If the Toronto Raptors choice to re-sign Bryan Colangelo seemed inevitable on Tuesday afternoon, it looked necessary by Tuesday night. While the team had the third-worst record in the NBA this season, they wound up dropping in the draft lottery to fifth, essentially removing two (as yet unknown) players from their available pool to choose from on draft night. Colangelo was philosophical about the drop after the lottery went down, pointing out that not only does the fifth pick have a smaller cap hold than the third pick (relevant in terms of available cap space for free agent pursuit this summer), but that taking certain players that the team in interested in fifth is a lot more palatable than reaching for them at three. Who will the team be looking at in anticipation of the draft? Here's an early look.
THE TOP THREE
ENES KANTER - C - 6-11 - Turkey
While it's reasonable to assume that Utah will take a serious look at Kanter at three, and he likely won't fall below Cleveland at four, Toronto would no doubt love to see him be available when they pick. While he's missed nearly two years of competitive play for a variety of eligibility reasons, he's a beast of a centre with strong low-post instincts, rebounding acumen and stellar passing. He'd slide in perfectly alongside either Andrea Bargnani or Ed Davis in Toronto's front court by bringing a toughness to the position that the Raptors desperately need. Given the unlikelihood that he'll be on the board at five, though, combined with the strong free agent market for centres this summer, Toronto probably won't be able to fill their big-man need in the draft. If they can, however, it is a safe assumption that they would seriously consider doing so with Kanter.
BRANDON KNIGHT - G - 6-3 - Kentucky
Of all the players in the draft that may be available to the Raptors, Knight would seem to possess the greatest breadth of skills the club needs. He's a big, defensively-minded scoring guard that can create shots going to the basket while also hitting a decent percentage from behind the arc. He's not a natural playmaker, though, which means that he'll take some time to develop as an NBA-grade point guard (think Jrue Holiday) and at just 18 years old he'll have his growing pains out on the court early on, which may limit the team's ability to be competitive if they commit to starting him on day one. However, on the basis of his size, defence and three-point shooting alone he'll get a long look if he's available, and may well top the Raptors' board by the time the draft comes along.
KEMBA WALKER - G - 6-1 - UConn
If the Raptors want Walker, he'll almost assuredly be on the board when they pick. He's a strong scoring guard that oozes leadership, which is a desperately needed commodity in the Raptors locker room. Like Knight, he's not a pure point guard, but his incredible speed and ability to create his own shot shifts defences with ease and he'll be able to make plays for others on the basis of that skill. While be lucked out at the Chicago pre-draft camp this week by measuring a legit 6'1" in shoes (some feared he may be closer to 5'10"), he's still small in a league that is trending bigger at the point with guys like Derrick Rose and John Wall, and that may place him below Brandon Knight on Toronto's draft board. Nonetheless, he possess strengths that the Raptors need, especially as it pertains to leadership and scoring acumen, and that may be enough to get him to Toronto regardless of his physical stature.
KAWHI LEONARD - SF - 6-7 - San Diego State
Leonard has been steadily climbing up draft boards for a while now, and given Toronto's needs on the wing, he could get a serious look from the Raptors this spring. He's ridiculously athletic, uses his long arms to get steals and rebounds and just goes and goes and goes all game long. He's been compared favorably to Gerald Wallace for a while, and the comparison is a not bad (if not perfect) fit. To make sense alongside DeMar DeRozan, though, he'll need to dramatically improve his three-point shot. While he's apparently been working diligently at that very aspect of his game in anticipation of the draft, the Raptors would need to feel confident that they could depend on him to at least knock down corner threes if they are going to burn such an important pick on him. Still, he's worth considering even if he's unlikely to ever reach the top of the team's wish list.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS - C - 6-11 - Lithuania
Valanciunas is a trendy pick for Toronto in mock drafts because everyone loves sticking international players with the Raptors. Valanciunas, despite being a European big man, should not be confused for an Andrea Bargnani clone, though. He likes to play around the basket, rebounds and block shots more than Bargnani does and he's got a decent shot at the rim. In terms of talent and potential, it's there with Valanciunas, but there are some major red flags when it comes to selecting him, with none bigger than his potentially prohibitive buy-out. There are rumors that his buy-out may keep him in Europe for a couple of YEARS, and the Raptors simply cannot afford that kind of wait. Consider that head coach Jay Triano has one year left on his deal while Colangelo has just two and it's unlikely that the club risks taking a guy that may never play under either one of them. This would be especially damaging to Colangelo who already has a fanbase that has grown weary of his Euro obsession (Hedo Turkoglu and Linas Kleiza being the most recent headaches). They would be (unfairly) suspicious of Valanciunas even if he came over this year, but will drive Colangelo out of town if they have to wait a season or two for him to before he plays a game at the ACC. It's not about whether or not Valanciunas is a good player or whether or not he'll develop into a better player, it's about needing talent TODAY to help grow the foundation of the team, and it doesn't appear that Valanciunas is going to be able to make it to the NBA soon enough to develop with the team's current core.
BISMACK BIYOMBO - F/C - 6-9 - Congo
Biyombo is the sleeper of this draft. To some, he's the next Ben Wallace because of his tremendous shot blocking prowess, to others he's just another low-skill, undersized centre - the kind that gets executives fired. However, if his age proves to be legit (it's still in question) and he proves in work-outs that he's more than just an energy player, he'll get some serious looks. In a draft this weak, teams are going to look for prospects that can do certain things really well today, while while allowing them to round out their games over time. Biyombo could benefit more than any other prospect from that thinking if he can prove to teams he's worth taking a gamble on over the next five weeks.