By: Norman Yallen
When I was six years old, my father took me to my first Toronto Raptors game, against the Charlotte Hornets. A lot has changed since that day, the Hornets have left Charlotte and the Bobcats have taken their place. More importantly, the Toronto Raptors lost their exciting young star Vince Carter, and then their exciting young star Chris Bosh. With a couple exceptions, the Toronto Raptors have had a very high draft pick just about every season, and they really have fucked it up. There was the year they drafted Rafael Araujo, because after all we needed a center to complement Chris Bosh. Never mind that everyone knew Araujo didn’t have the talent to be a starting centre. I remember his rookie year, my Dad and I were at a half full Air Canada Centre, when Araujo came on the big screen and informed us that it was South American Adventure Day. I swear this actually happened, and to be honest, it almost made me happy we picked the small, slow center that could not jump, and didn’t seem to have anything he was good at. If we weren’t going to be a successful team, at least we’d have South American adventures to look forward to. Imagining General Manager Rob Babcock getting eaten by a piranha never failed to satisfy me. If you think that joke went to far, you obviously never had to watch Rafael Araujo play. In that draft he passed up Andre Iguodola who was the consensus better prospect. Iguodola is now a focal point for Philadelphia while Araujo is “starring” in Brazil.
The next year, it was draft time again in Toronto, and I was eager to see what shit sandwich good old Rob Babcock had in store for the good fans of Toronto this time. Pick 8 rolled around, and the consensus was to take Danny Granger, who was the most polished prospect available. Nope, Rob first took Charlie Villanueva. But then we had pick 16 and Danny Granger was still around. Rob Babcock then proceeded to select Joey Graham, whose main achievement is being not quite as bad as his identical twin brother Stephen. Danny Granger is now one of the best scorers in the NBA. Then, Babcock’s employment was mercifully terminated and Bryan Colangelo took over. He proceeded to convince us that we did not want Brandon Roy, or Lamarcus Aldridge. What we really wanted was a big Italian who could shoot the basketball, and he was even still growing. What he did not mention was that Andrea Bargnani had no interest in using his size for anything other than getting cookies from the top shelf. Although based on his lack of boxing out, if anyone with any leaping ability was nearby, he would have to let him get the cookies.
The problem with NBA General Managers is Dirk Nowitzki. Now, I don’t mean the Finals MVP himself but rather the events when he was drafted that set up a problematic template. In 1998, Dallas took Robert Traylor with the 6th pick, and traded it for Pat Garrity and the 9th pick, which was used to select Dirk. At the time everyone said this was a terrible trade for the Mavericks, since Traylor was a collegiate star for Michigan, and a sure bet to succeed, while no one really knew what to expect of this jump shooting European. Over time, Nowitzki became an MVP, while Traylor battled obesity, got an unflattering nickname (it’s a pun related to his size and last name, I’ll let you guess what it is), and ultimately died of a heart attack this year. Now, Don Nelson after this got a lot of credit for going against conventional wisdom, and making a risky pick as opposed to a safe one. This became a popular thing to do in the NBA, as General Managers fell into the following pitfalls. It is hard to analyze a success, but it is easy to tell what makes a failure.
1. The Workout Wonder and Measurable-A Lack of In-Game Experience
This is usually a foreign player, and I mean this in a non-xenophobic way. Typically American players will get in game college experience we can evaluate them on. In the absence of that for many foreign players, NBA teams have players work out. Now this would be great if the league were about doing drills but that is not what the league is about. For instance, Leandro Barbosa is faster than Steve Nash, but in no way does that mean he would run a better fast break offense. To be able to accurately evaluate players you have to see them in a game, to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Instead, teams see Yi Jianlian post up a chair and assume that means they can accurately evaluate him. Speaking of which, do you know who has done very well in workouts? Bismack Biyombo. Well, that is until he shot so badly, an NBA scout said, “he played one on none, and lost.” Also often times, a player’s wingspan and other personal statistics will be used in building a player’s case. For instance, Biyombo has a 7”7 wingspan. I don’t care about the wingspan; I care about how he uses that wingspan in a game. I wouldn’t know how he uses it because I’ve never seen him play.
