This Toronto Raptors draft will be one of the most pivotal in recent franchise history, as Masai Ujiri, or whoever succeeds him in Toronto, could have their highest draft pick since they took Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011.
While the Raptors have been able to lean on stars like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Kawhi Leonard over the course of Ujiri’s tenure in the front office, smart drafting, as evidenced by the selections of OG Anunoby 23rd overall in 2017 and Pascal Siakam 27th overall in 2016. Both of those picks show that Ujiri has a few things that he looks for before settling on a player.
In an age where the majority of players are coming to the NBA younger than ever before, Ujiri and the Raptors have shown to favor players with multiple years of starting experience in college. While an admirable goal, it might not be the most prudent option.
Since Ujiri took over the Raptors in 2013, the Raptors have not drafted a freshman player from the collegiate ranks in the first round. The only player who didn’t have multiple years as a starter in college was an international pick in Bruno Caboclo.
With many of the top prospects in this draft fresh out of college, whoever is at the controls this offseason might need to get a bit riskier and draft a player with less college production.
The Toronto Raptors need to focus on potential instead of experience.
40 starts in college, roughly, amounts to a bit more than a full regular season. Among players that rank in both the ESPN and Athletic Top 20 boards, only three players in Baylor’s Davion Mitchell, Michigan’s Franz Wagner, and Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, have hit that magic number.
The top five prospects in this class, all of whom are starting to separate from the rest of the pack, were all either freshmen or youngsters who skipped college for the G League. Outside of that group, freshmen like Duke’s Jalen Johnson, Tennessee’s Keon Johnson, Florida State’s Scottie Barnes, or Arkansas’ Moses Moody could all end up in Toronto.
The Raptors need to find someone young that they can pair with Pascal Siakam and build around, and drafting a younger player in the mold of either Moody or Johnson could end up helping a team and culture that thrives on player development by turning their freshman of choice into the next great star.
Conversely, reaching or trading down for a player that may provide a more immediate impact could be doing the future of this roster a disservice due to their lower ceiling.
Toronto did build out the back end of a championship roster by drafting players with a few college accolades on their permanent records, but they need to convince themselves of the need to get risky as a pivotal moment in Raptors franchise history is speeding closer.