By: Daniel Reynolds and Chris Dagonas
To the surprise of no one, Anthony Davis (The Brow!), was selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Also as expected (despite Michael Jordan’s best cagey efforts), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went second, Bradley Beal went third and so on. You can check out the full draftee list here. I’m interested to see how Harrison Barnes will turn out, and whether or not Andre Drummond will reach his potential. Royce White’s story is intriguing, and who isn’t excited to see Sacremento’s front court of Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins? The Celtics even drafted a huge Brazilian guy! Looking at the list again though, it sure feels like there were few astonishing moments. Sure, Perry Jones III almost fell out of the first round after being projected in the top 12 on some draft boards, and yeah, maybe Dion Waiters went slightly higher than people thought; but as per usual, given the amount of pre-draft forecasting that goes on these days, things generally went as expected.
And then there are the Raptors.
Full disclosure: I don’t know much about Terrence Ross. But, straight up, when ESPN commentators are at a LOSS FOR WORDS after a team picks a player, it does not bode well. Apparently, Ross is one of the better shooters in the draft and respectably athletic (which always seems like mild praise. Shouldn’t all NBA draftees be athletic?) but still, the general tone surrounding his pick was: The Raptors desperately reached.
Now, when I talk about the NBA draft, I admit I can’t talk in absolutes. I can’t pretend to be an expert at the college game and usually don’t know anything about most of the prospects until draft night. What I do understand, however, is how to read between the lines of the player scouting reports presented on TV. The ESPN crew of Jay Bilas and Chris Broussard are not there to trash 20 year old kids on live TV. And while Jeff Van Gundy may let loose a few barbs, it is always fascinating to hear these guys talk around weaker players. They’ll always mention a player’s strengths, acknowledge some weaknesses, and follow with a quick, “he needs to improve that, and he will!”. For them, the draft order has already been decided, generally, in some fashion from #1 out to #30, and possibly beyond. Players may slide down in the draft due to whispered injury concerns or questions of character, but surprises are usually rare. This implies that surprises to the broadcast table are almost always mistakes.
So that brings us back to Terrence Ross. After the pick, there was a weird silence and confused chatter. It was immediately clear that the Raptors had done something unexpected. For a team that already has perception problems (metric system? cold? different money? I have to play with who?!), this is a huge concern. The Raptors have now made picks in the last four draft since snagging Andrea Bargnani with the #1 pick in 2006. Their picks have been solid yet mostly unspectacular. The wild card, the gleaming hope for the team now, is their 2011 pick, Jonas Valanciunas. I think it unfortunately says a lot about Terrence Ross when, on draft night, the best thing that can be said is that the player his new team picked the year before is really good.
And I don’t want to get too dramatic here but the last time the Raptors made surprising picks they snagged Rafael Araujo, Charlie Villaneuva and Joey Graham.
Well, there you have it. The Toronto Raptors have once again made the most unlikely, unprecedented, unpopular pick in this year’s draft. If you ask Brian Colangelo, he’ll tell you that a scoring 2 guard was the Raptors’ number one priority. With Calderon returning (again) to run the point, and an interesting front-court of DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani and any one of Ed Davis/Jonas Valanciunas/Amir Johnson, where the team really needed some help was at the shooting guard spot. So, as most teams would do, they made a list of the guys they wanted to fill that spot. Then watched as everyone above Terrence Ross on that list, got drafted in front of them. Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and even Harrison Barnes (a SF who could have
pushed rotated DeRozan to shooting guard, if we could have landed him.) So we went with who was left, a theme that seems to run through Raptor draft history. Other than the Bargnani pick, the Raptors never seem to land the guy they really wanted. What most often happens, is they need a position that is not very deep that year, and are left with the guy who, as Daniel mentioned above, is “athletic” or “hard-working”. J-Val might work out OK, but Enes Kanter and Tristan Thompson will probably be better. I won’t moan the selection of Ed Davis too much, but some other big men drafted earlier that year: Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe.
In short, luck has not always been in the Raptors’ favour. When they have a high pick, there is not LeBron James or Kevin Durant waiting around to be chosen. When they have a lower pick, they miss out on some particularly notable top players.
So what’s a GM to do? A trade-up could have been an option, especially since there was not a lot of hype over anyone outside the top 3. Perhaps Beal was out of the question, but Waiters or Barnes will probably have longer, more solid careers as contributing pieces of very good teams. Or, the Raptors will have to try to put together a roster with these types of players for a few more years, until perhaps one season, the stars will align, and their downward spiral will cross with the upward arc of a young, super talented, college star, who dreams of paying higher taxes and enduring frigid winters in Toronto (OK, maybe not all that) but signs with us anyway, and leads the Raptors back to relevance for the first time since Vince Carter’s name was spoken around these parts with wonder, not derision.
Ross, meanwhile, may end up as a Ray Allen type, popping 3’s for a terrible team for many years, and then signing on with a Super Best Friends roster (i.e. Boston Celtics, Miami Heat) to lend a hand in winning a championship. Or he might be a Michael Redd, popping 3’s for a terrible team for many years, then getting injured/getting ignored, and disappearing into the netherworld of European basketball.
Well, at least we didn’t land some slow-running, weak-jumping, lazy fat guy. I’m looking at you, Araujo.
Random follow-up question: The Blazers drafted a centre (Meyers Leonard) so should we just assume he has weak legs, or a weak back, or weak game, or just wait and have it proven to us? In the hard luck world of basketball drafts, the Blazers are unquestionably the most hard-luckiest.