Normally by now we’d be well into the season but instead teams are neck-deep in Zoom calls and choppy FaceTime assessments of who to draft. Looking ahead to the NBA Draft on November 18th and free agency thereafter, the Raptors will have a few questions looming.
Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will be unrestricted free agents and though the plan may be to re-sign them, I would also expect the Raptors to look to add some big man depth in preparation for the potential exit of some of these key players. They may also be looking to solidify their guard depth given Fred VanVleet’s free agency and Terence Davis’ legal issues. Even though Assistant GM Dan Tolzman said that they aren’t going to draft based on what may happen in free agency, guard and big depth is something that the Raptors should be looking to fill regardless.
Over the next three days I’ll cover three prospects who are high on my Raptors big board and could be available when the Raptors draft with the 29th overall selection. Today, it’s about Theo Maledon. A 19-year old point guard from ASVEL, France.
Masai reportedly had an interest in Theo as early as January of this year and since then his draft stock has fallen to the mid 20s. The Raptors should be taking a long look at the French point guard. A protege of Hall of Famer Tony Parker, Theo played in both the Euroleague and in France’s lower level Pro A league so I’ll be referencing his stats as such. Keep in mind that he wasn’t a consistent starter due to some injuries and his general place in the rotation, but when he was healthy he played against a high level of competition. Possessing great work ethic, Theo has progressed nicely in the Euroleague and is someone who would fit like a glove in the Raptors’ development system. He could serve as insurance if Fred VanVleet were to take his talents elsewhere.
At a glance these stats don’t look that great. However, it’s important to keep in mind that stats aren’t everything especially with young Euro prospects as they aren’t given the same opportunity as top NCAA players. With Theo, you really have to watch him to understand why so many are high on his potential as a point guard.
The number one thing that jumps out when watching Theo is his ability as a playmaker, specifically in the pick and roll. He regularly has plays like this one:
On occasion he can even have some really special passes that highlight his talent and awareness.
He also loves to do a whip pass from time to time that he’s slowly improving at:
Theo appeals to scouts due to his ability to play at his own pace, he’s certainly beyond his years as a playmaker and at 19 years of age he’s someone you should be looking at if you have an aging point guard (cough). He’s mentioned that he studies Chris Paul’s play in the PNR and it shows; Theo’s just straight up dangerous in that area. Just to give you a taste, he can either burn you when his man rolls, pull up from deep and can finish at the rim as seen in the next three plays.
Theo draws a lot of comparisons to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who Raps fans are all very familiar with, both as a Canadian player and as somebody Masai tried to trade for and draft in 2018. One of the things that made Shai so coveted as a guard prospect coming into the draft was his ability to use his length to finish at the rim effectively. I’m not a big fan of drawing direct player-prospect comparisons, because they never work out to be completely 1:1 and some of them are just straight up bad (Chauncey Billups compared Rui Hachimura to Kawhi Leonard on draft day for… reasons…), but I do see the comparison between Shai and Theo when it comes to their finishing ability. Their at-the-rim percentages are eerily similar when placed at the same point in their careers. And you can see that same level of body control/finesse that Theo uses when slashing to the bucket:
“Wow, he sounds like a can’t miss prospect! How is he going to be available at the Raptors pick?”
Well I’m glad you asked dear reader. I’ll tell you. Theo is still raw. The clips I’ve been showing you up until now are just highlights that show flashes of his strengths to help me emphasize the finer details of his game. He doesn’t average any crazy numbers, both due to his aforementioned rawness and also due to his lack of minutes when he plays for ASVEL (17 mpg). He has nice form on his shot, and yet his shooting percentages are subpar to say the least (42/33/77).
Another concern is his defence; he has the physical tools one would expect of a higher tiered defensive guard, but he’s often a step slow and just has overall inconsistent effort and IQ. He’s still just not very strong defensively either, as he gets caught on screens and can be pushed around by other players. Because of some athleticism/speed concerns, he often can’t catch up if he’s too slow to make a read or if he gets bodied by a bigger player in the PNR, so as of right now you wouldn’t expect him to be a switchable defender in the league.
To me, personally, most of these traits are ones that can develop with time and if Theo is willing to improve on them, but there is an overall lack of athleticism that can be a concern that holds GMs back from pulling the trigger on him. Combined with the negative stigma and general sense of caution that front offices exercise when drafting European players, it wouldn’t come as a total shock to see Theo in the Raps’ range on draft night. As another vote of confidence in that regard, most mocks have been putting Theo in the mid-late 20’s for the past couple months, including The Ringer, ESPN, and Tankathon. Now, I’m the last person to tell you to treat these mocks as gospel, since there are surprises in the draft every year, but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless.
Theo could be a candidate to stash overseas or in the 905, but if he joins the Raps immediately they could make him the backup point guard, a position they missed last season. Assuming he develops like I believe he can, he could step into either of the starting guard roles within a few years. Especially at point guard, his length would be a refreshing change after several seasons of smaller guards.