It’s time to return for a moment to the coming NBA draft.

As I continue to ponder this year’s draft, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is a franchise defining moment for the Raptors. I don’t want to over-hype the significance of the 2012 rookie class, even though they’re quite an intriguing bunch. It’s just that, like it or not, the Raptors are not going to suck next year and probably won’t suck for the foreseeable future. That’s not to say they’ll be a guaranteed playoff team (although in a weak Eastern Conference, it’s likely) or a contender for some hardware; rather it’s all but assured that the days of top 10 picks and high-end rookie talent are behind us for a while. Regardless of who they pick in 2012, the Raptors will be improved with the arrival of last year’s heir apparent, as well as a second season (and full training camp) from an effective head coach, and an influx of talent via free agency as Bryan Colangelo scrambles to save his job. This is a franchise defining pick for the Raptors not because so much rests on that player’s shoulders but because they’re due for significant improvement, in any case. If they manage to grab a stud, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a meteoric rise up the Eastern Conference standings next year. If, on the other hand, they take a player who ends up a bust, they’ll still rise to that wasteland of mediocrity that teams like the Rockets have wandered in for the past decade.

So now that I’ve over-blown (or put into perspective) the importance of this year’s draft, let’s start looking at some players. March Madness gave a lot of potential middle-to-late first round picks an opportunity to boost their stock but unfortunately for the Raptors, it provided more questions than answers for those players likely to be available when they will be picking. Sure, Anthony Davis cemented his status as the obvious number one pick, but it was a roller coaster for just about everyone else. Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb took a big hit to their stock with a quick first round exit. Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger missed the opportunity to establish themselves as top 5 picks with dominant performances. MKG and Thomas Robinson managed to hold steady with impressive (if unspectacular) tournament performances. The only player who truly boosted his value was Bradley Beal, who now seems poised to be the second coming of Ray Allen (albeit a 6’4 version). When I did the player profiles by position a little while back, I slightly fell in love with each one of them (except for Damian Lillard, there’s no lovin’ Damian Lillard) and as a result, I probably overvalued their “best case scenarios.” Now that the honeymoon is over, I challenge anyone (really, please convince me) to prove that any one player, picked 2 through 8, will be a guaranteed stud. While it’s easy to be intrigued by just about everyone on that tier, they all come with lots of question marks.

So,  we’re looking at an incredibly crucial draft that currently only has the number one pick penciled in. Since most mock drafts seem oblivious to Toronto’s actual needs — a lot of sites have the Raptors selecting a center prospect, on the reasoning being that we don’t have a center prospect (sigh) — I thought it might be beneficial to give a Raptors perspective. First, some ground rules. I’ll update the Raptors Big Board whenever something noteworthy happens or the order significantly changes. The Board will go 10 deep, and it will be based on the Raptors current squad (Jonas included), my own opinion, and any new information/research that becomes available. There’s no real point in doing a board for the second-rounders (since it fluctuates so wildly) but I’ll throw out some names every once in a while that I think the Raptors should be looking at. To start, we’ll take a quick look at my man crush from the NCAA tourney.

Currently slotted to go anywhere from the late first to late second round, Jae Crowder is everything the Raptors should be looking for with the first of their two second-round picks. He’s a senior at Marquette who possesses unimpressive size for the small forward position, and lacks any single elite skill. But he makes up for these less than eye-popping qualities with a ridiculous motor and a jack of all trades skill set that make for a potent combination. He reminds me of a shorter version of Kenneth Faried, and not just because of the hair. While he lacks Faried’s elite rebounding ability, he makes up for it with an extended shooting range, and I believe he could have a similar effect on the game. Unfortunately, I’m fairly sure other folks are going to fall in love with Crowder, and someone will take a chance on him at the end of the first round. Dare to dream though. Now, off to the board.

Raptors Big Board Version 1.0

#1 – Anthony Davis PF 19-years-old, 6’10; 220 lbs.

