The Toronto Raptors struck gold back on June 22 during the NBA Draft Lottery when Lady Luck smiled upon them and they jumped up to getting the No. 4 overall pick after coming into the lottery with the seventh-best odds to win it.
The draft is about two weeks out now, going on July 29. Armed with pick No. 4, the Raptors could conceivably make a rapid return to contention after a dreadful 2020-21 campaign because the top of this year's draft is absolutely loaded with talent.
There shouldn’t be any fear from fans heading into this draft because all potential options look good for the team, but in a perfect world, of the top-six projected prospects, who would fit best with the Raptors?
Here’s a quick examination of that exact question.
Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham (2) reacts to hitting a three-point basket against Oregon State during a men's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament. (Paul Sancya/AP)
As the projected No. 1-overall pick, odds are the Raptors won’t get a chance to select Cunningham unless they trade up for him somehow.
Still, there’s no harm in dreaming because Cunningham is six-foot-eight, 220-pounds and has a wingspan exceeding seven feet. Additionally, he has a strong handle with both hands, is among the best passers in this draft class and is decent shooter already who’s ever-improving.
And did we mention that he’s all that and he’s a point guard?
Given the uncertain nature of unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry and whether he’s returning to the Raptors or not, drafting a player with the potential to be a bigger, longer and stronger version of him wouldn’t be a bad idea at all.
The one knock against Cunningham is because of the team he played for in college, Oklahoma State, it’s not all that clear how good a player he is in the pick-and-roll yet, but given his natural play-making skills that we did see from him, chances are he’s probably not bad at making those kind of reads already.
Cunningham is the projected No. 1 pick for a reason and if the opportunity – somehow – is there for the Raptors to get him, they absolutely have to do it.
USC forward Evan Mobley (4) drives on Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) during the first half of a men's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021. (Paul Sancya/AP)
With the dream scenario out of the way, let’s turn our attention to something that’s a little more possible for the No. 4 range the Raptors are picking in.
Depending on the big board and mock draft you look at, Mobley looks to be projected to go either No. 2 or 3. But since both the Houston Rockets (holders of No. 2) and Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3) have some talented centres on their roster already – Christian Wood and Jarett Allen – there’s a chance Mobley could fall to No. 4. Outside of a miracle Cunningham acquisition, that would probably be the Raptors’ best-case scenario.
Mobley is a seven-foot centre with incredible balance, agility and coordination that allows him to put the ball on the floor like a guard with the kind of shot mechanics that suggests he’ll become a reliable shooter from the mid-range and the three. Additionally, he’s got killer shot-blocking instincts and his seven-foot-four wingspan allows him to get to just about anything at the rim and earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honours this past year.
From a Raptors perspective, Mobley would be a match made in heaven because Toronto could really use an upgrade at centre.
Mobley would instantly slot in as the Raptors’ starting centre for his shot-blocking and rim protection alone, and given his natural athleticism and improving shooting, seeing what he could do alongside Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam as a lob or pop threat in screen actions is mouth-watering to think of.
The only downside is because he’s just a 20-year-old centre, there might be some growing pains involved. His potential might not begin to really be seen until maybe Year 2 or 3, something that may not play well with a Raptors team that appears to still be in a “win-now” mode.
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the first half of a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game against UCLA, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy/AP)
Of the top prospects in this draft who are the most “Raptor-like,” Suggs probably tops the list – and with the way mocks have been going, there’s a good chance he’ll be there at No. 4.
If you watched the NCAA Tournament this year, then you know that Suggs is a powerful, ultra-competitive lead guard with a knack for making clutch shots and succeeds on defence despite not having the most desirable measurables.
Sounds a lot like Lowry and VanVleet, no?
As mentioned before, Lowry’s free agency is something to keep in mind, and taking a player like Suggs with all the kind of intangibles and natural leadership skills that the Raptors love would be a great option for them.
Assuming Lowry is not with the Raptors next season, having Suggs would still allow VanVleet to play off the ball as he’s done so well over the past couple seasons starting alongside Lowry.
