4 steals per game in his sophomore season at Florida State.
Unlike Okoro, Vassell stayed a second year in college, as he did not get much playing time during his freshman season. As a sophomore however, he vastly improved, earning himself 28.7 minutes per game, and becoming one of the biggest names of the 2020 NBA Draft. In his second season, he posted averages of 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, including shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc. Vassell is a certified knockdown shooter, and that is a highly translatable skill that he can bring to the NBA. What’s even more ideal about his shot is how high and quickly he releases the ball, making it hard for a defender to contest, and nearly impossible to block.
He also doubles as a decent secondary playmaker. While that wouldn’t necessarily be reflected through his assists per game, or his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0), he is good at spotting open teammates, and knows what to do with the ball before it gets to him. His modern NBA comparison would be something between Bogdan Bogdanovic and Caris LeVert.
Finally, Deni Avdija is likely the most intriguing prospect to monitor if the Raptors end up trading up in this year’s draft. The Golden State Warriors, who own the second overall pick, are said to have been blown away by the Israeli-Serbian teenager who last played for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the EuroLeague. If the Warriors end up going in a different direction however, expect Avdija to be at the top of the Raptors’ board.
Raptors executives Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and Dan Tolzman all took a trip overseas in early January to scout Avdija live. It’s not uncommon for NBA executives to travel long distances to scout players in the upcoming draft, however nobody takes a business trip just for the heck of it. All three of the aforementioned going to watch Avdija signals that there is some real and substantial interest in the international prodigy from Toronto’s front office.
In Avdija’s most recent season with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he posted averages of 4.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 14.3 minutes per game. While his stats don’t jump off the page, his potential certainly does – especially in today’s NBA. As a 6’9 forward, his passing ability is masterclass, and he’s not lacking in athleticism either. He’s capable of playing either forward position, and if he bulks up, could potentially even see some time as a small ball centre in Nick Nurse’s rotations.
The most common thing that scouts rave about with Avdija is his feel for the game, however unlike Okoro, he uses that to his benefit offensively more so than defensively. His passes, his ability to read how the defense will shift according to his penetration and then find the open teammate, and his opportunistic and timely cuts are all a joy to watch for basketball purists. While numbers would claim that his three-point stroke is inconsistent and needs work, his mechanics are solid, and he likely just needs more reps and minutes for those percentages to even out.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about Avdija, but also a considerable amount to be concerned about. When drafting players from overseas who have played limited minutes in a smaller amount of games, you’re taking a much greater risk than drafting someone from the NCAA who is more proven. Sometimes these international projects work out beautifully, like they did with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic, but sometimes they don’t, as Raptors fans have seen with Andrea Bargnani and Bruno Caboclo. In terms of a modern NBA comparison, Avdija most closely resembles a mix between Doncic and Danilo Gallinari.