This year’s draft class is proving to be much more interesting than originally predicted. At first, scouts, GMs, and media minds all suggested this draft would be one of the weakest in history. According to those people in the know, this year’s draft class lacked a superstar stud. In fact, many argued that not only was the draft devoid of a guy who could turn a franchise around, but that it also was extremely short on high-level talent and that very few of the players expected to declare for the draft would be All-Stars at the NBA level.

And what followed was unheralded:

Young Guns Say “No “to the NBA
With a looming lockout and new financial structure for rookies on the horizon, 3 players in contention for the #1 overall pick (Sullinger, Jones, and Barnes) all decided not to enter the draft, passing on a guaranteed 20 million+, and instead will all return to school in the fall – adding more top flight talent to a 2012 draft class that is shaping up to be one of the best (and deepest) since 2004, with multiple top flight players at the upper echelon of the lottery.

A Euro Invasion
Even before three of the top American College players decided not to enter the draft, this year’s crop of talent from overseas was both particularly strong and significant in size. However, since then, the stock of Kanter, Vesely, and Valanciunas has risen dramatically, so that all three are legitimate top five picks, and the potential of five foreign players going in the top ten is not that unrealistic. In fact, it is possible that a third of all the players drafted in the first round may be from overseas!

Teams Trading Out
Lottery picks in this league are almost never traded without significant protection restrictions and I can’t recall ever seeing one traded in the same season that wasn’t protected. And yet this season, that is exactly what has happened twice, as both New Jersey and the Clippers traded their picks to teams already headed for the lottery, so that both Cleveland and Utah have multiple lottery picks. In fact, the Clippers pick that was traded to Cleveland ended up winning the lottery.

In addition to the teams that have already traded out, there is significant chatter around the league that basically every pick in this draft, especially #2 by Minnesota is on the trading block.

The Raptors Pick at #5. So, while no one can say with any certainty how the top four of the NBA draft will play out this year, it is almost a guarantee that Irving, Williams, and Kanter will all be chosen in the top four, by whoever drafts in those positions and if the Raptors don’t trade up, down or out of the draft, when Colangelo does select for the Raptors with the fifth pick, here are his choices:

#1 – Brandon Knight

As was first reported here the night of the lottery, Brandon Knight will be the first choice of the Raptors. Knight a 6’3″ point guard with a 6’6.75” wingspan played only one year at Kentucky for John Calipari. Entering into the season Knight was ranked #1 on most boards, and along with Harrison Barnes was considered to be the top talent in college ball. However, instead of dominating, Knight struggled to start the season and much was made of his shot selection and inability to lead from the point. However, what was often overlooked was that the Kentucky team that Knight was asked to lead had lost five, yes five players to the NBA draft last year, all of whom were drafted in the first round. And while he struggled, Irving was leading Duke to a #1 overall ranking in the coaches poll and his stock rose dramatically. So much so that he eclipsed Knight as the number one point guard in the draft, and Barnes as the top talent in the draft, even while not playing a game between November and the middle of the tournament in March. Meanwhile, Knight continued to improve his game. His jumper got better, his shot selection more intelligent, and his teammates, all of whom were freshman also learned to play – and ultimately, Knight, with much less around him than last year’s top pick, John Wall. He helped lead Kentucky to within a game of the national title, and made some HUGE plays down the stretch demonstrating his ability to make his teammates better, to score off the dribble, and to stick the jumper when need be. He rose to the occasion.

The only problem for the Raptors is that Utah appears to like Knight at #3, and given that he is clearly at a different talent level than most of the other prospects in this draft, and that he is a long, athletic, defensive-minded point guard in a league now dominated by perimeter players – it is more than likely he goes top four. While Irving may be the safest pick in this draft, I think Knight is best point guard in the draft.

