The Toronto Raptors held their first set of pre-draft workouts with media availability on Wednesday, opening their doors at the end of a six-man session.
The Raptors own the No. 9 and No. 27 picks, and Wednesday’s workout was focused firmly on the latter selection, if not just advanced scouting and information gathering. Of the six players brought in, only two are believed to have a real shot at the first round, and so Toronto may have been seeking to learn about the Canadian-heavy group for other reasons. It never hurts to gather that information, as the organization will eventually need summer league and D-League players, could potentially acquire a second-round pick.
“Yeah, big time,”Raptors director of player personnel and Raptors 905 general manager Dan Tolzman said. This is a good time to take a look at some guys that we might have been tracking during the college season that we knew are kinda flying under the radar and there’s a good chance they end up sliding through the draft. I’ve been in touch with a number of agents kind of planting that seed as, hey, because we don’t have a second-round pick, there’s a chance we try to bring in guys as undrafted and give them a summer league opportunity with a potential path to the D-League system.
“And I think more and more agents and players are becoming responsive to that path to get into the league.”
Tolzman also highlighted the need to be ready for anything over the next couple of weeks, which is why you may see players at positions the Raptors don’t appear to need coming in. Remember, Delon Wright looked to fill a need on draft night last season and that played sparingly all year based on how the offseason shook out, and the Raptors didn’t enter the draft with the pick they used to land Norman Powell.
“Draft night is such a crazy night where anything can happen, to where, we may be looking at players where there’s no positional need for us right now, but anything can happen on draft night, and if it does, we just want to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” Tolzman said. “You’re doing as much background work and research and film study as you can, in addition to these workouts, to know who’s out there and know what could potentially help the roster.”
There’s obviously a lot up in the air for all teams, but that may be especially true for the Raptors given their cap and free agent situation. There’s been a strong belief that Toronto won’t use both picks, or will at least draft-and-stash someone if they use both, and coming off of a 56-win season will also inform how they make their pick. Not only does roster composition and fit come into play, but so, too, does the psychology of a player, and whether or not they can sustain the requisite intensity even when minutes might not be there.
“Yeah, I think even at No. 9, that’s kinda what we’re looking for,” Tolzman said. “We’re a team that who knows how much a rookie’s going to be able to play next year? Hopefully, we’re a good enough team to where it’s not really something we’re really looking for. At the same time, we need the guys that approach the game the right way, the same type of mental toughness and aggressiveness it takes to win a spot in a rotation for a good team. So that’s definitely a trait we’re trying to find in guys, and it’s these types of workout environments where you kind of get a good look at that.”
All of that is to say, it’s difficult to get a great read on where the Raptors may go. This is day two of what’s expected to be upwards of 10 workouts, and Toronto still hasn’t brought in a potential top-10 pick. It’s early in the process, but at least we know the Raptors are going to be putting a premium on cultural fit, which should surprise nobody.
Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:
|Demetrius Jackson||Guard||6-2||Notre Dame|
|Gary Payton II||Guard||6-3||Oregon State|
|Jalen Jones||Forward||6-7||Texas A&M|
Gary Payton II
Chad Ford Rank: 52, DraftExpress Rank: 48
Payton had the stand-out moment of the portion of the workout that was open to media. Each player was tasked with picking the ball up off the floor and dunking 10 consecutive times (dunk, pick up off ground, dunk, pick up off ground), while everyone cheers on. It looks exhausting, and the burst required that late in a workout is incredible. So naturally, Payton performed a 360 on his final funk.
“Yeah, you know, you gotta show them that you still got energy left,” he said with a laugh. “It was a tough workout, they make it back-to-back drills, keeping up, showing intensity. Show them you’re in condition and you’re ready to work.”
As Tolzman mentioned, that seemed to be the target trait of the day, and Payton fits that quite well. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Payton and Dwane Casey were chatting long after the session officially ended. Payton’s a defense-first prospect who would seem to fit the Raptors’ current ethos, something that’s not lost on him.
“Definitely,” he said of the perceived fit. “Being a point guard and reading the floor, and looking for DeMar, and getting Kyle open shots. Finding my teammates and making them better. Defensive end, I’mma be there. I think teammates will trust me on the defensive end to get big stops.”
