Raptors Notebook: Bhullar and Early in T.O.

Head and shoulders above the competition while at New Mexico St., Sim Bhullar earned himself a workout invite. (Photo: Young Kwak/AP)

Some notes from the Toronto Raptors pre-draft workouts today:

Target Position

One of the clear areas of need for the Raptors remains the wing, where the team’s depth is in serious question (isn’t that the case every year around this time?), especially considering the likely departure of John Salmons and the mystery of whatever happened to Landry Fields.

So with a number of viable candidates expected to be available at no.20 (the Raps’ draft position), it should come as no surprise that Toronto has brought in a ton of small forwards over the past two weeks during the team-facilitated workouts.

And while it might have lacked the collective star power of some of the other groups that have come through the ACC, today saw an interesting crop that included Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, Syracuse’s Jerami Grant and Michigan star Glenn Robinson III.

Early’s ability to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor and his solid shooting range make him well-suited to fill a meaningful bench role in the NBA from the opening tip of his career. And he proved over the past two seasons at Wichita State that he is wired to win—the kind of thing that can impress front office folk, particularly if that comes across in the interview process as well.

Grant is an athletic freak, the kind of player who can really open eyes in a workout setting. But his basketball skills remain a work in progress and while he was a YouTube star in his two years at Syracuse, he’s still far more of a project player, one that many teams outside of the lottery will be happy to take on.

Robinson III obviously brings an NBA pedigree to the court—his dad was the one they called Big Dog, a former first-overall pick and all-star with the Milwaukee Bucks. But while pops did damage with his mid-range game, the younger Robinson relies more on his ability as a slasher and saw his long-distance shooting numbers take a dive this past year. Still, he has elite NBA-calibre athleticism and on the right team could develop into a huge asset at the three for years to come.

All three are players the Raptors will be taking a serious look at come draft day, and to be able to compare them alongside each other is clearly a major benefit at this stage in the process.

Canada Day… Again

A trio of Canadian bigs were also invited to work out today—Toronto’s Sim Bhullar (via New Mexico State…more on him in a bit), Waterloo’s Murphy Burnatowski (via Colgate) and Kingston’s Owen Klassen, who is a product of Acadia’s impressive basketball program out east in the AUS.

While the NBA may be a long shot for the group, particularly the latter two, it’s great to see the Raptors bring in local talent for the experience of working out for a first-rate coaching staff at the sport’s highest level, as well as the opportunity to turn some heads and etch their names in the minds of the Raptors front office—if not for June 26, then for some point down the line (don’t be surprised if some of the Canadian talent garner invites to the Summer League later this summer).

Altogether, that makes eight Canadians stepping through the Air Canada Centre doors wearing the Raptors’ practice jerseys thus far, and to a man they seem unsurprisingly excited for the chance.

The Sim Bhullar Experience

Bhullar is one of the more intriguing draft cases this year, a total risk/reward player.

On the one hand, despite decent ball skills and court vision, he’s still looked at as a fairly raw player. And despite improving his conditioning to the point where he played serious minutes for New Mexico State during this past season (Bhullar has reportedly dropped 60 lbs. over the last few years to reach his current weight of 350), his ability to stay on the floor at the next level remains in question.

But to see Bhullar in person the obvious becomes… even more obvious: He’s huge.

Alongside Jamal Magloire in drills, he made the Raps’ staffer look like Nate Robinson, and a seven-foot-five giant who has been playing the game for years at a high level and is comfortable with the game is a coveted asset when building a basketball team.

It’s important to remember that Bhullar’s pedigree is quite rich—from years spent with the powerhouse CIA Bounce AAU program out of Brampton, Ont., to Huntington Prep (the wildly successful prep school that also produced Canadians Andrew Wiggins, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Montaque Gil-Caesar) in West Virginia to the highest level of amateur ball in North America. He has benefited from learning under experienced coaches and playing alongside some of the best talent in his class.

Also, according to those who have seen his development over the years, Bhullar is in the best shape of his life after spending time with the renowned Impact Basketball program in Vegas. Add that to his Yao Ming-like potential* to help the NBA (and the franchise that drafts him) continue to break through to the Indian market, where the league is already flourishing, and there just may be a team out there willing to take a flier on the big man.

*That’s where any and all comparisons to Chairman Yao end, by the way. And even then, it’s admittedly different when a countryman is drafted first overall versus late in the second round, where Bhullar is projected to go. But still, it’s worth noting.

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