I hear these words often parroted from Raptors fans on various platforms, and they’re honestly warranted. Under Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have enjoyed their most consistent success in franchise history. They’ve won a championship and developed several good players such as Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby, to name a few. At the same time, let’s also remember that Masai and the Raptors’ higher ups have made some mistakes over the years, they’re by no means perfect.
I don’t think this phrase should be thrown around when such an obvious decision is staring the Raptors brass in the face. This has long been touted as a five player draft since the first few weeks of the college season, and that didn’t really start to change until the G-League exposed some glaring flaws in Jonathan Kuminga’s game — then it became a four player draft and Kuminga began sliding down some boards to the point where the Congolese forward is now expected to be drafted in the 6-10 range. The top four was highly coveted by tanking teams, and the Raptors were lucky enough to jump up in the lottery and secure the fourth pick. Play-in for what, right?
Assistant GM Dan Tolzman has stated that the Raptors are a team who selects best player available. They haven’t really had a chance to prove this, as the end of the first round is usually more focused on fit for competitive teams, and gambles for teams who can afford to take swings on projects. Naturally, they should select the best remaining player of that illustrious top four.
This isn’t just media hype. The top four are ranked as they are for a reason: because they’re all viewed as can’t-miss prospects who likely would go number 1 in other years. Watching them and comparing them to other prospects in the class should make that abundantly clear.
Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green are locks to be selected with the first and second picks respectively, so I won’t even bother delving into them further.
Evan Mobley would be ideal from a fit and talent perspective. The big man from USC is ranked second overall on my personal big board. The mobile big man believes he will be a generational player, and the positional need is a dire one for Toronto due to their clear lack of a starting level big and shallow free agent pool. However, according to several outlets, Mobley will not fall past the third pick. If the Raptors wanted to move up in some capacity, the price to acquire that pick will not be cheap, according to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie. The package would likely gut the Raptors’ team as well as their collection of future picks, so it makes little sense to make such a trade just to move up one spot. Mobley is, unfortunately, incredibly unlikely.
Recently, there has been “smoke” concerning three players with the Raptors’ pick. Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. According to Vecenie, “the Raptors have really looked into [Suggs and] other players here, including Scottie Barnes and Jonathan Kuminga”. Respect to Scottie and Kuminga, they’re solid prospects and I’m sure they’ll have decent NBA careers assuming they are drafted into the right situation, but the selection is Jalen Suggs.
I’ll start by boring you with some numbers. Let’s compare the three using some advanced stats and shooting percentages:
Advantage Suggs, and it’s really not that close.
We’ve got the boring numbers out of the way, let’s look at ability… What makes the best player available deserving of that title?
Jalen Suggs is a 20 year old, 6’4, explosive athlete who ran the point for Gonzaga this past year. Gonzaga was a good team, yes, but they absolutely do not have as much success without Suggs’ contributions. They would’ve lost to UCLA, and possibly even sooner had Suggs not been on the floor. I’ll keep Suggs’ section brief, as I wrote a lengthy article about the talented point guard the other day that you should definitely check out if you want an in depth perspective on what makes him such a tantalizing prospect. Needless to say, he is an immediate contributor with a high ceiling that most are understating.
He does everything well, and I see no reason why he can’t improve his concerns such as his jumpshot and half-court creation seeing as he already has a solid foundation for both of those skills. His jumpshot is mechanically smooth and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Suggs have an effective jumper from the beginning. His half-court creation does need work, yes. Suggs needs to improve his pull-up game as well as his decision making and shot selection, but he has a solid handle that will no doubt continue to improve and is miles ahead that of Barnes and Kuminga. While Barnes is likely to top out as the superior defender due to his ability to guard 1-5, Suggs has the skills and size to be one of the best defensive guards in the class as well.
With Kyle Lowry’s era likely coming to an end, Fred VanVleet not really suited to take over full point guard duties due to glaring efficiency issues, and Malachi Flynn likely topping out as a backup guard, Suggs’ fit is also a no-brainer at this pick. The Raptors would have a natural succession plan at the starting point guard position for the next decade, and it would come in the form of a very talented player who fits the Raptors’ identity to a T. It would also bring about an end to the undersized backcourt that had it’s flaws exposed the past two seasons, which would be nice.
Now to Barnes. The 20 year old 6’9 guard/forward from Florida State came off the bench in all but 7 games during his lone college season where he averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. He was effective in his role though, winning the ACC 6th Man of the Year award. An excellent defender and playmaker for his size at 6’9, Barnes figures to be an effective NBA player from day 1 and should no doubt be one of the better defenders in the league. He’s drawn comparisons to Draymond Green and Ben Simmons, and I don’t think those are too far off.
