Quick note: We are trying to plan a draft party (Doug Ford/John Tory/Covid permitting) in some outdoor/safe/all the things venue downtown Toronto, and we want to see how many people would be interested and willing to come out and watch the draft live with a bunch of us.
There’s a chance we wont be able to secure a venue, but we are doing our best and have a couple that are interested in working with us.
We will give priority to those who sign up with us once we nail down the details.
Miles McBride, West Virginia (sophomore), 6-foot-2.5, 195 lbs., 6-foot-8.75 wingspan, 20 years old
Vecenie board: 21, Vecenie mock: 28, Composite board: 28
Strengths: Elite lateral quickness coupled with unrelenting point-of-attack pressure, low foul rate despite activity level and high steal rate, improved as attacker when WVU went more space-oriented, high-end athletic measurements, monstrous on-off impact.
Concerns: Really struggled to score efficiently inside the arc, shot selection could be a product of team environment or lesser decision-making, ball pressure leaves him somewhat prone to back cuts.
Raptors fit: Any time you have elite defense at the guard position and a reputation for being a tough, high-feel gamer type, you’re on their radar.
Realistically, McBride is probably gone by the time the Raptors get to their second-round picks, unless they package those to move up. He’s ranked as high as No. 17 by John Hollinger and he’s not lower than No. 40 on any board I surveyed. That, coupled with a very strong showing at the combine (82nd-percentile athleticism for a guard, per NBA Athlete), have him as more of a fringe first-rounder than a mid-to-late second guy. But “Deuce” is one of my favorite prospects in the draft to watch, so here we are.
Were he to slide to the Raptors, the defensive fit is obvious. While he’s a little on the small side, McBride’s wingspan allows him to play much bigger. He uses that length incredibly well to frustrate ballhandlers. We know the Raptors love to use their ball pressure and length in passing lanes to generate turnovers, and few prospects fit the bill as well as McBride. Even his primary weakness on defense — over-pressuring and opening himself up to occasional back-cuts — is negated some by his motor and ability to recover for rear-view contests.
At the other end, McBride has some work to do. He has a bit of a weird profile as an attack-oriented guard who shot poorly inside (43.9 percent on 2s and a 54th-percentile grade, per Synergy, scoring in the pick-and-roll) yet shows real potential as a pull-up artist. McBride shot 41.4 percent on a pretty difficult diet of 3s, and he shot progressively better with each successive jump shot range.
There’s not a ton to overthink here. He was a First Team All-American and Big 12 All-Defense, and if you believe in the jumper translating, he should be a rotation piece. Oh, and as for whether the Raptors will like him, well, check out his top comparables.
JT Thor, Auburn (freshman), 6-foot-9.25, 203 lbs., 7-foot-3.25 wingspan, 18 years old
Vecenie board: 54, Vecenie mock: 51, Composite board: 30
Strengths: Great length including large hands and one of the highest standing reaches at the combine, good fluidity as an athlete with great open-floor speed, excellent weak-side shot-blocker, literally named Thor.
Concerns: Limited, though improving, small sample of jump shooting, needs to add strength to turn size and effort into rebounds, has interesting combo-forward dimensions but defense is inconsistent outside of paint.
Raptors fit: Has the length, shot-blocking and athletic tools that a strong player development department will look at and deem worthy of a flier, especially with his age and developmental runway.
If he goes undrafted, I will come down on the NBA like the hammer of Thor. The thunder of my vengeance will echo through Summer League like the gust of a thousand winds!
In all seriousness, it’s hard to peg Thor’s draft prospects because they are, at this stage, all over the place. Across the 14 draft boards we amalgamate, he was ranked as high as the late lottery and as low as safely undrafted. Mocks are similarly inconsistent, ranging from the late first to undrafted.