#2/3 – Jan Vesely or Jonas Valanciunas

It is truly hard to guage which of the European big men is the top Euro prospect in the draft and depending on who you talk to, the Raptors are certain to draft one or the other. I think Vesely is the better prospect, with more upside, and with two years of professional basketball already under his belt he could come over and contribute right away to the Raptors. Not to mention the fact that unlike Valanciunas, Vesely’s free to come to the NBA without all the issues of the contract buyout that hamper the former’s draft status. Unlike most, I actually think that Valanciunas’ complicated buyout might be a bonus for the Raptors, who are at least 2-3 years away from competing anyways. So, why not save the money (roughly $3.5 million), the roster space (so that you don’t have to deal with the lack of minutes to share between Bargnani, Davis, Amir, and whomever they draft – not to mention Alabi or Evans), and let the guy play overseas and develop. Since he stands a much better chance to improve over there than he does being the third big off the bench on a team that might win 20 games next year, it’s better he stays in Europe.

Here is what international scout Chris Denker from NetScouts had to say about each of the players, when I spoke to him in March:

Valanciunas:

Velsey:

There is no denying that both guys have talent (although their talents are very different) but they also both come with some pretty big question marks. For the Raps at #5, pretty much everyone they look at are going to have question marks, which is one of the reasons why many people believe Colangelo will ultimately trade the pick (if he can).

#4 – Tristan Thompson

At first I was absolutely against writing his name onto my big board, based on the fact that not only is he not a top five player in the draft, but the idea that this franchise would stick it to its fans by drafting a player with less talent just because he is a local boy makes me sick to my stomach. But then, I realized, that’s precisely what they have done with the coaching situation for this team, so why wouldn’t they think they could do the same with their draft choices? However, Thomas is more than just a local player. He was one of the best rebounders in college basketball last year and, as ESPN stat guy John Hollinger has demonstrated on multiple occasions, rebounds are really the only statistic that translates from the college game to the pro game. Over and above that, he is a guy with a crazy motor, a great demeanour and work ethic, and is known to be a top flight teammate. Oh, and did I mention he should be able to find 12-14 points a night at the pro game to go with this knack for grabbing boards. In short, the consensus seems to be that he’s going to be a decent pro with a chance at being great if he can convert his upside. Doug Gottlieb of ESPN said that he thought Thompson is a better pro prospect than Ed Davis, and while I don’t share that sentiment, it is worth noting that Thompson’s stock has risen dramatically since February where he was seen as a fringe first rounder to now, where he is widely regarded not only as a lottery pick, but also as a lock for the top ten.

As a PR move this is a good pick, but there is really no way that drafting Thompson makes sense, especially for a team that already is loaded at the power forward, especially since he will not be the best prospect at his position available at #5. If the Raptors do select him at #5, look for them to move Andrea. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see them trade down, or work to acquire another pick later in the lottery with which to draft Thompson. Again, he will be a nice NBA player, just not sure about #5 overall.

And that is where my big board stops. I know the Raptors will be actively looking at others players and that many of you are wondering why I have not included some of the other big names being linked to this pick, like Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, and Kawhi Leonard, and here is why. Ultimately, I think for the Raptors this is a pick at #5 that will be Knight or Euro. Period. The Raptors are not in a position to draft for luxury. They are a 20-win team and are light years away from competing for the East against a team like Miami that boasts two top-five players and a third player in the top fifteen. As I have already written all year, the Raptors currently don’t have a player on their roster in the top 40 of the NBA. So, when it comes to be their turn to select, drafting a guy like Walker or Leonard, both of whom will be nice pros but both of whom have limited upside, doesn’t make sense. And this is why I put Thompson on the big board. If the Raptors are going to select a safe, rotational guy, they might as well select the hometown guy (who rebounds!) and get double the value for the pick. Drafting Kemba for this franchise would be a mistake. I think he will be a solid NBA pro but Toronto is a bad fit. And when it is all said and done, Biyombo is simply too risky a pick. I mean, even if he does pan out, I don’t think he is more talented or has a larger up side than Vesely or Valanciunas. So, the point is that when it comes to #5, if Knight is there, he is coming to Toronto – and if not, then it is almost a given that unless they trade the pick that the Raptors will be choosing between Vesely or Valanciunas.

In case you missed it, there’s also the Rapcast from last week with Tim Chisholm which contains all draft talk:

There’s also the explanation of drafting tiers. Back tomorrow with a guest and another draft-related Rapcast.

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

phdsteve