A Look Back at the 2020 and 2021 Drafts – Raptors Draft Malachi Flynn with the 29th pick in 2020 and Scottie Barnes with the 4th pick in 2021

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

So we’re here. We’re at the present now. The 2022 NBA draft is tomorrow, and we’re as of this moment finished recapping every draft — and with them, every season — in Toronto history. Some good, lots of bad, and then lots of good. Crazy history. It’s likely that you know where the Raptors were heading into these drafts, but let’s recap anyway.

The Championship Raptors faced down their own mortality the following summer and lost. Kawhi Leonard, champion, beloved of Toronto, recipient of KaWine and Dine, left the top of the mountain for sunnier pastures closer to home. Hard to blame him, but the team was as close to a certain dynasty as it gets. (They would have smashed that Lakers team in 2020 with Kawhi. Honestly, I think they would have beaten them anyway even without Leonard if not for Covid, but that’s another thing entirely.)

They went into the following year without Leonard and replacing him with virtually nobody. And… they were the second-best team in the league. They started Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol, and they annihilated teams with that lineup. They were even better when Normal Powell played for either of the starting guards. They didn’t lose to a bad team until December, didn’t have a three-game losing stream until February, and at one point just decided to rip off 15 in a row for fun.

The bubble was catastrophic. Siakam went from a legitimate All-NBA player (he finished Second Team) to a lesser version of himself, and he struggled mentally for a long time after that. Without his scoring, the team was a shell of itself in the half court. Lowry carried the team for stretches, but the Raptors lost to a Celtics team in the playoffs that they truly should have beaten. And it took seven games in the crucible for Jayson Tatum to crawl his way out of the grave Toronto dug for him.

Then in 2020-21, things went haywire. That’s all I remember. They played in Tampa Bay, I think? Not sure. Can’t remember. Something something Scottie Barnes.

Which brings us to 2021-22. Toronto started out hot without Siakam, dipped very (very!) briefly after his return from shoulder surgery as he worked into shape, and then took off once Siakam got hot. In 2022, they went 32-17 despite never really all being healthy at once. VanVleet was exceptional to start the year, joining the All-Star game, but injury drained him enormously from February onward. Siakam didn’t hit his stride until November. The third member of the Big Three, Anunoby, missed much of the time in between, and Barnes and Gary Trent jr. missed games as well. The team was exceptional despite never really getting healthy, and if you want free money, slam the over for whatever Vegas gives them as the win total for the 2022-23 season.

It was only yesterday these pieces discussed the drafting of Siakam and Anunoby and the signing of VanVleet. The team now belongs to them, especially with Lowry gone, and they’ve done an exceptional job making sure the We The North era continued with the Raptors back in Toronto. The team will probably belong to Barnes soon. We’re in great hands, once again, going forward — and about to add another rookie in the draft, barring a trade.

From a roster perspective, the most notable moves over these three seasons included:

October 21, 2019

Re-signed Pascal Siakam to a multi-year contract

  • Now homegrown stars want to stay in Toronto? Crazy stuff. Amazing, and it hasn’t been long since this really, really wasn’t the case.

November 24, 2020

Re-signed Fred VanVleet to a multi-year contract

  • Yeah, ditto to everything above about Siakam. Unreal that VanVleet loves it here and wants to stay.

March 25, 2021

Traded Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers for Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr.. Portland also received a trade exception

  • This one hurt a lot at the time, even though it was probably a solid move. Trent has grown into a slightly different type of player from what Powell was, and most importantly, he’s a better defender. He’s also younger with room to grow along with Toronto’s current best younger prospects like Anunoby, Barnes, and Precious Achiuwa. Powell has a place in Toronto’s heart forever, but that doesn’t make this trade horrible. It just makes it painful.

August 6, 2021

Traded Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat for Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragic. Toronto also received a trade exception.

  • Achiuwa has been phenomenal for the Raptors, and he could become practically anything. There’s almost no self-creators at the center spot who can also space the floor, guard bigs, and switch onto wings and guards. And he does all of those things at a really high level already. He was crucial in the playoffs. To trade a team’s heart and soul away is always going to be a miserable feeling. Achiuwa makes the trade worth it. But damn. I miss Kyle so much.

The Drafts

Malachi Flynn was drafted at a spot that generally doesn’t yield an NBA player. That he hasn’t turned into a rotation one (he still has time!) is normal and to be expected. It still hurts, especially considering the player on the board when he was chosen.

First Round of the 2020 NBA Draft via Basketball Reference

Desmond Bane. A real, honest-to-god star, taken one slot after Flynn. Toronto hit home runs with the Siakam and Anunoby picks, and those selections mean everything to the franchise today. Miss those, and Toronto is in the dumps even with Barnes. Missing with Flynn is fine and normal. But hitting on Bane would have put Toronto on a real championship trajectory. That’s what happens when you hit dingers at the bottom of the first round — as Toronto well knows.

