Raptors’ lottery leap offers chance at rapid return to title contention


#ComebackSZN is officially on for the Toronto Raptors.

After a disastrous 2020-21 campaign, the Raptors now have an opportunity to rapidly return back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings and compete for championships again as the team managed to win the No. 4 overall pick during Tuesday’s 2021 NBA Draft Lottery, moving up from the seventh-best odds to win it all.

“Listen, it’s a silver lining on a tough season, but the work starts now,” said Raptors general manager Bobby Webster. “And I think, for us, the jump from seven to four is meaningful for us.”

Though it’s just a three-spot leap, Webster rightfully defined it as “meaningful” because of the loaded level of talent that’s in the top five of this year’s draft.

Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is expected to go first overall to the Detroit Pistons, who won the event, but after that there are studs like USC and Chris Bosh-like big man Evan Mobley, Final Four hero Jalen Suggs from Gonzaga and G League Ignite stars Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga.

Any of those talented four would instantly and seamlessly fit in with the Raptors’ core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, and figure to be impactful enough to make Toronto a top-four seed in the East once again.

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Mobley is a seven-foot, athletic and long centre with great shot-blocking instincts. He also has superb lateral quickness and advanced shooting mechanics, meaning, with some work, he could be a deadly stretch five in the NBA.

Suggs, of course, was the best player on an excellent Gonzaga team this year as a freshman. As his legendary shot against UCLA illustrated, beyond being an overall strong prospect who is good at many different things, you draft this kid for his intangibles. As pedantic as it seems to say, Suggs has the “it” factor and is a winner. Traits that are pretty common among Raptors guards.

Lastly, there isn’t quite as much tape on the two G League Ignite players Green and Kuminga, but they each showed why they’re elite prospects during parts of the season.

Playing against grown men, the 19-year-old Green finished second in G League scoring, averaging 30 points per game. An explosively athletic guard, he has “scoring machine” written all over him at the next level, particularly as he shores up his shooting mechanics.

As for Kuminga, he’s a versatile combo forward who can probably already defend three positions or more at the NBA level. He has a long way to go with his jumper, but he can run the floor and is probably only rivalled by Davion Mitchell in this draft as far as defensive upside goes.

Essentially, no matter what direction the Raptors go in, they will be setup very well for the future, both the immediate and long-term.

“I think it’s we always take best-available talent and we feel with our system we can, in our development program, we’ll take that and we’ll mold it, especially in this part of the draft,” said Webster. “So I don’t think it changes. I think we’re always a best-available team.”

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That’s not a bad philosophy to have as it won’t box the Raptors into any one prospect. And, to this point, it’s also important to remember that the fourth selection is also an important asset at Webster and Co.’s disposal to possibly use in a trade. Whether it be to move up in the draft, move down and/or acquire more established talent from elsewhere around the league, the No. 4 pick is a powerful tool that the Raptors should look to exploit.

“The value from seven to four, even if you look at it historically, whether it’s a player or trade, it’s meaningful,” said Webster. “All of our options are open. As much as we would love the pick, we’re going to see what it yields outside of the draft.”

The Raptors’ 2020-21 season didn’t go the way it wanted, but winning the No. 4 overall pick is a damn good consolation prize.

As team president Masai Ujiri said after the season, “play-in for what?”

The Raptors’ 2021-22 revival begins now.