To be honest, it’s a little confusing, because once you get out of the top 20 or so picks where it’s a lot more of a crapshoot, you’d think that upside would dominate the discussion. And Thor has a significant amount of it. He’s raw, to be clear, and would be well-served — for team and player — with a rookie year spent primarily in the G League rounding his game out. For now, he’s mostly an above-the-rim finisher, transition weapon and interior shot-blocker.
Interested teams will want to see how much they can build out his nascent off-dribble game and if he can defend better in space with more reps. The early improvements to his jumper are encouraging. Thor only took 74 3s as a freshman, hitting 29.7 percent, but even attempting a few a game for this player type is encouraging. He also hit 74.1 percent of his free throws and went 4-of-9 on longer 2s. If he can capably push the ball off of defensive rebounds — usually a must for Raptors forwards — he fits the mold, especially if he adds some size between now and the season to become a better rebounder and prepare himself for NBA levels of contact.
This isn’t a super complicated inclusion. Thor has monster tools, great measurements and had a solid enough freshman year. The passiveness and two-way feel are things that could come in time. Not a ton has to break right for Thor to be solid, and at 18, he has a while to get there.
Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine (junior), 6-foot-8, 203 lbs., 6-foot-11.25 wingspan, 21 years old
Vecenie board: 28, Vecenie mock: 39, Composite board: 38
Strengths: Great shooter with elite free-throw percentage to support, excellent defensive recognition and reaction time, great block rate for a forward, finished well inside against lesser competition, very strong combine games.
Concerns: Shot mechanics aren’t perfect or consistent with the tendency to miss short, needs to pull the trigger with more decisiveness, defence came with lapses at college level.
Raptors fit: Forwards with the length to potentially slide up a position and knock down spot-up or pick-and-pop 3s get useful in a hurry and Edwards has the most obvious “3-and-D” path in the back of the draft.
I wasn’t immediately sure where to slide Edwards in these batches, as he’s kind of on the fringe of the “big” and “wing” categories. As it went, Marcus Bagley and Terrence Shannon Jr. pulled out of the draft, forcing a rewrite of two of the blurbs here. And so, hey, Edwards is up next as someone routinely ranked as a high-second talent but occasionally mocked to slide to the back of that round.
Edwards is one of the risers during the pre-draft process, in part because there was an expectation he could return to school for a senior year. The bigger concern, though, was that he didn’t play against a lot of elite competition. He played seven games against top-50 teams this year, per data from BartTorvik.com, and only 20 over his three seasons at Pepperdine. He was much less productive in those games, with a significantly worse true-shooting percentage against top teams each year and a dip in usage this season that suggested better defences were neutralizing him.
As Sam Vecenie and others reported, Edwards was a big winner at the combine, where any questions about his defence translating were answered. Up against top competition, Edwards looked the role of lockdown defender.
And even though he didn’t score much at the event, there’s a pretty established track record of shooting — 39 percent on nearly 400 3s in college — with some good relocation skill to suggest he should at least be a spot-up weapon at the next level. The offensive package is a bit limited right now, since Edwards can be a bit passive and doesn’t have a great handle, but he doesn’t need to do a ton at that end to warrant a bet on his defensive potential.
The key question with Trent Jr. is what he supplies besides shooting. In his two months with the Raptors, he didn’t showcase a secondary skill that made him stand out. That’s the main reason why there should be some apprehension in contract negotiations.
Trent Jr. developed a reputation for being a willing defender in his first two seasons with Portland, especially when he broke out in the bubble. Trent Jr. drew prominent assignments against the likes of Ja Morant and Paul George, and he was disruptive and pesky, while showing a great willingness to fight. And while the advanced metrics never rated Trent Jr. as anything besides average, there are strong tools from which to build from. Trent Jr. might not be a shutdown defender, but the Raptors also have two of those in OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, while Fred VanVleet is also elite from the point guard position. What’s important is that there isn’t any letup from the other two spots, and Trent Jr. achieves that. He’s willing to be physical and the intent is there.
