Scott and I were both busy with some March Madness stuff for the website this weekend, so we weren’t able to post game recaps or immediate reaction to the Jose Calderon injury.
Between the two losses to the Pistons and Bucks and Calderon’s sprained ankle, Tank Nation must be celebrating, as the Raptors are now holding down the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
With the Raps wallowing near the bottom of the standings, a stacked draft coming up in June and a tournament featuring the best collegiate players in the U.S. now just days away, this seems like as good a time as ever to get into prospect watch here at RaptorBlog.
So without further ado, here are the players you should be looking out for and keeping an eye on during the tournament if you’re a Raptors fan.
Anthony Davis – Power Forward – Kentucky
The undisputed No. 1 pick in this year’s draft is an absolute treat to watch. Davis has a very good offensive game and a dynamic one for a player his size, which should only continue to expand. As for his defence, it’s among the best I’ve ever seen at the collegiate level. I haven’t been this sold on a college player in a long time. At his peak, Anthony could have Chris Bosh’s offence with Marcus Camby’s defence, which would be a scary combination. Some people think I’m crazy, but I maintain that Davis will be better than Blake Griffin, certainly not flashier or more exciting, but just a better all around basketball player. How’s that for an opening?
If the Raptors win the lottery, fans would appropriately riot if Davis was passed over.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Small Forward – Kentucky
MKG is a tough three who can lock down on defence and has an evolving offensive game. The whole “high ceiling” phrase gets tossed around a lot around this time of year, but it’s perfectly acceptable in the case of Gilchrist, whose ceiling is seemingly getting higher with each game he plays. He could go as high as No. 2 in the draft as of right now. A strong tournament could cement that position for him.
Terrence Jones – Forward – Kentucky
Jones has seen his draft stock slowly decline over the last year or so, but he’s played well down the stretch for the No. 1 overall Wildcats, averaging 13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks over his last 13 games. If Terrence can continue to build on those numbers and help Kentucky put a title run together, he may find himself back in the top-10 and back in a team like the Raptors’ sights.
Jeremy Lamb – Shooting Guard – UCONN
Lamb isn’t necessarily one of the guys near the top of my list in terms of who I want the Raptors to draft, but he is an explosive scorer who should have a good NBA career. If the Raptors end up with a pick in the wrong half of the top-10 or if Lamb goes all Kemba Walker on us in the tournament, I’d think he is still very much an option for Toronto.
Perry Jones III – Forward – Baylor
Much like Terrence Jones, Perry Jones III has seen his stock plummet over the last year. At one point last season, he was seen as a potential No. 1 pick in 2011, now some people have him outside of the top-10 in 2012. The problem with Jones isn’t his talent level or his potential (both of which could have him easily in the top five), it’s his consistency and his focus. One night he’ll go out and look like a future superstar, another night he’ll give you just a handful of points and a few rebounds. If Perry the good shows up in March and leads the Bears on a solid run, he could be back in the discussion among Raptors fans. If Perry the bad shows up, he may not be in any of the top-10 teams’ discussions.
Austin Rivers – Guard – Duke
Rivers has been a little disappointing in his freshman season at Duke, but as we saw in the Blue Devils’ stunning victory over rivals UNC earlier this year, Doc’s son can erupt at any moment. If he erupts in the tournament, he could take Duke all the way and earn his place among the top 10. If he remains a question mark, so will his lottery hopes.
Bradley Beal – Shooting Guard – Florida
Beal and Jeremy Lamb are constantly jousting in mock drafts for the title of best shooting guard available in this year’s draft, with many recently giving Beal the slight edge. Beal averaged 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals as an 18-year-old (he’ll turn 19 the night of the draft), and he should only get better from here on out. If someone demanded an answer out of me right now between Beal, Lamb and Rivers, I’d have to give the nod to Bradley’s more complete package.
East Region (aka Canada Region):
Kris Joseph – Small Forward – Syracuse
Joseph highlights a promising group of Canadians who could go anywhere from the mid-to-late first round to the second round in the 2012 Draft. The Montreal native led the No. 1 seed Orange in scoring with 13.8 points per game and if he’s available, could be a solid pickup for the Raptors in the second round. To be honest though, I don’t think he’ll still be around in the second round, so the Raptors would likely have to acquire a late first round pick if they really wanted Joseph.
Myck Kabongo – Point Guard – Texas
I was more excited to see how Kabongo would fare in the NCAA than I was about any other Canadian this season. While the final product left us with some questions in terms of how NBA-ready the Toronto native is, no one doubts that Kabongo will one day be a solid NBA point guard. If he can dazzle scouts in the tournament and is committed to declaring this season, I still see him as a non-lottery first round pick, so like Joseph, I doubt the Raptors have a shot at him without acquiring another first rounder.
Andrew Nicholson – Power Forward – St. Bonaventure
No Canadian baller was as much of a revelation in the NCAA as Andrew Nicholson this season. The guy put St. Bonaventure on his back in the Atlantic-10 conference championship game, posting a beastly 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks to lead the Bonnies to a conference title and a tournament berth. I don’t think there is any debate as to who the highest Canadian taken would be if the draft were to take place right now. From the Raptors’ perspective, Nicholson would fit perfectly into Dwane Casey’s intense, defensive systems, but again, it’s hard to see Toronto being able to select him in the second round, and as good as he’s been this season, Nicholson is still not a top-five or top-10 kind of talent.
Robert Sacre – Centre – Gonzaga
Sacre could hear his name called in the second round of the draft, but I would assume the North Vancouver big man would have to play his butt off to get on the Raptors’ radar in the early portion of the second round. Toronto will have a logjam of bigs heading into next season, so they would likely have to be blown away by a prospect if they were going to take a centre in the second round, as opposed to the first round, where the take the best player available mantra should prevail.
