The Final Four – Raptors Perspective

With the Final Four taking place tonight and Monday, Blake lets you know who, specifically, Raptor fans should be keeping an eye on.

The "face" of some lucky franchise.

My original plan for today’s article was to examine a handful of different draft scenarios for the Raptors. After some careful though, I realized the following three things:

#1 – I’m still having trouble finding the midway point between cautious optimism and rabid homerism when it comes to evaluating Jonas Valanciunas. While this isn’t a huge issue in and of itself, it makes it difficult to intelligently anticipate certain draft scenarios that would involve a big who isn’t Anthony Davis. This issue won’t resolve itself by June, but the other two will.

#2 – We have no idea where we’ll pick in the draft. As I write this on Saturday March 31, the Raptors are in 4th last in the NBA. The chart below shows each team’s chances at winning the lottery based on their final seed (1=30th, 2=29th, etc), as well as their “expected draft slot” (weighted average of all odds), and their chances of falling outside of the top-5 altogether. While it’s fun to consider hypotheticals at each draft slot, right now only 1.5 games separate the Raptors from being 4th last or 8th last. This makes their draft range from 1-11, and I feel like the analysis is better served, if I’m going to get in depth, when we have a more clear idea of their draft range.

The Raptors are currently "4th."

#3 – We haven’t seen all we’ll see of the top prospects. This is the most important point, and leads us into the primary focus of this article – tonight’s Final Four semi-finals and Monday’s NCAA Championship game. While names like Beal, Drummond, Zeller, and all of the UNC players are eliminated from the tournament, several of the top prospects for this year’s draft will be in action in front of millions. Tonight and Monday should allow us for one or two more “last looks” at these potential Raptors draft targets.

Anthony Davis
Have you heard of him? Any team that wins the draft lottery is expected to select Davis, an instant all-world defender, shot-blocker, and franchise difference maker. Scouts will be far more interested in seeing how others play AGAINST him, which should tell you just how universal a selection he’s considered at #1. Watch for entertainment, but rest assured the Raptors would take him if fate decides it should be so.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
MKG is currently my #2B on my list of prospects I’d like the Raptors to select, trailing only Davis and Thomas Robinson. The knock on MKG is his ability to create offense for himself at the next level, but every other tangible skill and intangible trait is considered a home run. He has the chance to solidify himself as a #2 pick with a strong scoring performance, and I’ll specifically be looking to see if he shows the tenacity to attack one of the country’s best defenses in Louisville, or if he remains passive and defers to teammates to create.

Marquis Teague
It seems unlikely he’ll enter the draft after a lackluster freshman campaign, but if he does he’ll be worth watching in a match-up with Louisville, who boast one of the best guard rotations in the country. Teague doesn’t seem a likely 1st round pick, so he could be a target with the Raptors’ early 2nd rounder if he declares, based on his upside alone.

Terrence Jones is a model of inconsistency, and could have been a top-3 pick with a better year. ESPN has him going later in the lottery, so it’d be considered a disappointment if he ended up in the Raps’ draft plans. Doron Lamb is a great shooter who would fit well as a backup 2-guard; he’s projected to go early in the 2nd round, where the Raptors have another pick. Darius Miller is a senior without much of a ceiling, but most sites have him “draftable” as a late-draft bench player, and the Raptors acquired what will amount to be a late 2nd from the Pacers for Barbosa.

It seems unlikely that any Cardinals will end up in Raptors’ uniforms next year. Despite having a great season and boasting several top-notch defenders, they don’t have any projected draft picks according to several sites. Instead, they’ll act as fodder for evaluating the Wildcat scorers. That said, a lot of their top players could return, and names like Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan are worth a watch for future years.

Thomas Robinson
As I mentioned, he’d be my #2A selection for the Raptors if given the choice. While the Raptors are obviously deep at Power Forward, the team is still in the phase of “talent acquisition” and can’t really afford to draft for need as early in the draft as Robinson would come. Several sights have him at #4, but it’d be a coin-flip for me between he and MKG, and I’d certainly prefer him to Drummond. He’ll face a massive test tonight in the crafty Jared Sullinger, and everyone with an eye on the draft should be hoping they match up against each other rather than cross-matching with the other bigs.

Tyshawn Taylor
Finally, a point guard! Yes, we need one, but unless we’re going to acquire another 1st round pick or roll the dice in the 2nd round, it doesn’t seem like this is the year. I’d put Taylor behind names like Marshall, Lillard, and Wroten both because of his inexperience and inconsistency. That said, there’s no better stage to show that your consistently maddening play can be harnessed for peak performance when it matters most. Some like Taylor as a late-first, but I’d stay away since he still hasn’t figured out the mental side of the game after four years at Kansas.

Elijah Johnson is big for a point guard and very athletic, but he’s been hidden partially by the presence of Taylor these past few years. He’s not much of a shooter and will probably stay for another season, unless the dearth of guards convinces him he’ll get drafted. I’ll pass on Jeff Withey, too.

Ohio State
Jared Sullinger
He doesn’t really fit a need for the Raptors as a slightly undersized and probably under-athletic power forward, so he probably won’t end up here unless both he and the Raptors fall on draft day. He’s still a very interesting watch (especially in person) as his IQ and fundamentals can be appreciated with more focus. Positionally and instinct-wise, there’s nobody better, but scouts are down because he doesn’t have the typical look. I think the Kevin Love counter-arguments are a bit much, but I do think he’ll be a quality NBA player…just not for the Raptors.

Deshaun Thomas
We’ve had enough scorers who play no defense in our time, and while he truly can light it up, he’ll probably return to school and try to improve his game and reputation. He’ll be more interesting in a KU/OSU final, as we’d see if his defense can improve when it truly matters, while also seeing how MKG handles guarding such a prolific scorer.

Aaron Craft
He probably won’t be anything more than a backup in the NBA, but I love his intelligence and defense. He’s a pretty obvious leader on the floor, and while his shooting and athleticism aren’t at NBA levels, in limited minutes heart, IQ, and defense can be enough. I’d take a shot on him with that late 2nd if he’s still sticking around, as I feel like he could really control a second unit, especially if paired with a high-scoring guard opposite him.

William Buford is by all accounts a great guy, and when I saw him on opening weekend in Pittsburgh he certainly had a feel for “momentum” plays. That said, he’s been the same player for four years now and probably isn’t much more than an offensive role player in the NBA. There’s a place for that, of course, but the Raptors have more pressing needs.

So there are some players to keep an especially close eye on tonight and Monday. It’s a long list, but it should be – this should be the Raptors’ last time selecting high for a few years (hopefully), and the first time in a while they’ve had multiple picks at their disposal. Every player matters.

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