By Jeff Wong
Tuesday, May 23 is fast approaching, and Toronto Raptors fans everywhere are hoping the draft lottery balls will bounce in their favor. Odds of getting the first overall pick aren’t impossible and, some say, that pick could turn a franchise around. But can this year’s draft do that much for the Raptors?
It has been over a decade since then-general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Cliff Fletcher, dismissed the importance of the entry draft by saying, “Draft, schmaft.” Should the Raptors’ current GM, Bryan Colangelo, feel the same way, considering the amount of youth already on his team?
The short answer is no. While Colangelo has said that he would consider trading away his first pick of 2006 in a package for more mature talent, he also seems to be planning to use his two second-rounders. The advantages of second-round draftees are (1) a shorter financial commitment and (2) the option for them to develop in Europe while retaining their rights, as was the case with Matt Bonner. Therefore, there is no obligation here to fill more roster spots with inexperienced youngsters.
If Colangelo fails to find a suitable trade for the first pick, I fully expect him to choose the best player available. A team ranked 26th overall in wins can always use some depth. Besides, there should be opportunity down the road to trade excess for areas of need.
As this past week’s workout schedule shows, the Raps were assessing point guards and centers projected as second-rounders and bubble first-rounders. It usually takes longer for one’s and five’s to mature; they require more experience and the right situation to shine. Therefore, I don’t expect any of these players to make an impact anywhere in the NBA this coming season but, in a few years’ time, some of them could conceivably crack someone’s starting rotation.
All good teams invest in the draft, whether they pick first or last. The potential is there to get someone useful even with the 35th or the 56th pick, as proven by Manu Ginobili (1999, 57th overall), Michael Redd (2000, 43rd), Mehmet Okur (2001, 38th), Carlos Boozer (2002, 35th) and others.
Can the Raptors use a Boozer-type big man? Yes. Could Taj Gray become that one day? Maybe. And that might make him good enough to draft.