Kevin Pangos – Point Guard – Gonzaga
I haven’t seen a single mock draft that has Pangos declaring after this season, and no one expects him to. But whether he declares in a year, two years or more, whenever it is, I’m confident that the Newmarket, Ontario native will be a highly sought after young floor general. If you’re under the impression that point guard of the future is a position the Raptors will fill in the 2013 NBA Draft, then that’s reason enough to keep an eye on Kevin Pangos in this tournament.
*For my complete look at the large group of Canadians in this year’s tournament, check out my post in the Tourney Central blog.*
Jared Sullinger – Power Forward – Ohio State
The lone non-Canadian Raptors fans should be looking at in the East region is Buckeye Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is a fundementally sound big man with a highly touted character. While I doubt he is one of Toronto’s top choices, he definitely remains a possibility if the Raptors fall back a few spots from where they are currently projected to pick. I’m still not sold on Jared as a can’t miss NBA prospect, but I also think you could do a lot worse than a future frontcourt of Sullinger and Valanciunas.
Harrison Barnes – Small Forward – North Carolina
Sometimes you just have a gut feeling, and for some reason, I feel (secretly hope) that Barnes could be the next Toronto Raptors draft pick. He’s expected to go anywhere between No. 2 and No. 6 in the draft, and will be fighting it out with Kentucky freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to see who goes before the other. Barnes is an exceptional scorer who can pretty much fill the basket from anywhere on the court, including from NBA three-point range. While Gilchrist is seen as a better defender, Barnes is the better offensive option right now, as well as the player most scouting reports list as the more NBA-ready prospect. His performance in the tournament will no doubt shape whether he goes before or after Gilchrist.
Kendall Marshall – Point Guard – North Carolina
It took me a while to warm up to the idea of Marshall as an NBA lottery pick, but this is a pass-first point guard who legitimately seemed to get better as the season wore on. He’s never been much of a scorer, but Kendall finished second in the NCAA in assists per game (9.7) and also finished with a very high assist-to-turnover ratio (3.46) for a young point guard. His limited offensive game is masked by the fact that he rarely seems to take a bad shot or force the issue. Marshall has really grown on me, and if you like to watch a pure point guard do his thing and make his teammates better, check out the Tar Heels in the Midwest region. If the Raptors can somehow land another first round pick, I’d definitely be content with drafting Marshall.
John Henson – Power Forward – North Carolina and Tyler Zeller – Centre – North Carolina
Henson really reminds me of Ed Davis, though his numbers (13.8 points, 10 rebounds) suggest he could be quite the upgrade over Ed. As for Zeller, he’s another high motor big man that has been climbing the charts all season, with some mock drafts now slotting him as high as No. 5 or No. 6. Again, I don’t think either has the ceiling that the Raptors would be looking for in the top five, but if the Raptors fall backwards in the top 10, one of these big Tar Heels could be heading North.
Thomas Robinson – Forward – Kansas
Talk about a high motor big man. Outside of Anthony Davis, there may not have been a better player in college basketball this season than Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson, and there certainly wasn’t a harder working player. After failing to average eight points or seven rebounds in his first two seasons at Kansas, Robinson exploded on to the scene with averages of 17.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and a block to lead his team to a 27-6 record this season. Most impressive and heart-wrenching of all, Robinson did all of this after losing both of his grandparents and his mother (His mother died suddenly of a heart attack at just 37) in a one-month span last year. It’s not fair to others to rate a player higher because he overcame personal loss, but it should definitely be noted in terms of Robinson’s character. I’m not sure how many 20-year-olds would have been able to perform at such a high level given the circumstances.
I believe Robinson could be the second best player in this draft class, and he should definitely be a top five pick.
Damien Lillard – Point Guard – Weber State
Ok, so Lillard isn’t in the tournament, and he won’t even be in the NIT (his Wildcats will play in the CIT, as in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament), but if you believe what the scouts and mock drafts are saying, then this is the best point guard coming out in 2012. While Kendall Marshall is a pass-first floor general, Lillard is a scoring machine that finished second in the NCAA with 24.5 points per game on an impressive 47 per cent shooting, including 42.5 per cent from deep. He also got to the free throw line eight times per game, good for third in the country. When he’s putting up numbers like that, how could anyone blame the 21-year-old for thinking score-first. Personally, I’m going to try to find some decent quality web streams of this guy in action.
Notable Absentees from my list:
Andre Drummond – Centre – UCONN and Marquis Teague – Point Guard – Kentucky
Most mock drafts have Drummond going No. 2 behind Davis, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Of the 10 or 11 times I watched a Huskies game this season, I don’t think I ever came away thinking that he looked like a surefire NBA big man. Couple that with the fact that the Raptors just drafted a centre, and I can’t see them taking an unpreditable one in the top five.
As for Teague, some still have him in a lottery position, but I wasn’t that impressed from the Kentucky product when I watched the Wildcats play. If the Raptors were to get another first round pick or find themselves in a position to select a point guard, I’d much rather have Lillard, Marshall or Kabongo at this point.
As you can tell by the volume of players I have my eye on, I agree with the general assumption that this is the deepest draft in years, and possibly even the best draft since 2003. While not every player on this list would be in Toronto’s plans in the top five or even the top 10, a lot can change depending on whether the Raptors make any moves between now and Thursday’s trade deadline, whether they make any moves between the end of the season and the draft, and of course, whether they acquire any additional picks.
Hopefully by the time the nets are cut down in New Orleans, we’ll have this list narrowed down.
“Like” RaptorBlog on facebook to stay up to date with any and all Raptors-related news and commentary.