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A Look Back at the 2016 and 2017 Drafts – Raptors Draft Jakob Poeltl 9th and Pascal Siakam 27th, OG Anunoby 23rd, and sign Fred VanVleet

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Cover Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

With the 2022 NBA draft approaching on June 23rd, we want to take a look back at the Raptors draft history; giving a bit of an accounting of the state of the Raptors, what we thought of the pick in the moment and in retrospect. Each day we will examine the Raptors significant pick(s) and additions in each draft, and frame it in the context of what was going on during that year. You can find all the pieces in this draft history project here.

The State of The Raptors Heading Into The Drafts

There are two types of teams/people in the world: losers, who when confronted with adversity and difficulty, will fold and bury their head in the sand and accept their fate; winners who will take their lumps, reflect, reassess, readjust, and come out stronger. We learn that lesson every NBA season. The 2015-16 Toronto Raptors team was the latter.

After a fucking humiliating first-round exit to the Wizards in the 2015 playoffs, every level of the organization, from the front office to the players stepped up and did what winners do to not only move on, but to make that shit show didn’t repeat itself.

You don’t appreciate how a less patient and more reactive manager could have blown everything up after such a damning loss; destroying this organic slow build we were witnessing. Now, to be fair, Masai was trying to tear it down and rebuild, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt in that he didn’t have all the information at the time as far as Lowry rising to the challenge.

Lowry was the prime example: he came into camp missing half dat ass he ended the previous season with.

😍

Sexy…but more importantly, he didn’t sit on his ass through the summer smashing Doritos like many of us did. Not only did he strengthen his core, but the reduced weight helped with the load on his back (where he missed 12 games plus was hurting a bunch more last season).

DeMar spent the summer working on his shooting; three pointers specifically. Part of the problem against the Wizards was that not only were they bully balling, but there wasn’t a lot of space to operate in the paint because of the Raptors couldn’t spread the floor. Not only did DeMar spend ANOTHER summer working on his, but he was working on one of his most suspect areas. He finished the season shooting 34 percent from behind the arc, which was a career high up until that point.

The regular season was gang busters. They started hot, winning their first five games, but a scheduling quirk had them playing 13 road games over the first 20. They held things together rather nicely going 9-4 away from the ACC. The rest of the regular season was an exercise in constantly exceeding changing expectations. They were just excellent all the way through with maybe a couple disappointing losses, but that happens to everyone.

While there were huge improvements both offensively and defensively, there were some problems with the personnel. DeMarre Carroll, the big free agent signing, got badly injured and missed most of the season. Patrick Patterson had started his decline as a productive/useful player to a philandering on court disappointment. TRoss was TRoss.

Lowry and DeRozan highlighted the season, making the All-Star game and hosting it in Toronto on the coldest fucking weekend in recent memory. The city was popping. The cold couldn’t stop the city from showing out, and NBA players loved it. It was an amazing time; especially the extracurricular activities which, errr…wow….will just leave it at that.

21-9 post All-Star game, and it’s amazing how much heavy lifting Lowry, DeMar, JV, Cory Joseph, and Biyombo did through the entire season. With Carroll out, 2Pat making guest appearances at TIFF, and the rest of the bunch playing ho hum, the 56 wins seems even more incredible. The Raptors finished first in the Atlantic for the third time in a row and second in the East; one game behind the Cavs (who would eventually win the championship).

After last season heart break, expectations were to win at least round with a solid showing all around. What we got was an epic 20 playoff games; real quick:

Round 1 vs the Pacers

There was intense pressure not to have a repeat of last year, and when the Raptors dropped the first game, at home, to a scrappy Pacers team, we all thought “HERE WE FUCKING GO AGAIN!!!! AHSDKFHIJSDU#)(*&()*)@#$U.” Seriously, we abandoned all hope rather quickly. But they rebounded and really dug in. That series was a bit terrifying as Paul George seemed genetically engineered as DeMar’s kryptonite in every conceivable way. Throughout the series, Lowry, and to a much lesser extent. DeMar, showed that they can play winning basketball when their shot isn’t falling. We were also introduced to Playoff Norm, who came through in a really big way out of nowhere this series. Vogel through us a bit of an assist in game seven, sitting Paul George for a long stretch in the 4th for reasons unknown. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, and we will take it. Raptors ground out a tough seven-game series that aged us all five years.

