We’ve been keeping a close eye on college basketball this season. It’s not even because we really like it because that’s not the case. It’s just a little depressing to watch games knowing that about eight of the players are going to be good at the NBA level. No one will ever be able to convince us that it even holds a candle to college football.
This year is different, though. Not because the pretentiousness of college basketball has changed, but because there are players worthy of attention. There are most definitely Anthony Bennett types in the college game right now, but they aren’t being talked up and showcased as “the next.” The players that have this designation are legit and everyone in the league knows it.
Some of our earlier columns this season stated that if the Toronto Raptors had dreams of trading Rudy Gay and getting a bevy of draft picks in return, it was going to be a big disappointment for them. We said that they were going to be hard pressed to land a first round pick at all and if they were able to extract one, it wouldn’t be in the upcoming draft. Then we said the same thing about their attempts to trade Kyle Lowry. Not only were they not offered a first round pick in this draft, the Knicks were hesitant to give up a first in the near future, either. Even though this draft is going to be good—both top heavy and probably the deepest in some time—we figured it would be overvalued by the league’s GM’s. As the trade deadline came and went with Evan Turner as the headliner, it appears that we were correct, and the basic assumption, or blind hope, is that teams have to hold onto these picks with their life, because even something outside the top 10 could result in a franchise altering player.
While it’s hard to imagine seasoned front office executives being that presumptuous, that seems to be the prevailing thought going into the summer. It’s why no first round picks were traded at the deadline this season, even with some noteworthy names to be had. That’s no coincidence, and it should tell you all you need to know about the league’s perception of this class. With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at two of the most devoted NBA draft sites and see what projection they have for the Toronto Raptors. After all, a pick in the high teens or early twenties is still apparently good enough in this class to treat like gold.
In their updated mock, NBAdraft.net has the Raptors picking 20th, which would normally be almost an afterthought, but again, this class is different. Their projections have them taking a point guard, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. They appear to be operating under the assumption that the Raptors are going to need a replacement for Kyle Lowry, which is unfortunate, but probably the safer one. Payton looks like he has talent but is raw. Having an excellent backup point guard like Greivis Vasquez would allow the Raptors to make a move like this, hoping it pays big dividends. In this mock, though, the two players following that pick are James Young from Kentucky and Aaron Gordon from Arizona. Those are big names and talented freshmen. If this group is indeed that deep, the Raptors will have options, and not just guards, in that scenario.
With the 20th pick in the draftexpress.com mock, they have the Raptors taking a bigger name guard in Michigan’s Nic Stauskas. While we would have labeled Stauskas nothing more than a potential spot up shooter at the next level if we watching last year, he has evolved this season and we have seen a noticeable improvement in his ability to create his own shot. We think he would be a solid, if not spectacular, addition for the Raptors. Maybe not in a franchise altering way, but we don’t think there would be much bust potential there.
Looking at these mocks, though, and a few others, one thing stands out to us that we haven’t seen in other draft years. The depth is bunching players together. One mock will have a guy at the 10th pick, the next at the 17th, and the next at the 25th. Payton was No. 20 in one and No. 40 in the other. Stauskas was No. 20 in one and No. 36 in the other. Arizona star Aaron Gordon is No. 8 in one and No. 21 in another. That never happens. There are obviously talented players in abundance, even if the top six or so seem to be set.
So maybe these GMs are right. Or maybe they just can’t help not being in on the action when the action is supposed to be this good. If the Raptors end up with a pick around No. 20, it is obvious they will have options and players more talented than anyone would usually find late in round one. We hope they can let the draft come to them instead of needing to reach for a replacement point guard. That would make the day far less exciting.