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Here’s the Raptors 2020 Draft Shortlist

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The 2020 class has its critics. Pessimists argue that its weakness lies in its lack of star potential while others insist that what it lacks in excitement is made up through consistent, fundamentally sound players who may well have long careers. Time will tell but one thing is true: every draft has its steals and on matter where your team’s picking, there’s one to be plucked.

The Raptors, as has thankfully been the case in the grand scheme of things, hold a late first round pick. Normally that wouldn’t warrant more than a post-draft check of the news to see what we hauled, but in a class like this with unknowns aplenty, anyone can swoop or slide on draft night. This makes for bullish attitudes about the 29th pick. The Raptors have been scouting and interviewing a handful of talented prospects. There’s a month to go before, and of the players the Raptors have shown interest in, six stand out especially. It’s a fun bunch. Let’s meet em’…

Zeke Nnaji

An athletic center out of Arizona, Nnaji plays with the same balls-to-the-wall energy James Johnson did except he’s bigger and has better hands. He fights hard on the glass, isn’t afraid of contact in the post or when going up, and he runs the floor well for a man who’s 6’11 and 240 lbs. So what sets Nnaji apart from all the other athletic bigs out there? He’s got soft hands. Nnaji’s ability to maintain his balance through contact and in the post boasts a kind of coordination that’s rare to see from a man his size. Parts of his game is what we loved about Jonas Valanciunas. That soft touch inside also bodes well for him extending his shooting range. Nnaji has shown a sweet mid-range jumper off the catch and he’s also a solid FT shooter at 76%, but he isn’t really a 3-point threat yet. If he can start to move out beyond the line then he’ll really start to have a complete scoring game as a big.

So what’s the catch? Well, his drawbacks start on the defensive end. He doesn’t have an exceptional wingspan at the center position, so despite his high motor he’s not going to block/contest a ton of shots. On the perimeter he has the athleticism to survive against wings but he doesn’t have quick feet and is often stymied by skilled ball handlers.

How does he help next season?

With Marc Gasol leaving for Spain and Serge Ibaka entering unrestricted free agency, the Raptors are on the hunt for their next generation of big men. If the Raptors can re-sign Ibaka, then Nnaji could be a fun backup at the five. He’ll give a youthful energy down low that hasn’t been there in some time, and I’m sure his offensive instincts will mesh well with Lowry in the pick and roll.

In 3 years they’ll be: Taj Gibson

Karim Mane’

A recent acquisition of the Raptors’ “sit-down” list, the Canadian point guard Karim Mane’ spent his freshman year tearing it up for Quebec’s Vanier College. The CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association) has had its share of NBA players pass through, but they usually take a step in-between Canada and the NBA (either an American college or a different pro league). If Mane’ goes, this would be the first time a player was drafted directly from a Canadian league to the NBA. At 6’4, Mane’ is a super athlete with high defensive potential, strong finishing ability, and a lightning quick first step. I would argue that he’s probably the fastest guard in this draft. His long-range shooting isn’t where it needs to be but he’s on a positive trajectory. As a lead guard the jumper will be key to his success.

Most mock boards have Mane’ going near the bottom of the draft. It would be a bit of a stretch to take him 29th, but if the Raptors snag him with their second round pick it could be a steal.

How does he help next season?

We all know how great Lowry and VanVleet can be but they’re undersized guards and one of them is in his mid 30s. If the Raptors go in the direction of reducing Lowry and VanVleet’s minutes to less extreme levels, a backup point guard may be required. Terence Davis is great at what he does (legal troubles aside) but I don’t trust him to run an offence by any means. That’s where Mane’ would come in.  He would serve as insurance for the two lead guards, maybe playing 10 minutes a game.

In 3 years they’ll be: Frank Ntilikina

Devon Dotson

Dotson is another speedy guard who has the tools to be an elite level slasher.  The combination of an extraordinary burst and hesitation moves make for potentially devastating step-backs, and he’s able to pull off spectacular finishes.  He loves going high off the glass which extends his layup range and allows him to pull the help defence out.  He’s an aggressive defender who’s always going at the ball (2.1 steals a game), and plays the game with a ton of heart.  With all of that going for him you’d imagine he’d be higher on most draft boards, but the problems start and end with the shooting.  Dotson’s 3-point shooting is far from where you’d want from a 6’2 point guard.  His percentages are rough at just over 30% from distance.  His mechanics are fluid and he has a nice touch from the line, so the basis for improvement is there, but how many of us have loved an athletic guard in the draft who never made it for lack of shooting?

How does he help next season?

Dotson would provide a bolt of lightning to the Raptors’ offence.  He’ll be able to pressure opponent guards in his reduced minutes behind Lowry and VanVleet, and if nothing else he’ll be useful because the Raptors don’t have another player like him.  Nick Nurse’s greatest strength as a coach is his adaptability and willingness to try new things.  With Dotson on the team we would have one more option to tinker.