Round 2 vs the Heat

I must say, I think I hate the Heat too. Not as much as the C**tics and Nets, but like, second-tier hate. How was this team so good with an aging/crippled Wade leading the way? Sure, Dragic, Iso Joe,  Justice Winslow, and Josh Richardson played like the Dream Team against us, but how? How the hell are the Heat able to trot out teams where the sum of the whole are greater than the parts? You thought the Pacers series was agonizing? Jeez, yo, Spoelstra is a bad mfer and his own team’s All Star. He accounted for everything, and made sure everyone was ready for everything at all times. How is that even possible? Without the services of JV, Lowry was magnificent in Game 7, quickly knocking the Heat to the ground, then keeping his foot on their throat to lead the team to an easy(ish) win.

Round 3 vs the Cavs

This was peak LeBron, and wow was he focused and clutch. While the series went six, it really wasn’t that close. The Cavs were playing for a ring, and got it, and the Raptors had just come off grinding seven game back-to-back series, and having exceeded all expectations, just didn’t have the horses in the stable, or gas in the tank, to pull out another one.

Which brings us to 2016-17. The Raptors were coming off a high and added some talented rookies (more on that later). Luis Scola is gone, but the team is young and improving and ready to take the next steps. They made the Eastern Conference Finals the year before!

They start out wildly hot, going 28-13 over the first half of the season. Siakam starts over that stretch and looks a little overmatched, but he runs hard, hits midrange jumpers, and plays great defense. Eventually they move him into a much smaller role, starting all sorts of wild combinations including Lucas Nogueira at power forward as well as Carroll. The Raptors hit a little bit of a losing streak towards the middle of the year but right the ship in time for the playoffs, finishing 51-31 and third in the East. Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker come over at the trade deadline, or just before it, and they really stabilize the big positions, giving the Raptors some of the iron and blood and guts they hadn’t had since the late 90s. The power forward position finally looks real tight.

They sure know how to freak us out in the playoffs, though. They draw the young Milwaukee Bucks — hey, we’ve been here before and they haven’t, should be easy. But the Bucks win Game 1, obviously. as Giannis goes berserk. Toronto squeaks by in Game 2, and the Bucks crush in Game 3. Seems like it should be lost, but Lowry and DeMar take over and win the rest. Then the Cavs sweep the Raptors in Round 2. There’s more building to be done. The team really, really needs someone who can slow LeBron.

From a roster perspective, notable moves included:

July 9, 2015

Signed DeMarre Carroll to a multi-year contract.

Signed Cory Joseph to a multi-year contract.

  • We were big fans of the Cory Joseph signing. A local product and supremely capable as a backup pg. The money and timing were on point. Carroll, on the other hand, was a bit less exciting. The CAP just spiked, and we were flush with cash. 3-and-D guys were all the rage at the time (still are), and it was a huge area of concern for us, so yea, on the one hand we got a perfect piece, but on the other hand we were being sold on the CAP mechanics of why this was a good signing, and not on the merits of Carroll’s abilities, which made for a lot of uneasiness at my house. The injury was unexpected and completely took away Carroll’s ability to actually earn his money on court, so this sort of gets a pass, but it doesn’t erase the not so great taste at the time of the signing.

July 18, 2015

Signed Bismack Biyombo to a multi-year contract.

  • This was a 2yr/$6m steal with a player option. Biyombo was worth more than twice what he got paid during his time here, and used the playoffs as a bouncing off point that earned him a 5yr/$72m contract from the Magic. That deal, was one of the dominos that got us Ibaka a year and a bit later.

July 14, 2016

Re-sign DeMar to a multi-year contract.

  • Stars didn’t want to stay in Toronto. Read: The previous thousand iterations of this draft history. DeMar wanted to be in Toronto. That mattered.

February 14, 2017

Traded Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round draft pick (Anžejs Pasečņiks was later selected) to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka.

  • Now we’re fucking talking.

February 23, 2017

Traded Jared Sullinger, a 2017 second-round draft pick (Alec Peters was later selected) and a 2018 2nd round draft pick (George King was later selected) to the Phoenix Suns for P.J. Tucker.

  • Some defense! Tucker was exactly what the team needed. Turned out he couldn’t slow LeBron, but along with Ibaka he gave the team a spine.

The Drafts

First Round of the 2016 NBA Draft via Basketball Reference

Going to the playoffs AND having a top-10 lottery pick? Thanks, Dolan! Lol

Six All-Stars and eight useful rotation guys. My only fear was the Raptors taking Thon Maker, who while being a Canadian product of sorts, was twice my height and half my weight.

Didn’t know too much about Poeltl at the time, other than Delon Wright was being consulted on it, and gave his thumbs up, which was translated into a hard no for me since his opinion meant zero to me.

