After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and getting through a long, dragged out year of COVID-19, the Toronto Raptors were blessed by the lottery Gods above. Currently, the Toronto Raptors will have the #4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, which gives them the chance to draft an elite young player that could hopefully help their team in the long run.
This has been the Raptors’ first top 5 pick in the draft since 2011, and this is important as the Raptors organization tends to find exceptional draft through late round picks and undrafted players. Hence, the Raptors will have many options with how they would like to utilize this top pick.
The first main option is to, of course, use the pick as it is. As of now, the 2021 NBA Draft has 4 famous lottery picks: Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, and Jalen Suggs. However, due to having the 4th pick, there is a very slim chance that the Raptors will get a player like Cade, as he is projected to be selected first overall in the draft due to his superstar potential.
The most likely candidate to fall in the Raptors’ hands is Jalen Suggs, a 6”4 point guard from Gonzaga University. Suggs possesses many strengths that make him an interesting prospect. He has proven to be a true floor general as he can run the offence for his team efficiently. He is a good playmaker and has a high IQ for the game, which is a necessity when playing in a very competitive league like the NBA. He also is a very athletic finisher, a good on-ball defender and is a type of player that has the “winner-like” mentality. The Raptors would be acquiring a guy who could be plugged into their strong, team-based culture with ease.
However, a few glaring issues include both his shooting and his role as a first option on a team. In terms of shooting, he only shot 33% from the three point line which needs improvement if Suggs wants to be a consistent shooter at the pro level. In addition, there are questions of whether he can be a main scorer on a championship team due to not being the greatest shooter.
Other potential choices that could fall to the Raptors include centre Evan Mobley and guard Jalen Green.
Mobley is a big man with impressive amounts of skill and IQ for his height. He has good ball handling for his size, has great coordination, and is proven to be an elite defender using his 7”4 wingspan to average 2.4 blocks per game for the University of Southern California men’s basketball team. He also can score both inside around the basket and outside near the mid-range area. Toronto is very keen on getting a centre as it is their weakest position in their roster, so Mobley’s unique skill set could be proven valuable if he falls to them at the fourth pick.
However, a few things that Mobley can work on include extending his shooting range to the 3-point line as he can attempt to become a better 3-point shooter. In addition, his post-scoring as a big man could be polished a little bit as well to match up better with NBA big men.
As for Green, his biggest strength as a player is his elite scoring ability. Playing in the NBA’s G-League (a development league), Green has proven to get to any place around the court as he can drive to the basket with his extreme athleticism or shoot a jumper from any part of the court. He has the scoring potential to be a player who can get a last-minute bucket in the closing seconds of a huge game. In addition, he has proven to have a good feel for passing. The Raptors could be looking for a guy who can be their primary scorer in future years as their scoring at the end of the games has been a problem. Green can certainly fix that.
The main issue for Green is his defensive woes. He currently has a thin frame of 178 pounds and does not always have the instincts to play elite defense. He can also improve his abilities as a playmaker, as that would allow him to upgrade his already impressive offensive arsenal.
Even with these 3 players being most likely to be chosen by the Raptors, the team still has a lot of flexibility on what they could try doing with this pick. They could try either trading up in the draft to get someone who they know will go to another team or could also scout another prospect in the draft if they see a potential “diamond in the rough” player.
If the Raptors were to trade up in the draft, they would most likely have to give up some young valuable assets. Most notably, one of the assets they might have to trade is 23 year old OG Anunoby, an elite defensive forward who also is a good 3-point shooter. Seeing as if the Raptors already have a top 4 pick, however, the team will most likely not trade Anunoby as currently he provides a great share of value to the Raptors’ current construction as a team being the team’s best option at the small forward position. Not to mention, his contract is one that can be argued to be underpaying Anunoby.
In terms of drafting a different player aside from Suggs, Mobley, or Green, the Raptors could look for another player if they see something that most teams are ignoring. An example would be defensive stud Jonathan Kuminga. Kuminga, being a 6”8 forward, has an NBA-ready body weighing 220 pounds. He is considered to be one of, if not the best defender in the draft, and with his 7 foot wingspan he is able to defend all positions on the court from guard to centre. He also has great strength and athleticism, which allows him to be an above-average rebounder and capable finisher around the basket.
However, Kuminga has a glaring weakness in his game: his shooting and scoring ability. Despite being a capable finisher, Kuminga is a weak shooter and inefficient scorer, as he averaged below 40% field goal percentage and below 30% three point percentage, which are considered poor for NBA standards. In addition, his decision making at times can be questionable while trying to drive to the basket.
If the Raptors were to take someone like Kuminga, it would be a great defensive piece to add alongside the defensive identity the Raptors currently are looking for. The team also is known to be one of the best development teams in the league, so Kuminga’s shooting can improve with the help of the Raptors’ coaching staff. On the other hand, Kuminga is a raw prospect on the offensive end, and the Raptors may be looking for a player who can help them now in the present instead of trying to be patient for a young player to develop.
Trading Pascal Siakam
According to rumours, the Golden State Warriors have trade interest in acquiring former all-star Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors. In return, the Warriors would send back young centre James Wiseman and the #7 pick in the NBA Draft. Other players and assets may be included in the trade if needed to match salaries or to make a more fair trade.
There are pros and cons towards making this decision. A major con would be getting rid of one of Toronto’s better offensive players, as Siakam averaged about 21 points and 7 rebounds per game in the 2020-21 NBA season. He also is an above-average defender that can also continue to develop his offensive game as well. In addition, the chemistry within the Raptors is very strong, and trading him would lower team chemistry and create a rift between the team’s front office and players. However, Siakam has proven in the playoffs in the past that he is meant to be a solid second or third option, but not a reliable primary scorer. Add onto his approximately 30 million dollar contract over the next 3 years, it will be interesting to see if Siakam can fully live up to those standards.
This leads to a potential pro of stacking assets for the future. Toronto’s current roster has a fair share of good players, but their depth as a roster was a major weakness last season, compared to other seasons where they consistently had one of the best bench units in the league. The Raptors also have Chris Boucher, another power forward who plays similar to Siakam: a long, athletic forward with shooting and ball-handling abilities. Boucher has a smaller contract than Siakam, so trading Siakam for more assets could improve the depth in this roster and create a better trade package in case a disgruntled star player wants a trade.
All in all, these pathways to follow in this year’s draft will be interesting to see for this Toronto Raptors’ team. It will be exciting to see what the roster will look like in a few months through the draft, which will occur on Thursday, July 29th, 2021.
Image Citations (IEEE)
- Alarashi, Mar 31, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) dribbles the ball up the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports. 2021.
- Siegel, 2021 NBA Draft Prospects (in Raptors jerseys). 2021.