Still a few hours left to sign up for RR March Madness Pool. If you are planning on taking a few days off to keep a close eye on who might fall into the Raptors laps this year, let me give you a bit of a breakdown on where to look and who to keep an eye on.

First off, let me state the obvious- the Raptors can expect to pick in the 6-11 range this season and should be drafting a point guard. However, history tells us that Colangelo will pick whomever he likes, regardless of what other people think (see Bargnani, Nash, Marion, Amare, etc). Certainly, the lottery could change all of that by placing the Raptors in the top 3 (where they should select Ricky Rubio and not even think about it unless they plan on trading Bosh) but barring that, the most likely home for them is later on in the top ten.

Now there will still be several strong “wing men” available at that pick, but the likelihood of drafting a wingman that can come in and start on a team that hopes to contend in the East next year is just not going to happen in this spring’s draft. Don’t get me wrong, Harden will be solid and DeRozen could be unreal, both would be nice picks but in my opinion neither Harden nor DeRozen (the top ranked SGs in the draft) can solve this problem. No, the answer to this team’s issues at the wing will have to be solved in free agency or via trade. Parker and Graham are both free agents and only one of them should be brought back in a secondary role as the backup shooting guard. Bringing back Delfino as the backup SG/SF is also a possibility. Either way, of Delfino, Parker, and Graham, only one should return and that too as a backup. Finding a starting SG should be Colangelo’s priority for the off-season. I’m not a big fan of Ben Gordon, but I hear he might be taking a pay cut due to the economy. The 3-4-and 5 are pretty fine “as is.” I mean, forgetting about all the “will Bosh walk next season” garbage for a moment, when you think about it, over the last dozen games, the trio of Marion, Bosh, and Bargnani have played well together and really highlighted just how poorly the play of the Raptors backcourt has been this season.

I would argue (and have many times) that the lack of a legitimate point guard this season is really what sunk this ship. Anthony Parker was our starting point for a couple of weeks this year? Ouch. When someone told me that Tony Parker was our new point guard, I got really excited, but then, I realized what they were actually saying. Here’s the real issue: Jose’s injuries have caused him to not only miss time but also look really slow on the defense he plays. He may in fact still be worth the 8 million a year we signed him for, but first we have to ensure that he takes the summer off this year by not playing for Spain and that next season we can bring in a PG who can handle the offense for 15 minutes a night and push Jose to play at the level he played at when TJ was here. And while fans on this site tend to be overly optimistic about Roko Ukic’s future contributions to the Dinos, a real “other option” at point guard is what this team needs most right now. Especially if you can get a guard who can play 15-20 solid minutes a night, so Jose can get back to playing the more manageable 28 minutes a night that we know he is really good at.

About a month ago I rang out some names that the Raptors could expect to be available in the 8-11 range of the draft. To reiterate:

“While this draft does have two or three PFs or Cs that should go in the top 5, after that there is a significant drop off in talent in terms of big men. On the flip side, with most of the top 5 going to “bigs”, that leaves a plethora of PGs and SGs to round out the top 15, many of whom are legit NBA prospects. While this is not the deepest draft in the last 5 years (with several superstars in the making), it certainly appears to be very deep at the guard spots and offers the teams drafting between 7-15 many choices for future starting SGs and PGs.”

In this draft the PG position happens to be one the rare spots where finding a guy who can come in right away and contribute appears possible. Look at the point guards in last year’s draft as an example: excluding Derrick Rose who went first overall, Westbrook, Augustin, and Bayless have all made solid contributions to their respective teams (as had Chalmers who went in the second round). This year’s draft is even better. In fact, I think that there are realistically 10 point guards who could go in the first round (has that ever happened before?). After you take the two “international” point guards out of the mix, since I think both Ricky Rubio of Spain and American export Brandon Jennings (currently playing in Italy) will go in the first 6 picks, it leaves 8 point guards for the Raptors to look at and all of them just happen to be playing this weekend! Now, I know most big-boards currently have Jennings not going top 5, but on draft night I expect his stock to rise. Once teams get this kid in for workouts, he will be tough to pass on given his talent, upside, and basketball IQ. If he had the grades and desire to have actually played at Arizona this year instead of going overseas, he would be in contention for the top pick overall.

The point guards who should be available when the Raptors select are:

Jeff Teague (Wake Forest):
Currently ranked on most big-boards as the top American-Collegiate point guard in the draft. Doesn’t get the same hype he would if he went to any of the other schools in the “research triangle” (aka Duke, NC, or NC State) but is an NBA ready guard. He would be more than a steal if he somehow became available to the Raptors. He is a big reason why Wake has had one of its best seasons in years. He would immediately challenge Jose for the starting PG job.