Defense will be his ticket if he winds up making the push to the first round, and it’s conceivable despite his current rankings that a team in win-now mode would appreciate that one-way reliability off the bench, and his advanced age (23) wouldn’t hurt him in that case. He’s probably the prospect from this group I’m highest on.
Chad Ford Rank: 75, DraftExpress Rank: 79
Another perceived area of need for the Raptors is shooting, and Wiltjer would fit the bill as a stretch big off the bench in the Steve Novak mold.
“For sure. Right now, there’s a lot of 3-point shooters out there, and the teams that don’t have them, what I’ve heard through the process, is they’re just looking for shooters,” he said. “It helps that I’m tall, 6’10”, for myself, I try to use that to my advantage…I’m always working on my weakness but showing them my strengths is the big thing.”
Wiltjer shot 43.7 percent on threes this year en route to putting up 20.4 points per-game for Gonzaga. His limited athleticism, middling rebounding, and poor defense probably limit him to the role of specialist if he ever makes the NBA, and it seems more likely he’ll be Europe-bound next year.
Chad Ford Rank: 25, DraftExpress Rank: 16
The lone player from this session who’s unlikely to be available at No. 27, Jackson comes in with experience running a pro-style NBA offense and manning the floor with another guard. His size is a minor concern – he and Payton stood back-to-back comparing height after the workout – but he’s very explosive, has a great handle, and seems a really smart playmaker. Using the No. 9 pick on a point guard probably doesn’t make much sense, and I wonder how much of bringing Jackson in was about having someone on-hand to really push Payton and get a look at his defense against an elite prospect. (And then there’s always the chance Jackson slides.)
Chad Ford Rank: 73, DraftExpress Rank: 58
Depending on whether teams see Finney-Smith as a three or a four (most list him as a three) probably instructs how high they are on him. If he can add the size to bang with fours, his shooting stroke, which looked good in the open part of the session, is a major asset. But he doesn’t have a great post game, and his handle and defense are such that he could probably stick at the three as is, too, and he’d be an elite rebounder from that spot. Remember: Tweener isn’t as much of a bad word anymore, and “combo-” is a plus.
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked
Undersized by height but with the length to play the three, the unheralded Jones seems exactly the type Tolzman may have been talking about with respect to potential D-League targets.
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked
It’s still a little strange, from the outside, that the Serbian-Canadian is forgoing his senior season as a Rainbow Warrior, but he should have a pretty solid European career ahead of him. He’s 6-foot-11 and hit 37.8 percent on threes, which opens up a lot of doors. Despite growing up in Mississuaga, Jankovic has previously said he considers himself Serbian first, and he’s never been a part of a Canada Basketball team (at least at the senior level, that I can find record of).
*The Raptors also had six players in on Tuesday, though the list was not released.
*The Raptors will bring in a few more players Thursday, with media availability. It’s believed to be the first time a potential No. 9 selection will be in house.
*This was my first time attending one of these sessions, and the process was interesting. The Raptors have their coaching staff, D-League coaches, basketball operations staff, and more all on-hand to help with things like scoring the workouts, running drills, and so on. James Johnson was in the house, too, but he was just getting a lift in (obviously – when is he not getting a lift in?).
*What advice did Payton’s father, The Glove, have for him? “It’s a little different from when he did it. He said just shoot the ball, shoot the ball well, have fun, go out there and do what you do, stay within your game, and just have fun.”
*I asked Wiltjer about teammate Domantas Sabonis, and he offered the following: “That’s one of my closest friends. We had a good year together last year. He was my guy, we were always in the gym together. I always just try to check up with him and see how things are going. He’s working really hard.” I’d expect the Raptors to have Sabonis in at some point.
*Wiltjer, by the way, sounded skeptical that he’ll be available for the senior men’s national team’s pre-Olympic qualifying camp. “One at a time is the motto right now,” he said of workouts, leaving the possibility open.
*ONE IMPORTANT NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton (Jaylen Brown, for example), and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). And sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, that information becomes a little more important.