TORONTO — Despite looking to have slim pickings with picks No. 29 and No. 59 in this year’s NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors think there’s a lot of talent to be found at those spots and are doing a lot of homework right now to cover their bases before the Nov. 18 date.
“It seems to be a very balanced draft this year,” said Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman in a conference call with the media Wednesday, “which for picking almost smack dab in the middle of it, at 29, we feel pretty confident that we could be looking at 50 different players maybe just for that one pick because we have really no idea who could go at the 20 picks in front of that pick, or the 20 picks after, and it’ll be anywhere in between.
“We have interest in guys in that whole range because there’s a lot of uncertainty just because of the typical draft process not being the same… usually there’s a lot of risers and fallers based on whether it’s the draft combine, individual workouts, three-on-three workouts, all that kind of stuff, that isn’t happening so a lot of the same names that we usually would have maybe bounced around on our list a little more frequently… they’re still very much in the mix and a handful of those guys will probably end up going well before our pick and we’ll be looking at some names that we may not expect at both of our picks.”
Though the great NBA bubble experiment has come to a close, the effects of COVID-19 are still impacting the league in big ways, most notably right now in the fact that the draft has been moved to November from its usual June date and the pre-draft process has gone entirely virtual, creating hurdles not seen before.
Thankfully for the Raptors, however, they haven’t been too disrupted by their new reality.
“It’s very different than what we’re used to, I can tell you that,” Tolzman said of the workflow happening now. “It’s one-of-a-kind and it seems like it’s never-ending, to be totally honest with you. It’s one of those things where we are doing what we can within the guidelines that the league has given us, and we’re making the best of it. Thankfully, our scouting department, our front office is designed to not be too thrown off by these new ways of doing things.
“It’s just it seems like forever since we’ve seen these players. They might be completely different from the last time we saw them playing in March. We’re basing a lot of these decisions on extensive film work, discussions as a staff, and a lot of background digging on players to get as much info as we can to make an educated decision come draft night. So it’s gonna look a little different, the process leading up to it, but hopefully when it’s all said and done, looking back on it, it won’t be much different in terms of outcome of it.”
The Raptors take a holistic approach to their entire draft process and rely on data they’ve accumulated on players over the span of multiple years rather than just looking at a players’ most recent season. So it makes sense when Tolzman says his team is well-equipped for these extenuating circumstances. Still, he does admit that not being able to see players live face-to-face for interviews or to bring them to Toronto to work out has made the process more challenging than before.
“It’s unfortunate for that side of things to kind of miss out on that opportunity. We’re still getting some one-on-one time,” Tolzman said. “We’re doing a lot of Zoom interviews. Of course, it doesn’t recreate the inter-person discussions, but we’re doing our best to at least get to know them through those sorts of interviews, but then also reaching out and talking to people within their circles to just kind of learn as much as we can.
“More than anything, a lot of times what we do is we’ll talk to guys early in the pre-draft and they’ll talk about all the different things they’re working on, what they’re hoping to change in their game as they transition to the NBA, and usually the workouts, the visits, that’s where we get to see that first hand and see all the transitions they’re making. We’re not getting a lot of that this year…
“I’d definitely say it’s not something that’s going to make it impossible for us, but it’s just a valued part of the process that we just won’t have this year.”
Another complication for the Raptors, in particular, Tolzman mentioned was the fact the team puts a lot of emphasis on player development and utilizes tools like Summer League and the G-League to help develop young players recently drafted or signed. With no concrete information about when next NBA season is going to start, those development opportunities are also on hold, adding another variable for the Raptors to considerer heading into this draft.
“It’s definitely something that we’re trying to figure out right now,” Tolzman said. “It’s going to impact how we address the two-ways, the Exhibit-10, G-League kind of mentality big time because we just don’t know… what those sorts of deals that these players will be on, how it will impact their ability to go and continue to develop.”
With that said, however, Tolzman is confident the team’s player-development program will still be able to help whoever the Raptors bring in from the draft with little to no drop-off.
“Honestly, we feel really comfortable with whoever we target and bring in,” he said. “We know that our development program is in place regardless of what type of deal they’re on or what the status is within the organization, but we know once guys get with us they’ve shown enough potential to draw the interest in the first place. We just feel comfortable that as long as we bring in the right types of guys that are wired the way all the guys we’ve had success with are, regardless of what the season actually brings, the development work is still going to be there, all the hours of work are still going to be put in and we fully trust our development staff to work with these guys.”
And it’s probably for this reason that the Raptors are so confident picking where they are right now and why they’re looking to cast their net as wide as 50 possible players they could be interested in. No matter who they acquire, the team’s player-development program has proven to be one that can turn prospects into good NBA players with names like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell being shining examples of that.
So while this is a draft that may lack the kind of star power of previous ones to draw casual eyeballs, Tolzman’s assessment that this is a balanced pool of players seems very fitting and explains why he suggested that even players who go undrafted could get plenty of attention from around the league.
“There’s going to be a lot of rotation-level players that come out of this draft, kind of all across the board, and I think probably more than usual the undrafted market is going to be huge because normally players that maybe early on were expected to go undrafted, they worked their way into the draft picture and those workouts and those opportunities for them to do so just didn’t happen this year. So a lot of these guys that have maybe been earmarked unfairly as an undrafted player, they’re going to end up on that market and you’re going to see guys come out of nowhere and be contributors next year.”
Some of the players that may get overlooked are the Canadian contingent, which includes point guard Karim Mane of Montreal, shooting guard Nate Darling of Bedford, N.S., and power forward Isiaha Mike of Toronto. Unlike 2019’s record-setting draft for Canadian basketball, the crop of Canadians hoping to have their name called on draft night in 2020 is much smaller in both number and profile.
“I think the few [Canadian] players that are in the draft are interesting and we always like to make sure that we get to know all of these guys and we don’t want to miss anything with any local guys because we kind of pride ourselves on having a pretty thorough program in terms of keeping guys developing with some local ties because it makes it easier for them to get comfortable and develop as young players as well,” Tolzman said.
“So, there’s definitely some interesting players who we see with the right development, the right program put in front of them they could absolutely turn into legitimate NBA players.”
The Raptors have never drafted a Canadian player in the franchise’s history. Given the kind of draft this is, this year might not be a bad one to cross that particular bit of Canadian basketball history off of the club’s list.