First Round of the 2021 NBA Draft via Basketball Reference

If missing on the 29th pick is one thing, missing on the fourth is something else entirely. Good thing the Raptors chose the reigning Rookie of the Year in Scottie Barnes! He could be a superstar very, very soon. He is fun and skilled and athletic and everything else you want to see in an NBA star. Who knows if Barnes will become the best player in his draft — Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham have outrageous futures ahead of them, too. But Barnes has to be sitting pretty for that honour, and in a historic draft to boot. Barnes had one of the best rookie seasons in Raptors’ history, arguably better even than former Rookies of the Year in Stoudamire and Carter. Talk about a worthwhile bookend for this draft history series!

As for this draft, Raptors Republic has done an outrageous amount of work to prepare you. There’s multiple discussions of virtually every candidate you could imagine. Here are some resources for the draft tomorrow:

  • Brendan Stewart did some excellent scouting on draft candidates here, here, and here.
  • The Man they call Mac went solo on options here and then ran it back with a squad here.
  • Samson Folk did a trio of podcasts (as well as being part of Mac’s aforementioned squad) with Francis Adu here, Evin Gualberto here, and his own squad here.

In The Moment

Louis Zatzman (LZ): I’m not a huge draft guy. I don’t have set opinions going into drafts these days, and I don’t get too high or low based on who is or isn’t selected. For the Flynn selection, I just dove into film immediately after to toss up the review piece and was admittedly really excited with the pick.

Chris Howson-Jan (CHJ): In short, a big ol shrug. The Raptors already had two small point guards, but at the time it was a little tough to point to a specific area of need for Toronto, especially if one of Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol returned. If you squinted you could sort of see Flynn as being part of the Kyle Lowry lineage, with Fred VanVleet mentoring Flynn in the same way Kyle did for Fred. But picking at the end of the first, it was hard to get excited about anyone in particular.

Desmond Bane was on my radar, thanks to my good friend Richard Stayman (@MavsDraft on Twitter), who had the chance to scout Bane in person at TCU; however, I knew him more as a second-round prospect rather than someone the Raptors might be looking at in the first round. On the flipside, I loved Paul Reed’s athleticism and upside, and he would fit in well with the Raps as currently constructed. I would have been happy with Reed at 29, but he slipped all the way to 58 – right before the Raps’ selection.

LZ: For the Barnes pick, I was actually at the Raptors Republic draft party. I really only went for the free booze, and watching everyone booing when the Raptors picked Barnes instead of Jalen Suggs was hysterical. I wasn’t happy or sad — I figured I’d get into it later and figure out once I studied the tape. And man, Barnes stood out once you watched the guy. But that night, what really stood out for me was an argument with Nick Reynoldson much, much later about whether the Raptors 905 had a shuttle bus for callups when they brought them from Mississauga to Toronto, or whether they drove themselves, or whether they took Ubers. I can’t even remember which side I was on. I just learned this: never get into arguments with professional comedians. You’re gonna get roasted.

CHJ: I loved the Barnes pick. While I expected and would have been happy with the Raptors picking Jalen Suggs, he never felt to me like a player that could develop into a true franchise guard. And given that the Raptors aren’t usually picking at the top of the draft, why not go for the guy with superstar upside? It wasn’t a surprise to me how quickly people warmed to Scottie once they saw his combination of size, skill, and personality. I remember seeing him rise up Kevin O’Connor’s draft board and taking an interest in him, and once I dug into the film I loved the fit for Toronto. I liked Barnes more than Suggs or Jalen Green — I only would have taken Cade and Mobley over him if either had somehow become available.

What It Meant for the Raptors

CHJ: Much has been made of how the Raptors’ fortunes might be different had they gone with Bane, who went one pick after Flynn. As for Flynn himself, he has yet to contribute in a meaningful way to the Raptors. While I haven’t entirely given up on him, it’s certainly hard to see the path for him to be anything more than a solid bench piece in Toronto.

LZ: Scottie Barnes means everything for the Raptors. He has scoring superpowers combined with incredible vision and will likely become an elite defender in time. He’s a great rebounder, cutter, mover. His primary and orbiting skills are all off the charts. He is the future. His development determines whether this iteration of the team wins another championship or caps out as an annual playoff threat. He already put together one of the best rookie playoff performances in history (really!) The sky is his limit. Well, no — he has no limit.

Toronto has almost exclusively built through the draft. Stoudamire, Carter, Siakam: They all share the distinction of being drafted by the Raptors. Toronto traded for Lowry and Leonard, but they are the exceptions. Barnes, again drafted by the franchise, has the chance to outdo all of them. The Raptors are still in the same salad days that began in 2013-14. The thru-line has extended from Lowry to VanVleet and Siakam to Barnes. Let the good times (continue to) roll.

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