The 2021 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, July 29th and the Toronto Raptors have a big decision on their hands.
Owners of the No. 4 overall pick, the Raptors are in a unique scenario as a team that won a championship two seasons ago as they are now presented with an opportunity to add a potentially franchise-altering talent to an already established young core.
With the uncertainty surrounding unrestricted free agent and franchise floor general Kyle Lowry, Toronto is assumed to target Gonzaga star guard Jalen Suggs with its top-five pick as a security blanket. And while I truly believe Suggs is the perfect fit for a potential need as a commanding leader that thrives in a high-tempo offence with scorers around him, Raptors’ assistant general manager Dan Tolzman recently spoke on how the team is focused on finding the best player available, not trying to fit a need.
“Honestly, we’ve always been a group that takes talent first,” he told the media in response to how Lowry’s free agency affects their draft targets, according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg. “The best available players are usually who we go with. We’ve never really made draft selections based on the current roster.”
To be clear: this is not to suggest that Suggs isn’t or won’t be the best player on the board when the Raptors are on the clock. But in a similar due-diligence as their front office and scouts, what if they banked on their remarkable player development history and went after G League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga?
This draft class was once seen to be headlined by five players, but Kuminga’s name has slowly faded from that top tier since the end of the Ignite’s season in the G League Bubble and I personally don’t understand why.
As an 18-year-old (who won’t turn 19 until the start of the season) standing in at 6-foot-6 ad 210 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, Kuminga is built like a prospect created in a lab to play in today’s NBA. With broad shoulders and above-average strength, quick and agile with elite athleticism, Kuminga is the prototype of a versatile defender that can easily guard 1-through-4 at the next level.
He would fit seamlessly into head coach Nick Nurse’s defensive scheme in Toronto, adding another forward that can punch up a weight class or switch out to the perimeter. Nurse could easily roll out a frontcourt trio of Kuminga, Anunoby and Siakam and have no trouble containing both bigs and wings.
A knock on Kuminga is that there were times in which he wasn’t completely locked in on the defensive end during his one G League season. It seemed as though his focus to prove himself offensively meant that defensive effort would sometimes become an afterthought. He has all the tools to be an elite stopper in the NBA and under Nurse, he’d be able to maximize his two-way potential because he simply wouldn’t see the floor if he’s giving anything other than 100 percent effort on that end.
And the Raptors wouldn’t just be the best possible opportunity for Kuminga defensively – that goes for the offensive end, too.
Kuminga is a raw scorer in everything he does, but the potential is there. His handle improved but it still has a ways to go in terms of shot creation. He showed flashes of playmaking but was much more interested in finding his own shot. A ball stopper at times, Kuminga’s shot selection didn’t help his field goal or 3-point percentage and his jumper could also use some fine-tuning. But when he gets downhill to put pressure on the rim, his aggressiveness and willingness to take on contact is something that will surely translate to the next level.
Again, he only had one season to prove to scouts and talent evaluators that he was worthy of a top-five pick. That type of pressure will undoubtedly result in a few AAU-style, my turn-type possessions, and that was evident in Kuminga attempting more shots per game (14.3) than his prolific scoring teammate Jalen Green (13.6).
If Kuminga landed in Toronto, it would be far from his role to force offence and be a go-to scorer right away. The fact that he would be a fourth or fifth scoring option would give the young prospect time to fine-tune some elements of his offensive game while also being set up for much easier buckets than he ever saw as a focal point of the Ignite’s offence.
Just look at what the Raptors have done with Anunoby as a scorer and playmaker. Because he could afford to be patient with his improvements, Anunoby has upped his scoring average by 10 full points since he came into the league in 2017. He has tripled his assist average since his rookie season and he has also become nearly a 40 percent 3-point shooter on over six attempts per game.
And with that being said, Kuminga is far more advanced offensively than Anunoby was when he came into the NBA.
Taking the pressure off of the 18-year-old to be a premier scorer right away could be the key to breaking his glass ceiling as a scorer, and who better than a franchise like Toronto that has unlocked players like Siakam, Anunoby and Fred VanVleet to take on that challenge?
This isn’t to say that Suggs is not the best fit for the Raptors – I still think he is. But if any team could bring Kuminga to reach his full potential, it’s Toronto, so why not give him a look at No. 4?
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