And, more than anything, that bulldog mentality and approach to the game that Lowry brought to Toronto could be semi-replaced and cultivated with Suggs in the mix. His best asset, as cliché as it may be to say, is the fact he’s a winner and will do everything he can to put his team in the position to win ball games.
Former Prolific Prep guard Jalen Green, now of the G League Ignite, may be the best pure scorer in the 2021 NBA Draft class. (Gregory Payan/AP)
Originally projected to be picked No. 3 or 4 overall, Green is looking like he might be more of a lock for No. 2 to the Rockets now as they look to try to replace the explosive scoring prowess of James Harden.
Green is no Harden, but at six-foot-six with dynamite-like explosive athleticism and the potential to be a legitimate three-level scorer, he’s not a bad looking alternative.
From a fit standpoint, Green wouldn’t be the best on this Raptors team as he wasn’t the most efficient scorer while playing for the G League Ignite and he also isn’t the most sound defensively. But as far as raw talent goes, he might be the top player in this year’s draft.
He took on the G League as a just-turned-19-year-old playing against grown men, and he was able to get his game off despite looking like a twig out there compared to some of the dudes trying to guard him.
His natural quickness and athleticism allowed him to get to almost any spot he wanted on the floor.
So while he wouldn’t exactly be the best fit possible for the Raptors, Toronto is also a team that likes to acquire the most talented players possible at the spot they’re picking at. If Green is there at No. 4, they could do worse.
Jonathan Kuminga of Team Ignite handles the ball against the Delaware Blue Coats. (Juan Ocampo/Getty)
Though he’s struggled at times, Siakam is still the Raptors’ best player because of his combination of size, length, quickness and ball skills.
Now, have you ever wondered what the Raptors might look like if they had two Siakams?
Should the Raptors take Kuminga, the answer to that question might be answered.
Kuminga is a six-foot-eight, 220-pound combo forward with great athleticism and quickness, and some major potential to be a multi-positional defender and a nightmare matchup offensively if he improves his jumper.
This scouting report is nearly identical to that of Siakam’s with the one major exception being that Kuminga won’t turn 19 until October and is much further along in his development right now than Siakam was coming into the league as a 22-year-old.
The Raptors helped turn Siakam into an all-star, and Kuminga is very similar to Siakam both in terms of style of play and the skills they bring to the table. Normally doubling up on players with similar skills isn’t the smartest idea, but in this case, having two pairs of Swiss Army Knives sounds pretty intriguing.
Florida State guard Scottie Barnes (4) drives past Michigan guard Chaundee Brown, rear, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (Darron Cummings/AP)
Though he started just seven games in his lone season at Florida State, Barnes is commonly projected as the No. 6 prospect on most big boards, but there are scenarios out there that have the Raptors taking him at No. 4 because of his unique skill set.
The best way to describe Barnes as a player is he’s a two-way point forward, similar in the vein of a player like Draymond Green.
Though he was listed as a six-foot-nine forward, Barnes played point guard a lot for the Seminoles this past season when he got in the game and is among the best play-makers in this year’s draft. As well, he defended all five positions while in college and probably has the strength to bang with some small-ball centres in the NBA right now.
From a Raptors’ perspective, drafting a forward who can help facilitate offence and can guard like hell sounds quite promising. The only knock against this possible fit for Toronto is outside of his play-making, Barnes looks pretty limited offensively right now.
He has unorthodox shooting mechanics that don’t lead to great results and isn’t really an above-the-rim kind of player who might be able to make up for that with his ability to slash.
Another issue might be the fact that the Raptors, as a team, don’t have a ton of great shooting on the roster, something that would limit his passing’s impact as he’s not a threat to shoot himself.
The fit’s not perfect for Barnes and the Raptors, but he does bring a unique skill package that nearly no other prospect has, and the Raptors have been known to take some swings in the draft here and there if they think they’re getting the best available player.