Willie Warren (Oklahoma):
It never hurts to be the point guard on the same team as the big man that is the consensus #1 overall pick in the draft, just ask Mike Conley Jr. how that all worked out for him! However, unlike Conley who really milked being Greg Oden’s team mate all the way to the NBA, most scouts see Warren as legit, regardless of whether he has Blake Griffin next to him or not. The bigger issue for Warren tends to be where do you play him in the NBA? He is the classic college tweener: in that you can get away with playing him at the point guard in college but his lack of ball handling skills would make him a liability at the 1 in the pros. At the same time he really lacks the size and scoring punch to play the 2 at the NBA level. He is a nice little player, but someone the Raps should take a pass on.

Stephen Curry (Davidson):
Curry is in a similar situation to Warren, in that he is not really suited to play either the 1 or the 2 at the NBA level. The big difference between the two players is that Curry has the potential to really shoot the lights out and based on that fact alone, will find himself putting on a hat and jersey next to Commissioner Stern before someone gets to 10 at the draft. However, the last thing this team needs is another guy who fancies himself a jump shooter but really can’t play any defense. I mean what would we do with J-Killa? At best this guy turns out to be like his dad, and at worst he ends up like JJ Reddick. I wouldn’t touch this guy with a ten foot pole. I hear the Knicks really like him….perfect!

Jrue Holiday (UCLA):
First, let me say that it is tough for me to write an honest and unbiased report about a fellow Bruin. Having said that, Holiday, is a bit of an enigma. From the outside he appears to be an excellent fit for the NBA, in that he can pass, score, finish on the fast break, hit the outside jumper, and play some nice D. The problem is…well, he just didn’t do any of that very much this year in Westwood. He came to UCLA with top billing but really has disappointed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to Westwood and work on bringing up his stock (especially since Collison won’t be returning which means he should get even more burn at the 1). But I expect a team in the top 15 to make him a promise based on his talent and upside and that should be enough to get him to commit and go pro. I will say this – when he is on, he is awesome, but he is another tweener guard for the pros.

Eric Maynor (VA Commonwealth):
Maynor is a guy who’s stock is about to sky rocket. Coming into the tourney, he is already looking like a rock solid first round pick based on his quickness, shooting and excellent defence that has helped Virginia Commonwealth raise a few eyebrows nationwide. The Commonwealth has drawn an extremely interesting bracket for the tourney beginning with a Day 1 match up with UCLA where he will get to showcase his skills against 2 first round point guard picks in Holiday and Collison. For VAC to pull an upset over UCLA, Maynor will need to have a big day. Don’t be surprised to see VAC still playing come week two, and with potential games against other top teams like Villanova, Duke and UNC, Maynor stands an excellent chance of getting his name out and really watching his stock rise. He is someone who should definitely be on the Raptors radar.

Darren Collison (UCLA):
Collision would be an excellent pick for the Raptors. For two straight seasons he has taken the back seat at UCLA to top ranked freshman guards (Westbrook and Holiday) in the media while quietly putting up solid numbers as the team’s starting point guard. Unlike all the other guards being talked about here, Collison is a Senior. He is NBA ready and would bring maturity, experience (with multiple final four appearances under his belt), and a high basketball IQ to any team where he could be a solid contributor immediately. He doesn’t come with the flash of Holiday and may be one of the most underrated players in the NCAA. Top ten may be a little too high for a guy like Collison, but certainly the possibility of trading down to 14 or 15 and taking him would be a smart move for this organization.

Ty Lawson (North Carolina):
Here’s the thing with Lawson, he’s been hurt all year. He could have been a lottery pick last year, or the year before, and had he been healthy this season (and had UNC not started the season 0-2 after all the talk of going undefeated) he very well may have found himself being talked about with the Rubios and Griffins of the world. Having said that, Lawson’s stock can only go up from here and up it will go! If UNC wins it all (as President Obama predicated on Wednesday) then you can expect Lawson to go #7 on draft night – at worst. I mean, he is the most highly touted player on the UNC team (since most experts don’t think TylerHans game translates to the pros) and usually winning a national title increases the draft stock of all the players on the team – see Cory Brewer. At 5’11 he is a bit small but he is one of those lightning fast point guards who loves to push the pace, can collapse defences with his ability to penetrate, and of course loves to score in bunches! He is definitely not a pass-first point guard. Having Tar Heel pedigree doesn’t hurt either.

Nick Calathes (Florida):
Here’s my sleeper pick. At 6-5 he brings some serious size to the back court. He would be an interesting pick for the Raptors, since he certainly does not have the upside of all the other names being mentioned as potential first-rounders but certainly has the tools to be a steady NBA guard. Although there is a lot of speculation that he will return to Florida for another season (and in truth he probably should), if he does turn pro he would certainly be available in the 20s where the Raptors are said to be looking to buy a pick with the 3 million in cash they received from Miami in the JO trade. This seems like an excellent alternative for the Raptors if a player such as James Harden, Earl Clark, or Demar DeRozan were to be available when they drafted and as a team they deemed the 2 to be their biggest need. Another guy the Raptors might consider drafting in the late 20s at the point guard position might be Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn or Gonzaga’s Jeremy Pargo.

Enjoy the tourney!

As always, standing in the key, I’m the Dr. I’ve got my feet planted and I’m planning on taking a charge!

phdsteve