With a trio of key rotation players hitting the open market, this offseason is an important one for the Toronto Raptors. Who could they target to fill some holes with the 29th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft?
Fresh off of a championship run in 2019, it was largely considered a foregone conclusion that the Toronto Raptors would fail to even come close to their two-way excellence from the season prior, with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green ending their brief one-year stay up north by leaving for warmer weather, brighter stars, and loftier ceilings in Los Angeles.
As it turned out, popular consensus was wrong. Quite wrong. The elongated 2019-20 season was marked by individual and organizational achievement, as the Raptors finished the year with the second-best record (53-19) and second-best defense (104.7 DRTG) in the league, a culmination of brilliant performances top-down.
Nick Nurse was named Coach of the Year, Pascal Siakam (22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists) made his first All-Star game and earned All-NBA Second-Team honors, and Kyle Lowry (19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists) achieved All-Star recognition for the sixth year in a row.
Lest we forget Fred VanVleet’s excellence in his first season as a full-time starter (17.6 points, 6.6 assists), OG Anunoby’s staunch wing defense and welcome improvement as a shooter, and Serge Ibaka (38.5% 3PT) and Norman Powell (39.9% 3PT) returning to their sweet-shooting ways as off-the-bench scorers.
Distinguished executive Masai Ujiri is facing a potential mass exodus of valuable contributors this offseason, as VanVleet, Ibaka, and Marc Gasol enter a free agent marketplace where they will likely have a laundry list of suitors. Though re-signing them to reasonable deals is the preferred course of action, such an outcome isn’t guaranteed, particularly with the long-term cap sheet being monitored.
Toronto is sure to have an eye on the situation unfolding in Milwaukee, with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo headed toward a contentious free agency sweepstakes in the summer of 2021, which may affect Ujiri’s willingness to re-sign his veterans to high-dollar, multi-year contracts.
Gasol is the likeliest of the trio to leave, with the Spaniard rumored to be considering a return to his home of Barcelona, where he would ultimately finish his professional career. Ibaka could return on an expensive one-year deal, considering his contentment in Toronto and the dearth of playoff teams with significant cap space, though he’s likely chasing long-term money.
VanVleet is a real flight risk, even with his strong play next to Lowry in the starting lineup, as the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks could start a bidding war for the scoring guard’s services. If Ujiri is looking to preserve max cap space for a run at Antetokounmpo next summer, things may get dicey if the bidding for VanVleet gets well into the $20-plus million range, which seems likely.
Costs and all, it does seem likely that at least two of the three aforementioned free agents will be retained, given their importance to the current Raptors core. If the Raptors operate as a team over the cap and retain both VanVleet and one of the centers, that would leave them with the full mid-level exception (worth over $9 million) and the team’s two draft selections this year, Nos. 29 and 59 to fill out the rest of the roster.
Finding a serviceable backup guard or third big is far more attainable through free agency than the draft, but there are still players who match what Toronto could be looking for.
Ujiri has an eye for talent, touting one of the more impressive draft records in his decade and a half of front office experience. He doesn’t go the extreme lengths of OKC’s Sam Presti and Orlando’s John Hammond in his desire to add lengthy athletes, but he does tend to prioritize using draft capital on such players with untapped, two-way upside, regardless of age or polish.
DeMar DeRozan, Kenneth Faried, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby are a number of picks that he had a say in who fit the billing, lest we forget Bruno Coboclo, perpetually two years away from being two years away. Ujiri also has a knack for grabbing overlooked players, with the likes of VanVleet and Terence Davis getting picked up as undrafted free agents.
The Raptors can go in a number of directions with their first-rounder. They have the infrastructure, both up top and down with the 905 in the G-League, to gamble on unpolished youth, more so than other lesser-prepared, lesser-disciplined, and lesser-equipped franchises.
Toronto has one of the best development programs in the NBA, so they can go the patient route, even with their current intentions to contend. But going for NBA-ready players with that pick could be in the cards as well, given the number of possible departures that they’re facing.
With all that said, here are three options for the Toronto Raptors with the No. 29 pick.