Luck was on the side of the Toronto Raptors at the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery, where the team won the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft despite entering the day with the seventh-best draft odds.
Now, as the franchise gears up for the upcoming draft, which is set for Thursday, July 29, it faces a new set of questions.
As talented as the 2021 NBA Draft class is, the only clear-cut selection is Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, who by all accounts is the prospective No. 1 pick. Should Cunningham go No. 1 to the Detroit Pistons, there are a number of directions that things could go with the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively, before the Raptors are on the clock.
IRVING: Mock Draft 1.0
In a draft class where the top four prospects are viewed as being superior to the rest of the class, there are certainly worse problems to have, but Toronto is essentially left to select the player that is the worst fit for the above three teams.
Where does that leave the Raptors? In an offseason that could get the franchise back on track, there are a few key questions that are soon to be answered…
How will the draft impact the impending free agency of Kyle Lowry?
Well, the correct answer is that there are a few answers.
In the first mock draft from NBA.com’s Kyle Irving, Cunningham, USC center Evan Mobley and G League Ignite guard Jalen Green were the first three picks off of the board, leaving Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs at No. 4 for the Raptors.
It’s clear to see where the overlap would arise should Toronto select a lead guard with star potential.
There’s no crystal ball to say whether or not the 35-year-old Lowry plans to remain with the Raptors as a free agent, but it would be hard to use the fourth pick to select a player who will struggle to get his footing at the beginning of his career due to a crowded backcourt that already features Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn.
With that in mind, things could go a few ways.
The Raptors could look to move up a spot or two with hopes of selecting Green, who has the potential to lead the league in scoring one day, or Mobley, who answers all of the team’s questions at center. While it’s hard to give rookies win-now expectations, bringing in a player with a cleaner fit immediately raises Toronto’s ceiling, which could be attractive for Lowry to return, as he’s made it clear that he wants to compete for a chance at winning a second NBA title.
If trading up isn’t the answer, perhaps the Raptors have a situation similar to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019. Once Memphis won the No. 2 overall pick, the writing was on the wall for Mike Conley, who was traded to make way for Ja Morant, a decision that’s been beneficial for all parties involved.
The big difference between that situation and this one is that Lowry is not under contract and is free to negotiate with whichever team can offer him the best opportunity. That being said, a selection of Suggs could open the door for a potential sign-and-trade, should it come to that.
In that instance, value would be returning to the Raptors in the form of a trade package and again, all parties would benefit. That could be the case if Lowry elects to go to a team that would need to do some cap gymnastics to make a deal work.
Given the state of Toronto’s franchise, adding youth seems to be the best option for the five-to-seven-year plan.
What can we learn from Masai Ujiri’s draft history?
2021 marks the ninth NBA Draft of the Ujiri era that began in 2013.
As it was recently uncovered how aggressive Ujiri was in an attempt to grab a certain Greek prospect in his first-ever draft night, it’s clear that he’s the type to do whatever it takes to get his guy.
But what can the past teach us about the type of player he’ll angle for? There are some trends.
From trading for Norman Powell in 2015 to selecting Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam in 2016 or OG Anunoby in 2017 and Malachi Flynn in 2020, there are certainly common threads in the types of prospects that Ujiri selects for this team.
Who fits a need? Who can come in and immediately contribute to winning on both ends of the floor?
Given that criteria, each of the top four picks feel like the type of player Ujiri goes for, with some fitting the bill more than others. Since Cunningham is the clear-cut No. 1, the focus shifts to Mobley, Green and Suggs, who can each contribute to winning right away.
Mobley fits the bill of the perfect modern-day big who can be a defensive anchor while possessing an offensive game that shouldn’t be put into a box. Green’s potential is through the roof, meaning he could thrive in a situation of development like the Raptors present. And with that being said, Suggs might be the most Ujiri-like pick, given his toughness, headiness and propensity to make winning plays.
The things that made Flynn such an intriguing prospect apply to Suggs as well. He’s just three years younger with superstar potential. And that’s no knock on Flynn, whose ceiling shouldn’t be limited after he was named Rookie of the Month for games played in April.
Suggs fits the bill of the type of player Ujiri has recently taken and would give Toronto a scary point guard rotation for the next decade. It makes a lot of sense.
Could the pick be a chip in an even bigger trade?
Fitting into the win-now timeline, could there be a star out there that the Raptors use the No. 4 pick to acquire in a bigger trade package?
What would that even look like?
It’s far too speculative to even get too deep into, but as we’ve learned in offseasons of past years, there are teams that place high value on draft picks when building – or rebuilding – for the future. All it takes is for one player to express displeasure with their current situation to prompt front offices to work the phones.
Given the core that the Raptors have in place, they have the ability to make such a deal without major consequence.
What can the fourth pick net you? Just two years ago, we saw the New Orleans Pelicans deal the No. 4 pick to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for four picks – Nos. 8, 17, 35 and a future first. Maybe a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic or Golden State Warriors with multiple picks wants to move up?
When it comes to working the phones in a trade, expect Ujiri and Bobby Webster to do their due diligence.
Bobby Webster: “The value from 7 to 4, even if you look at it historically whether it’s the player or a trade, it’s meaningful. All of our options are open and as much as we love the pick we’re also going to see what it yields outside of the draft.”
– Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) June 23, 2021
And again, there’s always the possibility of moving up, too.
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