With only four days to go until the NBA draft, the dust has not settled one bit with regards to what is going to go down. Even at this point, Kyrie Irving going number one overall is still only 'probable', and the rest of the draft after that is as muddled as it was two weeks ago. Nonetheless, here is a quick look at where things appear to stand for the Raptors as the head into one of the busiest weeks in franchise history.
Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight
Here's what I find amusing about the situation between these two (the two players I think sit atop Toronto's draft board for the fifth pick, for what it's worth): all through this draft process people talk about how Walker is a volume shooter, that he's not a point guard, that he's a bench player, while for Knight people talk about how, with time, he'll be a pure point guard, that he'll learn to balance his scoring and his passing and that he's a sure-fire starter. Huh?
Everything with Walker comes down to the things he can't do, whereas everything about Knight is about the things that he'll learn to do. As of today, Walker is easily the better player. He has a better feel for the game, a more robust offensive repertoire, and he averaged more assists and a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Knight last season.
When people talk about him, though, they talk about a "chucker", even though he connected on a higher percentage of shots than Knight. No one seems to think that Walker will grow as a player, just like no one seems to think that Knight will be as shaky down the road as he is today. It's the classic double-standard of the draft, where actual proven talent loses out to perceived down-the-road ability nine times out of ten.
Look, either one would make for a perfectly good pick for the Raptors in this decidedly imperfect draft. Both have their flaws, but both would offer very crucial talents to the Raptors roster on day one, before they've even been seasoned by the NBA.
For Walker, he'd bring a desperately needed ability to create offence for himself and others, he'd bring great quickness to point of attack and his leadership abilities would fill a major void both in the locker room and out on the court.
For Knight, his on-the-ball defence, combined with his size, would create some serious resistance against opposing guards, his three-point shooting would be a godsend for the league's worst three-point shooting club and his open-court speed would blend perfectly with DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt.
Sure, one wishes both were more natural point guards, but in a league where the term 'point guard' is becoming more indefinable by the day, either one would make a solid addition to the young corps that Bryan Colangelo and Co. are assembling in Toronto.
Enes Kanter and Jonas Valenciunas
A few weeks ago, these two looked like they were very much in play for the Raptors pick, but as we get closer to the draft, it seems like they've fallen out of play a little bit. The biggest problem facing both of these European big men is that neither one looks to be particularly adept at the defensive end of the court, and drafting either one would be a rather regressive move after reportedly hiring head coach Dwayne Casey for his defensive expertise.
Five years ago, the Raptors drafted Andrea Bargnani for his offensive talents while hoping that his defence and rebounding would develop as the years went by. As we all know, that did not happen, and that may make Colangelo gun-shy when it comes to finding a big man to pair with Bargnani, especially since he's already made it clear he's going to be shopping for a defensive big man in free agency.
While both have other red flags (Kanter having not played competitively in two years and Valanciunas's unresolved buy-out issues), defence is probably going to be the issue that keeps both out of Toronto on draft night.
In most drafts, Leonard would be a borderline lottery player that some team looked really smart for taking as a high-value pick. He defends, rebounds, has a great NBA body and can jump out of the gym. His offensive game is still a work-in-progress, but the rest of what he does is so solid, most will live with the tradeoff. The problem is that in this draft, people aren't looking at him with the fourteenth or fifteenth pick, they're looking at him from five-to-eight, and that's a big difference.
Could Leonard help the Raptors? Probably, with the hesitation only coming from how badly Toronto needs better three-point shooting on the wings and, at this point, Leonard fails in that regard. However, I don't know that what Leonard brings is so staggeringly different than what the Raptors could get in free agency or via a trade.
Small forward is such a dicey position to try and fill in the lottery, and it is not Toronto's biggest area of need right now, that I don't think Colangelo is going to settle on Leonard on draft night. There is a lot to like about him, but at five it may just be the wrong fit.
Bismack Biyombo and Jan Vesely
These are two 'dark horse' names that have been tossed around in association with Toronto's pick, but I would be surprised if either one was getting a serious look at five this close to draft night. Instead, I'd wager that both are being heavily scouted as the Raptors pursue a second lottery pick in anticipation of Thursday's draft. The Raptors have some assets (young players, Bargnani/Calderon, the remaining Traded Player Exception, cash) to use to secure a second lottery pick, but to give up any of those assets they'd have to be sure that their draft target would be worth the added expense.
Of the two, Biyombo makes a lot more sense for the Raptors. While both guys bring with them high bust potential, at least Biyombo does so with the team looking for the next Ben Wallace or Serge Ibaka. Biyombo has no offensive game to speak of, but his defensive game, as well as his shot blocking, are ready for the NBA today. Taking him fifth would be too big of a risk because he may never develop enough of an offensive game to stay out on the floor, but as a secondary lottery pick he'd be well worth the gamble (depending on what that pick cost the Raptors to acquire).
As I said two weeks go, I'm less impressed with Vesely, though taking him in this scenario is a lot more palatable than taking him at five. Taking him would basically equate to taking a chance that his size (6-11) and jaw-dropping athleticism eventually turn him into a productive NBA small forward. If he can put all of his natural gifts together, he could be the steal of this year's draft, but he's given no indications thus far in his European career that such an outcome is guaranteed, so any team interested in him needs to be very confident in their coaching staff and developmental infrastructure.