He’s not worth the fourth overall selection with Suggs on the board, and I’m saying that as someone who is very high on Scottie Barnes. For those who think Suggs has a poor shot, Barnes’ is worse, and with a more difficult path to development. His shot is janky with a wide base, and his release is inconsistent. Barnes can finish effectively at the rim, but his half court creation is also leagues behind Suggs to a point where I don’t think he’ll be capable of developing it at all. He can run the point and is a solid playmaker to be sure, and he’ll most likely turn into a solid slasher given his imposing frame and current ballhandling ability, but Barnes has shown absolutely zero flashes of becoming a guy who can self-create in space. Some argue that the Raptors development staff can fix Barnes’ jumpshot. They’ll point to examples of players who the Raptors have turned into good shooters such as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. It’s a little naïve to believe that Barnes can follow the same development curve, and I’ll explain why.
OG was actually a solid shooter in college. His form was stiff, but very much not broken, and he showed great improvement and consistency in his deep-range shot attempts from his freshman to his sophomore year before an injury kept him out the rest of the season and he entered the draft. That development maintained steadily and he enjoyed a 37% three point split during his rookie season, and is now one of the more consistent shooters in the league. Pascal wasn’t really a shooter until his third year in the NBA, and even then he’s kind of regressed in this area since The Bubble. His long range wasn’t a factor in college, but he had effective free throw numbers (76% frosh, 68% soph) and flashes of mid range pull-up ability, showing that there was some pathway to extending that range. Meanwhile, Barnes’ shot is mechanically terrible and he shot 62% from the free throw line in college. It’s difficult to imagine him becoming an NBA level shooting presence within the near future, if at all.
Looking at fit with Barnes makes matters even more complicated. He has the ability to run the point, but is that something that Nick Nurse is willing to experiment with when the Raptors are looking to get back in the playoffs? If the answer is yes, Scottie needs to develop his jumper sooner than later before we run into a Ben Simmons situation and the fanbase wants to run him out of town for his inability to shoot in the playoffs. As noted before, that seems unlikely. If Nurse wants to play it safe with Scottie and lock him in as a forward in a Draymond Green role, then he’s looking at being a top five pick glued to the bench behind Siakam and OG for the next few years at minimum. Neither scenario is all that appetizing. I would love to see Scottie develop on a team that doesn’t have as lofty expectations in the immediate future and allows him to run the point consistently.
Kuminga’s name has come up less frequently, but it’s coming up nonetheless. The appeal of an 18 year old Siakam-sized forward with shot creation upside deserves the due-diligence that the Raptors have given him, but make no mistake: Kuminga is very much a project. He’s not a good basketball player at the moment. Kuminga is viewed as a valuable prospect due to his physical measurements and short bursts of brilliance that he showed in the G League. There is a chance he can develop into a first option offensively, but his shooting and defence are both a long ways off before he can be effective.
I have a bit more faith in Kuminga’s jumpshot than I do Barnes, simply because Kuminga is far more comfortable taking those kinds of shots and his form isn’t nearly as busted — but he needs to be put in a situation where the organization is willing to give him the ball frequently, let him make mistakes, and learn from them. Will he get that in Toronto? Much like Barnes, he’d be stuck in the rotation behind OG and Pascal unless a trade surfaces… and the idea of trading Pascal so that the Raptors could start a very raw forward is one that doesn’t resonate with me personally at this juncture. If the Raptors were committed to a full rebuild, the idea of Kuminga would make a lot more sense at this pick. Even then, it makes no sense to select him with the fourth pick when he will likely be available at 7.
If Suggs doesn’t necessarily work out in the long term, at least the Raptors can actually say they took the best player available. There is no shame in that. There would rightfully be criticisms if they select off-board with this pick and it busts anyway. If the Raptors are that enamoured with Barnes or Kuminga, it shouldn’t be difficult to orchestrate a trade-down with Oklahoma City or Orlando and acquire additional assets in the process. They would have all the leverage in this position.
To take such a highly coveted pick and go off-board would be a head scratching decision. I can give Masai and co. the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the end of the draft, but I can’t fathom the reasoning as to why Kuminga or Barnes would be more valued than Jalen Suggs, knowing everything that we know about them as prospects. This is the Raptors’ highest draft pick since 2006, and they have a dire need to get some talent in the door. Jalen Suggs fits that need due to his ability to contribute immediately, his long term outlook as the team’s starting point guard, as well as possessing a high ceiling. The decision to select Suggs with the fourth pick is truly an easy one.
“I will say the ones that do pass up on me and take another prospect, you know, it’ll come back, it’d be to their detriment”, Suggs stated during an interview on Tuesday. “It’s funny, I haven’t been a full-time basketball player yet,” he said. “I mean, I think I have honestly the most improvement to make out of to anybody in this draft.”
By all means “Trust Masai”, but going off the board at this selection will rightfully cause some uncertainty.