Cunningham is the crown jewel. The lead writer of prospects, if you will. And if you’re talking yourself into someone else at No. 1, you’re probably overthinking things. He would be a lovely fit with the Raptors.
The Raptors can also move up to Nos. 2, 3 or 4. The order is less certain there, though there is a clear second tier of prospects. Of those, Evan Mobley is my favourite pick for the Raptors. Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green are razor-close on my board and could be a matter of personal or stylistic preference.
I don’t think I would reach beyond that group of four with a top-four pick, but the Raptors have never been shy about doing just that. There are a lot of interesting names in the Nos. 5-20 range or so, with rankings that could vary dramatically team-to-team. If the Raptors land in the two-to-four range and prefer a prospect not in the status quo there, there could be an opportunity to trade down, still land Their Guy and extract an extra asset.
It’s been a while since they’ve been in this position, and if everything goes according to plan they hope it’ll be a while until they’re here again. With the money they’ve invested in the trio of Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet, and depending on what they decide to do with this summer (or with their cap space if he leaves in free agency), they could be locked into this core for the next two or three years. This is their best and maybe only chance to add premiere talent to that group, meaning it’s crucial that they hit on this pick, regardless of where it ends up.
If you were going to move up in the draft, this would be a good year to do it. The consensus first-overall pick, versatile and skilled guard Cade Cunningham, looks the part of a generational, franchise-altering type of prospect. In a different class, all three of the players that will likely follow him, in some order – rangy big man Evan Mobley, and dynamic guards Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs – could have been the top pick themselves. Each of them would look great in a Raptors uniform and fit seamlessly into their system and organizational culture.
After forward Jonathan Kuminga, who most draft boards have slotted fifth, things really open up. There’s plenty of talent to be found in the mid to late lottery, even if you’re not getting a can’t-miss star. But in terms of who goes where, it will depend on the need and preference of the teams selecting in that range, as well as how guys do in their pre-draft workouts.
Would the Raptors be willing to roll the dice on a raw but high-upside player like forward Scottie Barnes or big man Kai Jones? Would they lean towards a more polished, NBA-ready prospect like guards Moses Moody, James Bouknight or Davion Mitchell? Or, would they go off the board entirely?
Before they have to make that call, and before they really ramp up the pre-draft process – interviewing and auditioning prospects in Tampa and then narrowing down their list – they’ll have to defer to lady luck.
They’ve decided on a good luck charm. VanVleet will represent the Raptors at Tuesday’s virtual lottery, and it’s a fitting choice. Generally teams send somebody from the front office to these things (former general manager Bryan Colangelo attended the lottery that Toronto won in 2006). Given Ujiri’s uncertain contract situation and Webster’s preference to keep a low profile, head coach Nick Nurse or a player were probably the best options.
And if you’re going to send a player, who better to represent a franchise known for its player development and winning pedigree than VanVleet – somebody who didn’t even need the draft to blossom into an NBA champion and one of the league’s rising stars?
He bet on himself, and it paid off. Now the Raptors are hoping he can help them hit the jackpot.
Having missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Raptors return to the lottery on Tuesday night with the seventh overall pick and dreams of moving up to one of the top four slots.
The math is not in their favour — a 7.5 per cent chance of being No. 1, a 33.9 per cent chance of dropping to No. 8 — but they have enlisted the good mojo of veteran guard Fred VanVleet to represent them at the virtual ceremony.
VanVleet will have no direct bearing on the outcome, though. The process is done behind closed doors in front of selected representatives from each of the 14 non-playoff teams and the league. VanVleet will appear remotely along with reps from the other teams and will find out if the Raptors move from the No. 7 slot at the same time as television viewers.
But if his presence brings any kind of good fortune, it will be a boon to a franchise not in as dire straits as some of the other lottery participants.
The Raptors have “won” the lottery twice in their 26-year history that includes 14 non-playoff seasons.
In 2006, they had the fifth best lottery odds and moved up to first, eventually choosing Andrea Bargnani with the No. 1 pick.
In 1996, the Raptors won the lottery after their second season of existence but were precluded from getting the No. 1 choice because of their original expansion agreement. They were dropped to second and chose Marcus Camby after Allen Iverson went first to Philadelphia.
The last time Toronto had a lottery pick was 2016 when they had the No. 9 selection thanks to a trade with the New York Knicks and took Jakob Poeltl. The last lottery pick they earned themselves was in 2012 —Terrence Ross, No. 8 overall; when they missed the 2013 playoffs their pick had been dealt to Houston in a trade for Kyle Lowry and the Rockets shipped it to Oklahoma City, which eventually took Steven Adams.