I was super focused on Domantas Sabonis at the time. He was an absolute beast in Gonzaga in his sophomore year with his scoring and rebounding, but I LOVED his playmaking from the high post. He moved the ball around, found the right person in the right spot. It was magical. Also didn’t hurt that I loved his father, and I am super biased when it comes to legacy that shows any sort of flex.

…and we have another pick at 27? Ok, bet! Siakam who? From where? Tall athletic PF who plays like a soccer play? Cameroon? Was this guy grown in a lab to turn Masai on or what?

Then Fred VanVleet is an undrafted free agent from Wichita? Okay, definitely haven’t heard of him either, but Blake seems to like the guy.

First Round of the 2017 NBA Draft via Basketball Reference

Really strong draft even though the top pick had some really unfortunate injury history. Lots of All Stars, and plenty of talent that slipped way way down. Seriously, OG went 23rd? HA! Thanks, everyone.

In The Moment

Hated the Poetll pic. Thought it was short sighted and didn’t really address our needs at the time. His college stats were on par with Sabonis’, but his playmaking was non-existant. What he was better at, after a lot YouTube deep diving, was defense, which we needed much more than offense especially if we were to deal with a decade of LeBron and Kyrie having their way.

This felt more like picking for need than grabbing the best talent, which in my not so humble opinion the Raptors didn’t need to do. We just came off a 56-win season and a deep playoff run with a team that was built to contend at this level for a few more seasons. Adding talent made more sense to me than just someone who could be a better version of Biyombo when he walks (he’s clearly walking if he’s opting out, right?).

Was indifferent to the Siakam pic: picking that late in the first round, and anywhere in the second round, you are mostly betting that your system can squeeze blood out of a stone. His draft profile talked about his athleticism, quick decision making, and nimbleness on his feet at 6″11 forward. It also said he didn’t play any NBA calibre players at New Mexico State, so buyer beware. I was more than ok with rolling the dice on Siakam…and that’s how much thought and effort I put in Siakam at the time. Didn’t even look at a single YouTube Video.

Then Anunoby fell to Toronto at 23! He was in the top 10 in plenty of mocks because he was so damn athletic and gigantic, and his injury was a blessing in disguise. I was praying that the Raptors snatched him up, on my knees by pick 20, desperately yearning no one took him, and then it … actually happened? Crazy stuff.

What It Meant for the Raptors

We can all agree that Sabonis is a better player than Poeltl, right? Now, question for you: do you think if we drafted Sabonis instead of Poeltl, anything would have changed for this team? I would contend … maybe lol. Hear me out. Poeltl was packaged with DeMar for Kawhi and Green. That won us a chip. Yes, done. How good was Poeltl in his second season vs Sabonis? He straight up wasn’t as good. While Sabonis wasn’t burning up the league just yet, he had a bigger role for the Pacers and was doing more per 36 than Poeltl.

Do you think the Spurs make the Kawhi trade if Sabonis isn’t included? And that’s where I quickly landed after the Kawhi trade. Didn’t matter if we had Poeltl or Sabonis, they would have been part of the trade. Now, to be fair, I’m glad we drafted Poeltl cause it would have stung more to see Sabonis play like an All-Star post Kawhi leaving, but I’m just being selfish now.

Siakam, on the other hand, is what, a top three or four player in this draft in hindsight? Maybe the best, along with Jaylen Brown depending on certain variables? He averaged 19 points 7 rebounds and a ton of key minutes throughout that playoffs and is a key component of the post championship squad that is now building towards another one during the second epoch of Masai’s tenure.

Fred VanVleet, who we haven’t even motioned yet, was built for this. From undrafted to All Star, he is an icon for that. He and Siakam run this team.

This was also second time in our history that, while it was a bit disappointing they lost in the playoffs (albeit to the Cavs in ECF), we as fans were supremely proud, satisfied, and excited when all it was said and done. In retrospect, this draft might have been the most important domino in the 2019 Championship. Considering VanVleet and what he did to the Bucks, and then to Curry in the Finals, it’s almost certainly the most important domino.

But then (!) the Raptors snag Anunoby the following year. So, to put that in perspective, in two years, the Raptors draft Siakam and Anunoby in back-t0-back late first rounds, and they are the backbone of the team at the forward spots. On both ends. They sign VanVleet as an undrafted free agent, and he is the team’s off-court leader and All Star at the guard spot. They also draft Poeltl and trade him for, to be simplistic, a championship. That’s two drafts defining an entire era of the Raptors. This is what happens when you nail every decision for multiple years in a row.