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Raptors use busy draft week to demonstrate commitment to Barnes


TORONTO – The draft was the Raptors’ first opportunity to add talent around their franchise player, Scottie Barnes, since agreeing to a maximum contract extension with him earlier this week, and they certainty didn’t waste it.

In Wednesday’s first round, they used the 19th overall pick on Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter, a 19-year-old combo guard who – like Immanuel Quickley – should complement Barnes with his ability to play on or off the ball and knock down shots.

With the first pick of Thursday’s second round they selected Jonathan Mogbo, a versatile big man out of San Francisco, but crucially, a long-time friend of Barnes.

Born in the same year – they’re both 22 – Barnes and Mogbo grew up together in West Palm Beach, Florida. They are former AAU teammates, having shared the court since they were in fourth grade, and still train together in the summertime.

Safe to say that Barnes approves of the pick, and if there was any doubt, the all-star guard immediately posted an Instagram video celebrating at Mogbo’s draft party.

The Raptors didn’t realize how close they were when they started scouting Mogbo, according to general manager Bobby Webster. They became enamoured with the player first, but admittedly his relationship with the team’s core piece doesn’t hurt.

“Around the league a lot of guys grow up playing with each other, and I think those relationships are fun to see from afar, but you can probably imagine the basketball [piece] has to work and we have to like him as a player,” Webster said. “By doing that it creates a basis for that relationship to be fun, and I’m sure they enjoy it, but he has to fit as a basketball player first.”

And, clearly, they believe that he does. Like Barnes, Toronto’s fourth-overall pick in 2021, Mogbo has a unique skill set. With a solid 6-foot-6 frame and massive 7-foot-2 wingspan, he’s got the size of a big but the mobility and playmaking of a guard – the benefit of a late growth spurt. Like Barnes, he has sky-high defensive potential but comes into the NBA as a non-shooter.

“It probably feels like a bit more of a Raptors pick,” said Webster. “An athletic wing who can do a little bit of everything. There’s probably some development curve for him, shooting-wise. But I think, physically, [he has an] NBA body… He can really run, can really jump. So that felt like us; the makings of a two-way Raptors wing.”

It's been a busy draft week for the Raptors and a lucrative one for Barnes, one that’s definitely worth celebrating. On Monday, he agreed to sign a maximum rookie-scale contract extension with Toronto – a deal that will be made official next weekend and could be worth up to $270 million over five years. With it comes the inherent pressure to build a competitive team around the young star, while also keeping him happy.

With the NBA launching its new two-night draft format this year, the Raptors – who had acquired Detroit’s 31st-overall pick from New York in the OG Anunoby trade – were in the unique position of being on the clock for nearly 17 hours. In addition to using the extra time to make their pick, which turned out to be Mogbo, they were able to field more calls than a team normally would in between rounds.

It resulted in one of the first trades of the day, a three-player swap with the Sacramento Kings. In exchange for Jalen McDaniels, who’s coming off a disappointing first and now only season in Toronto, the Raptors acquired a former lottery pick in Davion Mitchell, as well as sharpshooting forward Sasha Vezenkov, the 45th-overall pick on Thursday and Portland’s second-round pick in 2025. What’s the catch? In the deal, Sacramento sheds nearly $9 million in salary for next season, ducking the luxury tax in the process.

It's not the type of transaction that’s likely to move the needle in a significant way, but it’s a creative use of the cap flexibility that they inherited around last season’s trade deadline.

Mitchell hasn’t developed as Sacramento imagined he would when they selected him ninth overall in 2021, Barnes’ draft class. He showed some promise as a rookie, averaging 11.5 points and 4.2 assists while averaging nearly 28 minutes of playing time. But as Sacramento improved its fortunes, Mitchell has seen his numbers and playing time drop in each of the past two seasons – he averaged 5.3 points and 1.9 assists in 15 minutes last year. Still, he’s just 25 and the Raptors are hoping that there’s untapped potential that can be unearthed in their development system. At minimal cost (McDaniels), he’s worth the flier as a redraft candidate. At worst, he gives Toronto some much-needed perimeter defence and a back-up point guard.

Vezenkov, a Bulgarian forward who started his professional career in Europe, brings shooting, having hit 38 per cent of his three-point attempts as a 28-year-old rookie with Sacramento last season.

They used Sacramento’s 45th pick to add another guard, six-foot Jamal Shead, a four-year player out of Houston and the reigning national defensive player of the year. Reminiscent of Fred VanVleet, Shead – who turns 22 next month – is said to be a high IQ playmaker and leader, and a pest on the defensive end.

Before the afternoon was done, they also acquired the 57th pick from Minnesota – presumably for cash considerations or a future second-rounder – and used it on another familiar player type: Ulrich Chomche, a long but raw centre from Cameroon. Chomche, the first player to be drafted from NBA Africa Academy, stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and, at 18, is the youngest prospect in this class.

Maligned as this 2024 draft has been, the Raptors came out of it with six new players – four rookies and the two vets from Sacramento. All the while, they maintain their prized flexibility. Their three second-rounders aren’t bound to guaranteed contracts. They can offer those guys a multi-year deal, and look for them to do so with Mogbo. They can sign them to a two-way contract, which should be the case for Chomche.

Currently, they have nine players under guaranteed contract for next season. Their first-round pick, Walter, will make it 10. Quickley, a restricted free agent who will almost certainly be retained next week, is the 11th, and if they pick up the team option on Bruce Brown ahead of Friday’s deadline, it’ll be 12. After the recent release of Mouhamadou Gueye, they currently have one of three two-way spots filled (D.J. Carton). Javon Freeman-Liberty has a partial guarantee, while Gary Trent Jr., Jordan Nwora and Garrett Temple hit unrestricted free agency over the weekend. They can open up just over $20 million in cap space by declining Brown’s option and letting Trent walk – money that can be used in free agency or to absorb salary in a trade like they did on Thursday. They could also keep Brown and look to trade his expiring contract over the coming weeks, or failing that, ahead of the trade deadline.

That two of the Raptors’ four draftees are teenagers, and a third (Mogbo) is still very raw, speaks to where they are in their building process. In isolation, these were small, subtle moves that may take years to bear fruit, if they do at all. In totality, it was a productive 48 hours for a team in need of young talent to help complement Barnes, appease him, and push the rebuild forward.

“We need to add some more young core pieces,” Webster said. “And they’re all not going to hit but we need to start having those in the pipeline. And so, the more picks, the more assets, the more flexibility, that’s how you start to re-stock the cupboard as we go through this rebuild.”