The NBA season waits for nobody. Before the champagne dries, before Danny Green’s hair returns to semi-normalcy, and most importantly, before Marc Gasol manages to sober up, the basketball world has already moved on and is readying themselves for a monumental summer. We are now firmly into the off-season, which for some has become even more anticipated and newsworthy than the games, and it all begins on Thursday night.
That’s right. The NBA Draft is already upon us. The Toronto Raptors enter the draft on Thursday no longer in possession of their first-round selection after the Kawhi Leonard trade and now only hold the 59th pick. There are no expectations with a selection this late; any NBA minutes a player taken 59th accrues is considered a bonus.
However, if the Raptors’ title-winning roster has taught us anything it is that in a league with razor thin margins, the value of proverbial diamonds in the rough cannot be undersold. Toronto had zero lottery picks in their championship squad and six of which were undrafted free agents. Although the chances of the next Fred VanVleet falling onto Toronto’s laps in the 59th pick is a longshot, the organization’s ability to identify overlooked talent has been impeccable over the past five years. During their magical playoff run, the Raptors have been diligent behind the scenes working out six different groups of potentially draftable players or Summer League invitees.
Of course, Toronto are not limited to selecting amongst those workout groups. There is such a wide pool to choose from this late in the draft. The pick could go towards a veteran collegiate ‘star’ whose age hindered their draft value, a quality college performer whose measurables don’t stack up to NBA talent, or it may veer entirely in the other direction to a bolter way off of the mock draft’s radars that possesses bloodied steaks level of rawness.
That aforementioned mixture of experience has been present at the six workouts the Raptors hosted, including plenty of Canadian blood. Outside shooting has been particularly valued amongst the older prospects with Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra) and March Madness heroes Kyle Guy (Virginia) and Jared Harper (Auburn) being present. Of the six total Canadians invited, freshman Simi Shittu (Vanderbilt) might be a worthwhile low risk pick. Shittu was a five-star recruit out of high school and was touted to resurrect the Commodores program along with likely top five pick Darius Garland, however the latter’s torn meniscus derailed their season early on. Still, Shittu flashed moments of freakish athleticism and has the measurables — 6’9″, 7’1″ wingspan — that NBA scouts salivate over.
The Raptors previous non-lottery picks over the past five years emphasizes how keenly they value athleticism, versatility, and length over a polished product. They trust their coaching and infrastructure to aid a player’s development. Their non-lottery picks since Masai Ujiri took over in 2013 are Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby.
However, Toronto has also shown that they aren’t too interested in late second round picks under Ujiri’s reign, trading away all but two opportunities to make a second round selection the past six years. Of those two selections, Xavier Thames — also taken 59th overall in 2014 — was immediately shipped to Brooklyn on draft night. The organization trusted themselves to be a strong team under Ujiri’s tenure and have rightfully seen little utility for picks in the 50 to 60 range.
Given that the Raptors possess a lowly draft asset, a roster with proven championship talent, are potentially going to be pressed against the luxury tax bill, and are keenly focused on one massive free agent target a week later in Leonard, their proclivity and wiggle room for a trade on draft night will be minimal. Leonard and Marc Gasol both have player options while Patrick McCaw is a restricted free agent, therefore none of those three are trade eligible. Danny Green and the end of bench veterans are all unrestricted free agents and also obviously cannot be dealt on Thursday.
Here are the players that can (not will!) be traded and the years remaining on their current deals:
Kyle Lowry: $31.2M, 1 year
Serge Ibaka: $21.7M, 1 year
Norman Powell: $9.4M, 3 years
Fred VanVleet: $8.7M, 1 year
OG Anunoby: $2.0M, 2 years
Pascal Siakam: $1.5M, 1 year
Chris Boucher: $0.5M, 1 year
Malcolm Miller: $0.5M, 1 year
The only feasible trade chip that can alleviate cap stress and not destruct the core roster is Norman Powell, who will be heading into the second year of his four-year $46 million extension that extends through to the 2021/22 season. Therefore, unless some unforeseen sweeping Leonard rumours emerge, it would be a shock to see the Raptors make any franchise altering trades on Thursday.
Realistically, the Raptors off-season begins and ends with Leonard’s decision. If he stays, Ujiri and co. can keep run it back with their championship core and make necessary tweaks as they see fit. If he leaves, then nothing is off of the table. This decision will not be made public until June 30 and we will cross that bridge when we get there. Until then enjoy the chaos that will ensue amongst the 29 other teams on Thursday night and keep your fingers crossed that Toronto snatch another VanVleet amidst the anarchy.