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Ready to Draft

From a draft perspective, the Raptors are back in their sweet spot. Having the fourth overall selection a year ago and prepping for it in Tampa, Florida was strange on both fronts. Having a pick that high was good, working out of a foreign location not so much.

The last time the Raptors had a top five pick prior to that was in 2011 when they selected Jonas Valanciunas. For most of those years since, Toronto has grown accustomed to selecting in the 20s, in fact, it happened five times in the last seven drafts they’ve been a part of (there were no picks in 2018). This could’ve been the third time in the last nine years that they selected 20th in the draft and the fourth time in franchise history but there was that Goran Dragic trade with the San Antonio Spurs for Thaddeus Young that involved the teams trading picks and so the Raptors now pick 33rd.

Part of why Toronto was comfortable moving several spots down the draft is because of the depth in the 2022 draft making for, in their eyes, not enough of a discernible difference in the quality of players that might be available.

“With this year’s draft, after the top 15 players, it’s pretty wide open in terms of where guys might slot in,” Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel Dan Tolzman said. “Especially at the time of the trade deadline we just didn’t know if the guys that we would be looking at in the early 30s would be that much different than the guys in the early 20s. We still feel fairly confident that guys that we liked at the time around there, we might still be able to get them in the second round.

“I wouldn’t say it changed much, if anything, it kinda almost added players we have to consider now because it would have been a lot easier to narrow our focus if we were 10 spots higher than where we are right now.”

Having a larger pool of players to sift through would have been all the more challenging if the Raptors were still faced with the circumstances of the last two years. Instead, having pre-draft workouts at the friendly confines of the OVO Athletic Centre has proven to be a morale booster amongst the staff just by virtue of having regular day-to-day routines in bringing players in and working them out and the relative ease of administrative responsibilities.

There’s a benefit on the analytics side of things as well, as a screen devoted to Noah Basketall data – an analytics based shooting system using real-time feedback that was used throughout the regular season – was being put to use on the court with all the tracking devices required to run the program already in place. This wasn’t something the Raptors had available to them in the hotel ballroom that served as a makeshift practice facility in Tampa. As witnessed over the course of the 2021-22 season, shooting is a major weakness and needs to be addressed either through free agency or the draft, if not both.

One obstacle does come with the reality that players who aren’t fully vaccinated are unable to cross the border for workouts due to covid restrictions still in place.

“It seems like more of a pre-draft process concern for us just for the sake of getting players into Toronto for the workout,” Tolzman said. “It hasn’t been so much a sort of thing that would dictate our actual draft pick.”

There have been several workouts conducted at the Raptors’ practice facility in batches of six in recent days and Wednesday’s group included Justin Champagnie’s twin brother Julian, who fits along the lines of what the Raptors like in terms of a 6-foot-7 frame and 6-foot-10 wingspan. He’s completed three years at St. John’s scoring just under 20 points per game in each of the last two seasons while shooting 35.6 percent from deep.

While Julian may be further down the list of players who are expected to be available in the Raptors’ range, Toronto doing its due diligence is a big part of getting the pick right. Even at the draft combine, the front office made the effort to at least get to know some of the most talented players expected to go at the top of the draft and at least establish a relationship. Those players usually won’t come in to workout for a team expected to pick so far out of their range, which also shows that while having the pre-draft workouts are essential, it’s only one cog in the wheel of information gathering that transpires well before and leading into the draft.

“The film study is the main part of it but then lots of background work, lots of calls being made beforehand, taking in the medical team and their recommendations and feeling on different things that we can have on these guys,” Tolzman said. “The workouts are a great part of the draft process but they’re a very small part of the draft process just because of that reason of knowing that we’re not gonna get everybody in.”

When the Raptors are finally on the clock on June 23, there are players who you might not have expected to drop who do, players who were projected to be available in their range who go early, and possible deals on the table, too. Tolzman finds that they’re usually in a good place if they get their priority list somewhere between five to 10 players and so that way players can be swapped in and out depending on what happens in real time before any last minute discussions to make a final commitment.

Finding that jewel in the rough can be a fool’s errand at the best of times and the Raptors’ recent history shows there’s a range of outcomes picking beyond the top 10. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, Malachi Flynn, and Bruno Caboclo were all picked somewhere between 20-29 and this pick is even lower.

After the rapid growth of the past season, uncovering someone who could be a more immediate contributor would be a huge boost. Is there a difference maker to be found? When it comes to the draft, time is the most crucial measure.