Toronto may have had its worst regular season record in eight seasons when it went 27-45 in a year spent in Tampa due to the pandemic but a solid core exists for whatever draft pick they come away with.
Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham is the presumptive top pick at this year’s NBA draft.
VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher represent a proven core and adding a key young piece can be seen as hedging against the future rather than seeking immediate help.
It’s impossible to guess now who might be available for the Raptors to even consider in the July 29 draft but the presumptive No. 1 pick is 6-8 Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham. The consensus four picks after that are seven-foot centre Evan Mobley of USC, six-foot-six shooting guard Jalen Green, who played with the G League Ignite team last season, six-foot-four point guard Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga and six-foot-six forward Jonathan Kuminga of Ignite.
Evaluators have pegged the entire Top 4 of this class as exceptional, with some saying any of them would go first in many drafts.
Nabbing one of Cunningham, big man Evan Mobley, or guard Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green, would be a major coup for the Raptors and certainly would enhance the organization’s chances of convincing president Masai Ujiri to stick around.
That’s the best-case scenario for Toronto.
Of course there are also 19.72% odds the Raptors stick at seven, 34.11% odds the team drops to eight (which would mean a team behind them leapt into the Top 4,) 12.88% nine and minute odds of plummeting to 10 (1.3%) or 11 (0.03%).
The Raptors are at a bit of a crossroads — core pieces Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby and last year’s late-first-round pick Malachi Flynn are the only players signed long-term, Kyle Lowry’s future is uncertain as he enters free agency, Gary Trent Jr. is a restricted free agent and there is flexibility cap-wise, depending on Lowry’s decision.
Adding a star would mean an immediate return to the top of the conference.
Sticking around seven or eight would add a needed core piece, but likely not an immediate difference-maker. Toronto’s last lottery pick was Jakob Poeltl, taken ninth in 2016 via the Andrea Bargnani swindle with the New York Knicks. Poeltl has become a solid starting centre and was a piece used to acquire Leonard.
It will be fascinating to see what Tuesday night brings.
Surrounded by quality defenders on the perimeter, the centre does not need to be spectacular, but Birch was usually in the right place at the right time, and his impact was obvious. Prior to Toronto’s Tankapalooza, when the odds of seeing a good player suited up diminished significantly, Birch’s combination with the core Raptors was formidable.
The lineup of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Khem Birch was dominant in their 184 minutes played together. They outscored teams by 22.3 points per 100 possessions (!), splitting that impact pretty evenly between consistent offense and lockdown defense. That group was balanced, smart, and operated without a glaring hole.
This team showed enough to suggest they would be a playoff team with Birch and a full, relatively healthy season in Toronto. He gave a spine to a team that badly needed structure and steadiness from their centre. That said, two big questions arise in terms of Birch’s future with the Raptors.
The first is of his free agency. When the Raptors first picked up Birch, it seemed obvious that he would sign with the team on a cheaper deal as a depth big. That got complicated by the second question: can Birch be Toronto’s starting centre?
On many teams, the answer would be a clear no, but Toronto is so strong on the perimeter that they don’t necessarily need a star-quality centre to be successful. Birch is an excellent fit with the core of the Raptors he is dependable, smart, and unselfish. The numbers and eye test show that he can be an effective cog in a high-functioning machine.
If Toronto can add some depth through free agency and the draft at one through four, then they might be able to justify Birch at starting centre. His impact may not be as great as some of the other centres in the NBA, but he does exactly what the team needs. Provided, of course, that the Raptors can sign him for a deal that doesn’t hamper their flexibility.
Birch’s excellent run with the Raptors earned him more money than he would have gotten had he finished the season with the Magic. There’s a chance he commands more from another team than the Raptors are willing to pay. That said, Birch expressed a desire to be in Toronto. He still hasn’t experienced a full Scotiabank Arena crowd. It feels like he and the team will be able to make something work.
In a borderline painful season as a fan, Birch was one of the few bright spots. He is Canadian. We love Canadians. He is a competent centre. And the Raptors need a competent centre. His future with the team is uncertain, but I think he would look great in Toronto colours for the next few years.
Overall, Malachi had an encouraging rookie season, showing off brilliant upside, as well as some common issues that often plague young guards. Let’s dive into both Flynn’s positive and negative attributes, and make an assessment on how he will fit with the team moving forward, as well as how he can elevate his game.
First, let’s talk about Malachi’s strengths. It’s no secret that he’s at his best while running pick-and-rolls with competent big men; unfortunately, for much of last season, the Raptors’ roster was undeniably lacking in the soft-handed centre department. Thus, much of Malachi’s pick-and-roll prowess would not be on display until much later in the season. However, during the final stretch of the season amidst several key injuries to Raptors’ guards, fans were delighted to finally witness Malachi’s immediately apparent patience and poise as a ball handler.