Aleksej Pokusevski

Possibly the weirdest, most hit-or-miss prospect this year, Aleksej Pokusevski looks like that skinny teenager at your pickup game who jacks up threes and flies around the court, until you realize he’s 7 feet tall. He stands out on the perimeter and looks like Matt Thomas, then he stands under the rim and looks like Mark Gasol (give or take 100 pounds).  The shooting touch at that size makes him an intriguing prospect. It’s clear he needs to bulk up before he can be effective against other NBA bigs (or even forwards) but the upside of a 7-footer with his range is exciting and serves the Raptors desire to improve outside shooting. His saving grace is his mobility. Even if he gets pushed around early in his career he has a deceptively quick first step and handle, is able to shoot off the dribble or take it to the cup.

If he falls to 29th, the Raptors may have to just take a swing and take him. He’s going to be a bit of a project and could be out of the league in two years, or he could be the best guy in this draft. Who knows? What we do know is Pokusevski is the weirdest melting pot of Euro style, raw talent, physical gifts, and physical drawbacks we’ve seen in a long time.

How does he help next season?

Raw talent. That’s the biggest thing the Raptors lack right now and that’s Pokusevski’s greatest attribute. Pascal Siakam proved he can be the second option on a title team.  Despite his shortcomings this post-season not many NBA players can lay claim to that.  Going on a big stretch here but instead of being upset that he’s a Pippen and not a Jordan, maybe take a crack at a potential #1 player. High reward, low risk. That’s why the Raptors should take a swing on Polusevski. Worst case scenario is the Raptors are still damn good with whatever they decide here.

In 3 years they’ll be: Faster smaller Porzingis? I have no idea.

Tyrell Terry

A local kid, graduating high school from De La Salle in 2019. If we’re looking for another guard to round out our backcourt, Tyrell Terry is the best option on this list. He’s not that big or athletic but he has the one skill that will keep him valuable no matter what else happens. The man is a knockdown shooter. He shot 42% from three of the catch and 58% off of screens putting him near the top of college basketball from deep range.

A solid handle and a nice touch at the rim is to be admired but that’s where the strengths start to diminish. His lack of athleticism combined with a more complimentary skillset make it tough to see Terry becoming more than a role player in the league. It’s hard to see him flame out and bust. I like Tyrell Terry as a prospect but I don’t know how much he’ll help the Raptors specifically just due to fit. Unless something major happens to the roster like losing Lowry or VanVleet, I don’t think we need any more lead guards for now. Terry’s nice, but the Raptors are likely to benefit more from targeting a forward or center with their first round pick.

How does he help next season?

More shooting can never hurt you. I know I said earlier that we should look for a third guard to take some of the load of Lowry and VanVleet, but I don’t trust Terry to be that guy. I could see him playing a similar role to Terence Davis; an energy guy who can occasionally create a shot, but running an offense is a different matter. I hate to slander a fellow Canadian but I wasn’t too impressed.

In 3 years they’ll be: Seth Curry

Jalen Smith

This might be my favourite prospect on this list. An athletic 6’10 forward with a 7’2 wingspan, Jalen Smith has the perfect body for the modern NBA. He’s got quick legs on the fast break, a nose for the boards, and exceptional timing when blocking shots (2.4 bpg). He’s not much of a post-scorer and will need to gain weight if he wants to hold his own as a small ball five, but his frame is ideal despite his high center of gravity.

The athleticism is attractive but you can find guys in the draft like that fairly easily and that alone isn’t a standout attribute. What makes Smith so special is his ability to shoot the ball at his size. A 37% three-point shooter and a 75% free throw shooter, Jalen Smith has the most modern game of any big in his draft class. Like a bigger OG Anunoby, Smith is a long, 3-and-D type who can guard multiple positions and run the break. Sign me up.

How does he help next season?

With the Raptors looking to fill out their depth in the frontcourt, picking up another option behind Siakam and Ibaka would be perfect.  You know how we were excited about Chris Boucher before we realized he was already 27 years old and probably not going to be much more? Well, Jalen Smith has a lot of what Boucher offers except he’s 20 and has a higher ceiling. If he’s available at pick 29, I pray the Raptors take him.  The Raptors training staff could do a lot with the kind of baseline Jalen Smith brings to the table.

Player Comp: Quick-twitch Serge Ibaka

It’s the unpredictable nature of this year’s draft that makes it so fun. It doesn’t have the caliber of prospects like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but it has plenty of guys the next tier down. Whatever mock draft boards you subscribe to might as well shake themselves like a snow globe because nobody has any idea where these guys might go. I’m excited to watch this thing and you should be too.

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