Offense is more of a concern mostly because Trent Jr.’s track record in three seasons is one-dimensional. High volume three-point shooting is hugely important, but Trent Jr. is lacking in other skills for a starting-calibre guard. He hasn’t shown an ability to create for others (Trent Jr. posted the third-lowest assist percentage among guards) which would mark a sharp change for a Raptors team that featured playmakers like VanVleet or DeMar DeRozan at the starting two spot for most of the last decade. Trent Jr. also lacks in ability to create his own shot, as Trent Jr. averaged 0.82 points per play in pick-and-roll or isolation scenarios, and among players who attempted more than 13 shots per game, Trent Jr. was second-last in free-throw attempts at just 1.8 per game. That’s why his career true-shooting percentage is just average despite his success from the three-point line.
But the context around those numbers are also hugely important. Trent Jr. only broke into Portland’s rotation midway through last season, and his primary role was to shoot and to play defense around the Blazers’ ball-dominant stars. The expectation wasn’t there for him to be a create, and that role didn’t really change when he got to Toronto. If anything, that only made it more difficult for Trent Jr. as he lacked practice time with his new teammates, was shuttled in and out of the starting lineup, and the roster around him shuffled constantly as the Raptors undercut themselves to maximize lottery odds.
This is an easy answer. Mobley fills the big gaping hole in the middle of the lineup for the Raptors. People might say, “but wait, he’s too skinny to play that position right now.” Technically, that’s true. But teams have been downsizing at that position. Outside of Joel Embiid, there’s really nobody out there who can punish him much. Some Raptors fans might remember this, but the Raptors threw Chris Bosh to the wolves to play centre during his rookie season. It wasn’t pretty at times due to the physicality of the era, but he held his own for the most part.
As mentioned above, the Raptors have the defensive schemes to support Mobley at the position. He’s best right now playing drop coverage, as his length, quickness allows him to “cheat” the coverage and instantly commit either way. He’s also capable of switches, and his rotation off hedges shows a lot of promise. Mobley quickly recognizes the immediate rotation (which is not necessarily just crashing the paint as traditional bigs do) and has the foot speed to get there quickly. Aside from weight/strength, he pretty much checks the list of must-haves for a Raptors big man.
Mobley’s addition should allow Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to slide back to their natural position and terrorize opposing players outside the paint. If the Raptors end up re-signing Khem Birch, it would make sense to bring Mobley off the bench as he gradually takes over the starting role.
On offense, Mobley is an excellent vertical threat, whether he’s at the dunker’s spot or via rolls to the basket. He can space a little bit and cut to the basket or crash the boards from a distance. Mobley is able to operate in the pick-and-roll, which will be important if he ends up paired with second-year guard Malachi Flynn. That’s a young tandem that could work well together if given a chance.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of a potential Mobley selection to me is Kyle Lowry’s situation. If Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster decide to play the middle again, they should bring Lowry back. Heck, give him the dollars that he’s looking for. I think having Lowry as part of Mobley’s early developmental phase would do wonders for him and the team in general. Mobley doesn’t have to be the featured player right away, but much like Bosh during his rookie year, he can slide between being the 3rd-5th option at any point of the game — and learn from some of the best while gaining his footing in the league.
The prospects the Raptors had in on Wednesday were guards Jalen Crutcher, Marcus Zegarowski, Geo Baker and Joe Wieskamp, forward Scottie Lewis and centre Balsa Koprivica.
These are players who are projected to be second-rounders at best, but given the fact the Raptors have two second-round picks – Nos. 46 and 47 – the due diligence is still required from the team, even with all attention on what the club might do with that No. 4 overall pick.
“There’s definitely an element of trying to get as much of a snapshot of these guys as a player that we can,” Tolzman said of the benefits of seeing guys work out in person. “There’s even like, everything from when they’re playing competitively and it’s three-on-three settings so it’s not a full game recreation, but in that setting you’re doing some quick explanation of what we’re looking for and how they can, essentially, take that quick coaching and turn it into actions on the floor. It’s not the same as a game, but there is some read and react and basketball IQ sorts of things that we can try and learn from this setting.”
