Barring some unforeseen bad luck in the lottery the Toronto Raptors will have one of the top five choices in the upcoming NBA draft.  As such the NCAA tournament is a tremendous opportunity for the organization to check out how the top prospects fare playing the other top prospects.  And occasionally a good player elevates himself into that pantheon with a stunning performance—and that was Derrick Williams of Arizona (left). A top fifteen choice coming into the tournament Williams can now easily be projected as the top prospect before the draft.

Williams was the best player through four games and inserted himself into consideration for the top pick along with Kyrie Irving from Duke, Harrison Barnes from UNC and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.  There is a possibility that Sullinger may not declare for the draft in order to return to school for another attempt at a national championship.  With the Raptors presently in the fifth draft position (and trying to move up by simply playing poorly) that decision hurts—there is a good possibility that each of their three choices could be gone by the time they select.

The Raptors, if they finish with the fifth worst record, can drop as low as eighth in the draft if the lottery proves to be the ultimate demon.  Therefore the Raptors would follow due diligence and rank those eight players in order going into the draft lottery—and the result of the lottery will dictate their actions afterward.  Winning the lottery certainly eases any concern—and in this draft, for the Raptors, finishing in the top three would make their collective lives that much easier.

Freshman Williams looks a lot like Andre Iguadala—and wouldn’t that be ironic considering how long Raptor fans have lived in regret after then GM Rob Babcock took the big pylon, Rafael Araujo ahead of the strikingly athletic Iguadala.  And ironic as well since Philadelphia had let it be known throughout the league that Iguadala was available for not much more than the acceptance of his contract—and the Raptors expressed interest.  But the 76ers became a playoff team this year and Iguadala has proven to be a valuable member of the team so the possibility of movement has lessened.

Since the Raptors will likely chose no later than fifth there is no reason to look past the five possible selections, with Sullinger holding the wild card at this point.

Freshman Irving is a lightning quick point guard with strong skills and leadership tendencies—learning under Mike Krzyzewski, the man who will next season become the NCAA’s all-time winningest basketball coach, is certainly a benefit.  Irving is strong, a natural point guard, likes to defend and is a quality teammate—and the Raptors are certain that he would fit nicely into the student role behind teacher Jose Calderon.  With Irving on board the Raptors then would not need Jerryd Bayless who—though he has struggled trying to learn the point guard
position—is still held in high regard among NBA teams.  The New Orleans Hornets traded a first round pick this past off-season to get him—only to package him off with the heavy Peja Stoyakovic contract to the Raptors early in the year.

Another freshman Barnes is a quality scorer at the small forward position.  Though slight of frame—mostly because of his age—he is skilled and athletic.  Barnes can rebound in traffic and he can step out and hit from the outside.  Like Williams he has the potential to be the lead player on an NBA team, but initially it would be better if Barnes played a secondary role—at least until he matured a little more.  Therefore the Raptors could pair Barnes with James Johnson and turn a long standing wasteland at small forward into a tremendous strength.

The trade for Johnson—incidentally—may have seemed like a minor move at the time but it could prove to be a master stroke for Bryan Colangelo.  Johnson was on the Raptor radar in the DeMar DeRozan draft two years ago and went seven places after DeRozan to Chicago.  This year the Bulls are a championship contender and wanted to use some cap space to sign a role player that could help them win a title—and were willing to move Johnson and his contract to free up enough money to sign Rasual Butler as a shooter off the bench.  It doesn’t take much common sense to realize that Johnson would be two years ahead of whichever player the Raptors would get late in the first round of this year’s draft. (A second first round pick courtesy of Miami from the Bosh sign and trade).

Johnson is an ideal fit for this club—he is big and strong, athletic and takes great joy in playing defense, rebounding and setting up his teammates.
If the Raptors are able to take Irving then they can fill the second small forward spot from among a number of free agents—one of whom will be their present back-up Sonny Weems.  They can trade Bayless and perhaps acquire the player they need most—a tough veteran interior defender who uses his fouls efficiently to protect the basket.  With Bargnani now moved away from the basket on defense most of the time and with a good stable of young bigs, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis, the Raptors have some depth up front though they need more time in the NBA to learn its intricacies.  The team needs a veteran inside to show the young players the way to play the NBA game.

The Raptors have four weaknesses—two major and two minor.  Their major flaws are the aforementioned interior defender and also their inability to open up defenses with their outside shooting.  They are the worst three point shooting team in the league—a far cry from the organization record that nearly reached 1000 consecutive games with a successful three point basket.  But this team is easily slowed late in games as opposing teams simply stack the paint and dare the Raptors to beat them from the outside—something they have proved incapable of doing all season.

Any one of Irving, Barnes or Williams would be tremendous additions.  They are each quality athletic young men who can defend and shoot.  With the continued development of DeRozan, who is two three pointers per game away from being a 22 point per game scorer, he is on the cusp of joining the elite guards in the game.

The two minor flaws are the inconsistent play of the back-up point guard and the continued hole at small forward.  Linus Kleiza was signed in the off season with the hope he could be that perimeter scorer and small forward and Bayless was acquired to hopefully fill the back-up point guard role.  Kleiza was inconsistent and then was hurt and won’t be back until the half way mark of next year—so he is essentially out of the picture.  Bayless, a combo guard at heart but too small and not a good enough shooter to be at the two guard, has struggled to adapt to his new role.  Irving would rectify that problem and in two years, when Calderon’s contract is up he will likely be ready to take control of an NBA team.

Williams, Barnes or Irving—the Raptors would prefer not to have to think about anyone else.

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