If you’re looking for another post on Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve come to the wrong place. Scott, Tas and I have all provided our takes on the pick, and I’ve already completed my rant against foolish prejudice fans. The only news to pass your way regarding the Lithuanian big man is that a buyout agreement was reached on Friday, which will see the Raptors’ fifth overall pick spend one more season in Europe.
Now on to the matter at hand, which is this post. In the last week or so, I’ve been looking at the Raptors’ draft history and the subsequent success or failures of those draft picks, and I have come to a conclusion: this could be the first time in franchise history that the Raptors are actually building through the draft…you know, the way it’s supposed to be done. It won’t be the first time the Raptors have tried, but it looks to be the first time they will stick to the plan.
Seriously, look back at the 18 first round picks in Raptors franchise history, and show me one time the team was actually built through a concurrent number of picks. You can’t.
The first three first round picks in Raptors history had the team looking like a model expansion franchise to start out, but things faded quickly. The trio of Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby and Tracy McGrady should have gone on to build a legitimate championship contender in Toronto, as the team would have possessed an elite point guard, a true centre with a defensive/post presence and an explosive perimeter scorer. Unfortunately, Stoudamire lasted less than three seasons in Toronto, Camby made it through two, and T-Mac bolted after his third season in Canada.
After that initial era in Raptors history, Toronto entered in to the dark ages of draft picks. Sure, the draft-day trade that launched Air Canada Carter in 1998 also launched the franchise’s first and only real period of (moderate) success, but what followed was Jonathan Bender (who never played a game for the Raptors and turned into Antonio Davis), Aleksandar Radojević, Morris Peterson, Michael Bradley and another draft day trade that turned Kareem Rush into Chris Jeffries.
I’m not at all knocking the acquisitions of Vince Carter, Antonio Davis or Morris Peterson (I’m not even knocking Radojevic, Bradley or Jeffries, as this post is not about past draft failures), but I am showing you that a plan to build through draft picks never panned out. Vince lasted six-plus seasons as the face of the franchise, but during his time in Toronto, Mo-Pete was the only Raptors draft pick Vince was growing with.
Then comes the Chris Bosh era, where after Bosh in 2003, the Raptors followed with Rafael Araujo in 2004 and Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham in 2005. Again, Bosh, like Carter lasted for seven seasons as the face of Canada’s lone NBA franchise, but Araujo lasted just two seasons in Toronto while living with the label of “biggest bust ever,” Villanueva had a phenomenal rookie season and turned into T.J. Ford after that debut season, and Joey Graham never played more than 20 minutes per game for the Raptors over four seasons.
The Raptors’ first and only first overall selection, Andrea Bargnani in 2006, was supposed to be the fellow homegrown draft pick to evolve with Bosh, but as we are now painfully aware, that never panned out either. Toronto didn’t have a first round pick in the 2007 NBA draft, and used their 2008 pick (Roy Hibbert) for the Indiana Pacers as part of a deal to acquire Jermaine O’Neal.
That brings us to the current era of Raptors draft picks, where things finally start to get interesting again. DeMar DeRozan, who some suggested had the most upside from the 2009 draft class, landed in Toronto as the ninth pick. Then in 2010, with the very real possibility that the team would lose Chris Bosh, the Raptors were lucky enough to have Ed Davis fall in their lap at number 13.
DeRozan and Davis appear to be getting an opportunity to establish the future core of the Raptors talent-base together, and when you add in Bargnani and Valanciunas (whether you agree with those selections or not), the Raptors now have four players aged 19-to-25 who were all selected in the lottery over the last five years, including three 19-to-22-year-olds who were drafted in the last three lotteries.
Dare I say it, but the Toronto Raptors are building a young core of talent through homegrown draft picks.
All of us have been around basketball, and sports in general, to know that draft picks and youth don’t necessarily mean anything. The scouting department has to do its job and the young talent has to improve and develop.
But after 16 years of commitment issues and mostly quick fixes, Raptors fans should at least be excited about the possibility of this interesting “building through the draft” plan.
Forgive us for the over-excitement – the whole idea is a little foreign to us.