2. Overemphasizing Positional Need-Drafting on an Idea
When Toronto drafted Rafael Araujo they did it because they felt they needed a big man for the future to complement Chris Bosh. This was a nice idea; the only problem was he wasn’t actually good enough to fit the role. As a team you can’t decide what you need, and plug in the best available, you have to try to find the guy you believe to be the best available. People have been talking about the Timberwolves and what they will do if Kyrie Irving is available at 2. It’s a no brainer that if they believe Irving to be the best, they have to take him and figure out which of him or Rubio is not a franchise point guard. If you are in the Lottery, you don’t have many very good players, so one of the best available guys should always fill a need.
3. Lack of Desire
This is the toughest pitfall to avoid because it is the only one you cannot tell. If Jonas Valenciunas is taken number one, I can tell you the Cavaliers have fallen into both Pitfall 1 and 2, but I cannot tell you about this one. I know if a team is drafting based on need right away, and I know if a team is mainly relying on workouts right away. What I do not know right away is that player’s desire. It is in almost every players interest to appear to have a desire to succeed, but once their money is guaranteed, whether they still care is hard to tell. However, there are certainly signs to look for. If it is said a player has a detached demeanor, perhaps they do not have the desire to go in the paint, and physically contribute. Thanks to Andrea Bargnani for teaching me that, the player who meets this is Donatas Motiejunas. The other, maybe even more alarming indication of a lack of desire is the, “well rounded young man.” He might say stuff like, “basketball isn’t the most important thing in my life.” Perhaps as a kid he preferred playing saxophone. This is the type of guy who skips the most important game of his life for a college graduation. I’m not going to mention my examples name, but he is now overweight on Phoenix, and his last name rhymes with farter.
So with these pitfalls being accounted for, which of the Raptors potential picks has the best chance to fail and succeed? It is said the Raptors are down to Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Knight, and Bismack Biyombo. Who has the best chance to succeed, and perhaps more importantly, who is most likely to fail? I will do my best for you the reader to rank who is most likely a mistake pick, to who is the best pick for the Toronto Raptors.
Please, for the love of God do not pick this guy. He has hardly played any meaningful basketball, toiling away as a third division player in Spain. So what changed? He began to play a tiny bit more, but he had a very good performance at the Nike Hoop Summit. So because he had a good basketball camp, and has a very big wingspan he will be good? Against the likes of experienced players who can hit an open five footer, I wouldn’t bet on it. The other problem is that the Raptors just hired Dwane Casey and are implementing a defensive mindset. In theory that is certainly something I agree with, and I also would like a great defensive center. But just because I want a great defensive center does not mean I believe Biyombo can be that guy in Toronto. They don’t like Biyombo, they like the idea of Biyombo as a franchise center, which he is not. Also, I question any one-dimensional player and I believe Bryan Colangelo pursues them far too aggressively. He put together a roster of players who could only score, than he realized they need rebounding. His response was to get Reggie Evans who is one dimensional in only trying to rebound, to the point where he will yank the ball away from his teammate. The answer to making a better team and better defense is not to get a player that can only defend, the answer is to acquire multi faceted players who play great defense along with having other skills.
He only played 15 minutes a game in Europe so why will he be able to play more in the pros anytime soon? The difference between him and Biyombo is I think Jonas can succeed down the road. With that being said, I don’t think anyone has seen him play to be confident that he can. With the fifth pick, that simply will not do. As well, he might not be able to be bought out of his contract, and the first thing to make sure of is that the player legally can play for you.
We saw him play at San Diego State and he seemed to be well rounded. I cannot say he will be a guaranteed great player. What I can say is that he was very solid in college, and should be solid in the pros. He is the exact sort of multi faceted defensive player who I would not mind wearing a Raptors uniform. I would not complain about this pick.
I said it at March Madness and I am saying it now, I would like to see him get more consistent before I spend a top 5 pick on him. At the same time, he has shown he can perform during games and has all the physical tools necessary to be successful. He is the only one of these four that I can see being great. The only question mark is his mental toughness.
None of the four is my pick. For my pick at number 5, I want someone who has proven he can succeed consistently, and can be a star player. I want someone who has shown they can master the mental aspect of the game as well as the physical. My pick is Kemba Walker.
With apologies to Jimmer, this was the best player in the league that is most closely comparable to the NBA style of play. He has shown that he can shoot and he can pass. He can get to the paint, he is a leader, and he has won at every level. On a team where the only player who has enough confidence to shoot in crunch time is Jose Calderon, this is the player we need. Is there any way Kemba is not at the very least a rotation player? He has the least downside and the most upside of any of these players. To me he’s not only the right choice, he’s the only choice.