With their most recent win over the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. They will more than likely end up as the three seed in the East and are poised to make a postseason run.
They have transformed from the gloomy, depressing team from the last couple of years to a young, high-flying team that is one of the most exciting to watch in the NBA.
In order to continue the upward trend, the Raptors will need to do something that they historically haven’t done too well, and that is be smart and draft well. With new GM Masai Ujiri leading the way, the Raptors will be in a spot to land a real quality contributor.
According to draftexpress.com, if the season ended today, Toronto would have the No. 20 overall pick. Let’s take a look at their best options.
The Raptors are currently set on the wings with Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan. Ross has had a very nice breakout year, and DeRozan has turned into a star in the NBA. Each of them is perfect for Toronto’s high-flying, up-and-down system.
However, the depth behind them is questionable and could certainly use some upgrades. Also, with the uncertainty of Kyle Lowry’s future with the team, Toronto may consider going with a point guard.
Let’s take a look at both spots.
Zach LaVine: UCLA, Freshman Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Zach LaVine checks in at a nimble 6’5", 180 pounds but possesses all of the upside in the world. The Raptors would be drafting him because of his upside, but the risk could reap huge rewards.
LaVine’s season averages weren’t spectacular: 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. However, his minutes were limited at UCLA, as he sat behind fellow NBA prospect Jordan Adams.
As you’ll see from the video above, Zach LaVine possesses ridiculous athleticism, which with great ball-handling skills and a sweet outside shooting stroke forms quite the package.
He would provide the Raptors a young, dynamic player, who could potentially replace Lowry at the point, or, if Lowry stays, LaVine would be an extremely exciting option to bring off the bench.
T.J. Warren: N.C. State, Sophomore Small Forward
T.J. Warren is one of the best pure scorers in this draft. At 6’8” and 215 pounds, the sophomore small forward averaged 24.9 points and 7.1 boards per game this season.
He doesn’t shoot the three-ball particularly well, but where he thrives is in attacking the basket, as well as pulling up for mid-range jumpers. Overall he shot 52.5 percent from the field this season.
The Raptors need depth on the outside, and Warren would come in right away and provide exactly that. Not only could he just provide added depth, but he could be a serious contributor scoring the ball in Toronto.
James Young: Kentucky, Freshman Shooting Guard/Small Forward
James Young doesn’t get the same attention as some of his counterparts at Kentucky, but throughout the season, Young has arguably been the most consistent scorer on the roster.
At 6’6” and 215 pounds, Young is versatile and athletic. He’ll be able to play either wing position in the NBA and has the ability to score in multiple ways. Young has a beautiful left-handed shooting stroke and has range beyond the three-point line, although scouts would like to see his percentage go up a bit. He is also a very capable defender.
For the Raptors, Young would be perfect as an athletic wing who thrives in transition, as well as being able to score from anywhere on the court.
P.J. Hairston: Texas Legends (NBA Developmental League)
At 6’5” and 220 pounds, P.J. Hairston is a strong and physical guard. Although he has a troubled past, getting kicked out of North Carolina, he seems to have righted the ship, and there is no denying that the guy can ball.
He is an elite shooter with deep range and also finishes very well at the rim. He’s averaging 21.5 points per game in the D-League this season.
For Toronto, he’d be another guy who can provide depth on the wing behind Ross, bringing in some serious scoring potential off the bench.
Elfrid Payton: Louisiana-Lafayette, Junior Point Guard
Most people probably have never heard of Elfrid Payton, but to NBA scouts, he's a known commodity. His stat line at Louisiana-Lafayette this past season was very impressive, where he averaged 19.2 points, six rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
At 6’3” and 190 pounds, Payton has good size for the point guard spot. He’s extremely talented on both ends, possessing a killer crossover and great first step along with outstanding instincts and lateral quickness allowing him to cause havoc on defense.
For the Raptors, Payton would provide a super athletic and talented young point guard who could take over for Lowry if he departs Toronto or learn under him if he stays.
Jonas Valanciunas has had somewhat of a breakout year for Toronto and has provided a steady presence down low. However, the Raptors could really use some depth at the position if they want to make the leap to the next level in the NBA.
Although this draft is deep in many areas, there are not too many big guys projected in the first round. However, there are a couple intriguing international big men who the Raptors will certainly look at when they are on the clock.
Clint Capela: Switzerland, 19 years old
The big man from Switzerland just might be the most athletic European player to ever cross over to the NBA. At 6’10” and 215 pounds, Capela is very explosive in finishing around the rim.
He is physical and not afraid of contact. Scouts think his ultimate projection would be something similar to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka. The one knock on Capela is his lack of basketball IQ, as sometimes he gets lost, especially on the defensive end.
For the Raptors, Capela would be an exciting, young addition who could fit in perfectly with the rest of the explosive, high-flying Raptors roster.
Jusuf Nurkic: Bosnia, 19 years old
At 6’11” and 280 pounds, Nurkic is absolutely huge. The big man from Bosnia is very strong and excels down low, possessing a soft touch.
The one knock on Nurkic is his lack of great athleticism. He’s somewhat similar to Valanciunas in look and build. He’s not as athletic but is more skilled down low.
For the Raptors, he would be a great addition at center, providing much-needed size on the second unit.
Toronto has another pick early in the second round where they may consider reaching on a big guy if they don’t select one in the first round.
They would look at some more athletic big guys who may be more of a reach like Michigan big man Mitch McGary, Baylor center Isaiah Austin or Florida center Patric Young.