Tolzman and the Raptors have done a lot of homework and there’s still more to be done before the draft at the end of the month.
One thing for certain, though, as Tolzman said, this is a team that won’t leave any stone unturned leading up to the draft and will, at least in the organization’s mind, always look to take the best available player regardless of the team’s circumstances.
“Honestly, we’ve always been a group that takes talent first. The best available players are usually who we go with,” said Tolzman when asked if Kyle Lowry’s uncertain free-agent status impacts the club’s draft process. “We’ve never really made draft selections based on the current roster because there’s so many uncertainties with we could have our whole core lined up to draft for someone to plug in and then a blockbuster trade comes and all of a sudden we’ve got holes all over the floor.
“So it’s never something that, at least, we try to factor in when we’re gonna select anybody.”
“The best available players are usually who we go with. We’ve never really made draft selections based on the current roster because there’s so many uncertainties. We could have our whole core lined up to draft for someone to plug in and then a blockbuster trade comes and all of a sudden, we’ve got holes all over the floor. So, it’s never something that, at least, we try to factor in when we’re gonna select anybody,” he said.
The fourth selection could have major implications for the franchise’s future, so the braintrust has a lot to think about.
“Our job now is to just compare side by side over and over and over until it might feel exhausting but it’s just in thoroughness,” Tolzman said.
One way the group tries to enhance its thoroughness is to explore every scenario for the top prospects, even ones certain evaluators are already sold on.
“Even if we’re going down a certain direction on a player, you still want to have someone in the group play devil’s advocate from time to time. Just for no other reason than to to think of what ifs, or worst-case scenarios, or best-case scenarios,” Tolzman said.
“It’s always good to still talk it through. We’ve done exercises where you have a debate back and forth … through the year, we always kind of know who on our staff likes certain players or not. So, you put them on the opposite side of that feeling and make them debate the counterpoints.
“That way when you’re watching film and getting to know players, you’re kind of seeing both sides of it, of the perspective and just making sure that it’s a thorough understanding of who these players are from top to bottom.”
And come July 29, like at a final exam, the Raptors will put everything they’ve learned to the test.
The Good: A Suggs pick makes a ton of sense for Toronto — especially if Lowry is indeed on his way out of town. Listed at 6’4”, he’d give the Raptors what they haven’t had since before the Lowry era: a tall point guard! This is no slight on the Greatest Raptor of All-Time, I’m just stating some facts here. Toronto obviously sees how Suggs and VanVleet could work together in the same sort of two-PG lineups they run now. And with Flynn as the point guard off the bench, the fit makes sense there too — the Raptors’ point guard continuum continues on unabated. Suggs can be trusted to run the team, attack the rim, and play within Toronto’s hard-nose defensive style. No problems there.
The Bad: Suggs will have to work on his shooting, though, which is something he’ll absolutely need to thrive as a lead guard in the NBA (and on the Raptors, of course). There’s also — again, to my mind — a whiff of a ceiling already to Suggs. That’s not to say he won’t be a solid pro, but we do have to wonder if the Raptors won’t be kicking themselves for not taking a bit of a leap on, say, Kuminga in favour of another point guard. I know I said I wouldn’t mention any other potential draft picks here, but I’ll just add this: I could see a scenario in which Suggs ends up at no. 4 and the Raptors make a reach on a player with more potential.
The (Potential) Ugly: As with a Green pick, it does feel a bit like if the Raptors select Suggs they’d still be nibbling around the edges of what they really need to take the team to the next level. It’ll be impossible to actually replace Lowry — at least in the short term — so taking another point guard with a questionable jumper may not move the needle much with the roster they have now. The same scoring and frontcourt issues could still remain for 2021-22 even if Suggs is ready to play heavier minutes right from the jump. And if Lowry stays, well, the rookie will get an excellent free education, but Toronto’s roster balance (with four point guards!) will be way out of whack. Something would have to give somewhere.