Malachi’s general passing and positioning are a treat to watch. His execution is admirable, nearly always making the right play even in otherwise frantic possessions. His ability to find the open man will be pivotal for the Raptors moving forward, especially when coming off a bench practically devoid of established playmakers. And when not making the pass, Flynn showed an ability to generate a jumper for himself off the screen, which is a must-have skill for point guards in the NBA today.
On the defensive end, Malachi is a pest, much like Fred VanVleet. And like FVV, Flynn is undersized, so there are concerns with him when put into switch-heavy situations. Much of the time, however, Flynn seems to possess the savvy of a veteran guard. His quick hands, coupled with correct positioning in passing lanes make for a future defensive nightmare. Once Flynn becomes even more comfortable facing off against NBA-level opponents, I can see him regularly clamping down skilled guards and causing headaches for passers or hesitant players.
The main weakness at this point in Malachi’s young career is the inconsistency of his shot. Flynn started off the year with a nervous aura surrounding his playing time. Coming off a wildly successful preseason, one that even garnered some Rookie of the Year predictions for Flynn, Malachi succumbed to the pressure. His shot refused to fall early on, though I can imagine the outrageously high hopes for Flynn, coupled with Nick Nurse’s short leash, was likely not the most conducive environment for comfort and success.
However, it should be noted that his efficiency improved as last season progressed and he became more comfortable navigating his way through opposing NBA defenses. And, although quite infrequent, Malachi did show off his propensity for hitting ridiculously difficult (and timely) shots.
What/who might have helped get a deal done: Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, draft capital
What did they do instead of trading for Lowry: Traded Tony Bradley and two second-round picks for George Hill.
The ending: After beating the Wizards in five games, the 76ers were shocked in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks, with Atlanta winning three times in Philadelphia — including Game 7 on Sunday — to take the series. The 76ers repeatedly had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter of close games, with the Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons pairing looking more flawed, and less fixable, than ever. That was before Embiid pointed to a Simmons-related moment as the downfall of the climactic game, which doesn’t bode super well for their relationship going forward.
But there’s not much size and the point guard spot is not chalk full of experience. Cory Joseph, a 10-year NBA veteran, is among the players listed on the 19-man roster but behind him are young talents like Alexander-Walker, collegian Andrew Nembhard and Trae Bell-Haynes, a 25-year-old coming off an excellent season in the German pro league.
Those three will be facing tough, top-notch international opposition and it won’t be like anything they have seen before.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out,” Nurse said.
The competition Canada will face in Victoria is going to be stiff, regardless of how talented the home team is.
Greece may not have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is in the NBA’s Eastern Conference final, but Rick Pitino’s team got a huge boost with return of guard Vassilis Spanoulis from retirement. Former NBA player Kostas Antetokounmpo is another key member of the veteran team.
Turkey has a trio of familiar NBAers in Furkan Korkmaz, Cedi Osman and Ersan Ilyasova, along with naturalized guard Shane Larkin.
There may not be much familiarity with the opponents — Canada is doing much of its scouting off video of games teams are playing in the run-up to Victoria — so most of Canada’s work has been discovering what it does best.
“We’ve got to be who we are, we’ve got to forge our own identity and be who we are and, to the best of our ability, be really comfortable in our own identity,” Nurse said. “There’s some defence. I think there’s got to be some sharing-of-the-ball aspect and an intelligence of where the ball’s going and how we’re operating at the offensive end. The third component is … the heart, the passion. All those things have to be a part of our identity.”
When Andrew Wiggins last played for Canada in 2015 in Puerto Rico and Mexico City, he put on quite a show. A year after being taken first overall in the NBA draft, the Vaughan, ON product topped the team in points, something he’d also done as a youth in 2012. Both times Canada won bronze.
Wiggins, of course, hasn’t played for Canada since. Until now. Coming off a career season (in terms of offensive efficiency and defensive work) as a member of the Golden State Warriors, Wiggins is back to add some needed components to Canada’s squad for its last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria.
He can create his own shot, set up others and no opposing small forwards will top him athletically.
Canada Basketball general manager Rowan Barrett is excited to see what’s next, now that Wiggins is 26, with NBA years under his belt, instead of being a raw 20-year-old top prospect.
Not that Wiggins was bad last time around.
“To me, even at that young age, he led us in scoring, even that year and did it quite efficiently actually for such a young player,” Barrett said on a media call on Monday.
“For me the number one thing is just experience. He’s seen more. He’s ready for more. Back then he was just young, talented, gifted and came out and played. Now after multiple years, you think that there’s a lot that he’s seen that would prepare him for more.”