The only player the Raptors would be forced to take if he were available (as in, they win the lottery), Davis would immediately warrant a trade or position change for Andrea Bargnani. Paired with incoming rookie Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors could have the beginnings of a one two big man punch reminiscent of the Duncan-Robinson Spurs.

#2 – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF 18-years-old, 6’7; 228 lbs.

The Raptors have a slew of holes they need to fill in the offseason, and MKG fills just about all of them. He brings a rare combination of defense, toughness, leadership, athleticism, and an improving offensive game – all at a position where the Raptors currently have an opening. His ceiling has been set by many as Gerald Wallace, which either means I undervalue Gerald Wallace, or overvalue MKG.

#3 – Bradley Beal SG 18-years-old, 6’4; 201 lbs.

The controversy begins! Or maybe it started with MKG… Either way, I have Beal third because of his tempting combination of shooting and defense, as well as the fact that I’m not sold on DeRozan yet. Even if I’m proven wrong with regards to DeMar, this can still work. While a 2-3 combination would potentially be a disaster, I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason why Russell Westbrook can be a star point guard, but converting Beal to the point position is unfeasible.

#4 – Andre Drummond C/PF 18-years-old, 6’10; 251 lbs.

Despite the fact Drummond has been playing uneven basketball all year, he was still rated 1.A to Anthony Davis on potential alone. After a horrible showing in Connecticut’s first-round loss in the tournament, his stock has taken a dip but he’s still the same potential-laden player he was all year. The Raptors would have the luxury of bringing him along slowly, and Dwayne Casey could be the right coach to turn Drummond into the monster many believe he could become. Too many Power Forwards you say; well I agree, but it’s hard to pass on someone who’s being compared to Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.

#5 – Thomas Robinson PF 21-years-old, 6’9; 240 lbs.

The same argument against drafting Drummond will apply to Robinson. We already have a good 4 man in Bargnani, and far too many prospects behind him to add yet another to the mix. Again, I agree, but high motor big men with chiselled frames and improving offensive and defensive games are a rare commodity, and while the Raptors have a lot of power forwards, they don’t have any with the qualities Robinson possesses. Is he good enough to force a Bargnani trade? Maybe not, but you’d have to consider it.

#6 – Harrison Barnes SF 19-years-old, 6’8; 223 lbs.

It’s hard to get excited about the prospect of the Raptors drafting Barnes, but it’s also hard not to recognize that he fills some of the Raptors needs. He would be an upgrade over James Johnson in the small forward slot and could provide the steadying offensive production the Raptors have been looking for from the position for the past decade.

#7 – Jared Sullinger PF/C 20-years-old, 6’9; 280 lbs.

The Raptors have never had a true low-post scoring threat, and in Sullinger they would be getting the best one in the nation. His lack of athleticism and shot-blocking ability are going to scare some teams away, but players like Kevin Love have proven that Jared Sullinger’s deficiencies don’t preclude him from being a star in this league.

#8 – Perry Jones PF 20-years-old, 6’11; 220 lbs.

Possessing one of the highest ceilings in the entire draft, Jones is only rated so low in the draft because there are real questions about his motor and desire to become an elite player. Surrounded by the right coach and teammates –  and potentially a switch to the small forward position — who have the patience to live with his mistakes while demanding consistent effort could allow Jones to become the steal of the draft.

#9 – Jeremy Lamb SG 19-years-old, 6’5; 185 lbs.

Suffering from many of the same questions about motor and desire, Jeremy Lamb has also seen his stock hurt by an unspectacular NCAA tourney performance. He has undeniable shooting ability to go along with a wingspan to make Chad Ford drool, and if he puts it all together he really could be the second coming of Reggie Miller. Aside from his many question marks, Lamb’s ranking suffers because I’m not certain he’s an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan.

#10 – Kendall Marshall PG 20-years-old, 6’4; 180 lbs.

If you’re going to reach, reach for something you need. The Raptors are in desperate need of a franchise point guard, and while I might be wrong, I think Marshall is going to boost his stock as we near the draft. His passing ability is something that just doesn’t come along often, and he’s the kind of throwback player that you want in a pure point guard.