Raptors Want Barnes Or Best Available Player
It was a busy week in Toronto as a parade of future first-round, second-round and unlikely-to-be-drafted prospects strutted their stuff in front of the Toronto Raptors’ coaches and management.
“We saw a lot of kids in here, probably 25 to 30 people in through this gym and now we have to sit back,” said executive vice president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski. “We have a couple more workouts before the draft and we have a lot of studying to do and analyze what is going to happen.”
The players generating the most interest in Toronto were Kendall Marshall, Damian Lillard, Tyshawn Taylor, Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Ross, Harrison Barnes and Scott Machado, as the Raptors are already flush with big men for next season.
Toronto has identified their needs as point guard and small forward. Head coach Dwane Casey is making specific requests to obtain a shooter and someone who can create off the wing. President and general manager Bryan Colangelo has never wavered off his earlier comments that the team is looking for a point guard of the future.
It is no secret that the Raptors want to upgrade the small forward position and this is one of Colangelo’s primary free agent and trade targets, but there is one player in this draft who could fall to the Raptors on draft night that could fill this need.
Barnes’ agent has decided his client will not work out against other players and the Raptors are hoping this causes him to fall to No. 8.
“No one knows and everyone plays these games and everybody postures in the league,” said Stefanski about the draft. “I would say there is a handful of kids that definitely won’t get to us and you saw in the gym that there is a chance he (Barnes) could be sitting on the board with other players, but we’ll have to see on draft night.
“One-on-zero, it is very difficult to make an assessment. The kid (Barnes) has played two years at a high college level and went in there with a huge reputation, but didn’t do it until the end of his freshman year when he kind of figured it out. Last year he had a good year, not to the expectations of a high school player-of-the-year, but he came in here and he is a real nice young man. He has good size for his position, but again you can’t tell anything when he is not going up against anybody in a one-on-none workout. So you base your work on we have seen him numerous times.
“We watched an unbelievable amount of tape on him and all his teammates.”
Barnes tested out above expectations at the NBA Draft Combine. His 38” no-step vertical was 2” higher than what Vince Carter did in 1998 and allows Barnes to reach 19.5” above the rim without a running start. The Raptors can only hope Barnes slides on draft night.
The Raptors brought in a number of point guards that could be selected from the lottery to outside the draft altogether, and taking a point guard with the eighth pick is being considered.
“I think that could be found with both picks,” said Stefanski. “In the first round, there are point guards out there, as well in the second round depending what happens. Jose Calderon is in the last year of his contract so (we need) someone behind him. We like Jose also, so it wouldn’t be the worst pick to bring a point guard in here because we definitely need depth at that position.”
This is not a point guard heavy draft and the talent level is not as high as in recent years. However, there are point guards the Raptors have shown interest in.
“This year, I don’t think there is as many point guards so that’s why the guys we had in this gym today, Lillard and Marshall and a Tyshawn Taylor are at a premium because it is not a strong point guard year,” said Stefanski.
“Marshall did a nice job. As you can see his basketball I.Q. is very, very good and he sees the floor and that’s with three guys.
“It’s a lot more difficult when the player (Lillard) goes one-on-none and you are not having any competition going against him, but we have seen him numerous times live at Weber State.
“Tyshawn Taylor, we interviewed him in Chicago too. He is a very nice kid, out-going. He has a great personality, up-beat, played at a great high school for a great coach and the four years with (Coach) Self at Kansas. He is well coached and well prepared.
“We have had four of the top point guards in this draft through our gym so we have a real good feel of all four of those point guards.”
The point guards Toronto invited all looked good at their workouts, but that doesn’t assure them of an early trip to the podium on draft night.
“There is not a huge (difference between them),” said Stefanski. “There is a separation possibly, but I can’t divulge that, but I wouldn’t say it’s huge.”
Perhaps as interesting are Stefanski’s comments about Machado after watching the Iona College point guard work out in Toronto.
“Scott led the country in assists and obviously sees the floor very well,” said Stefanski. “He has things people will give him knocks for, but he is a solid player in this draft and if you need a point guard, he is a guy you have to look at.
“He has good quickness. He handles the ball extremely well. His shot is not where it has to be. People in this league are going to lay-off of him and give him that jump shot until he shows that he can make it, but the kid has proven he can run a basketball team. He did it at Iona, which is not the level that say Tyshawn played at Kansas or Marshall played at Carolina, but he did a nice job.
“I see the same scenario with Lillard and Machado that there are questions out there that are going to have to be answered by the personnel people before they make that selection.”
It sounds like the Raptors believe they could find the point guard they need later in the first round or even in the second round of this draft.
While the Raptors may be hoping for Barnes, they realize they may have to take the best available player on the board. Attempts to trade their first round pick for a starting small forward at the draft may never materialize and a lottery pick is too valuable to use on a lesser player that fills a need.
“At eight you always like to say, you hope at eight there is a player you like who fits a need, but if there is not that player, but a player who is stronger or higher (rated), we’ll take that player regardless of not filling a need,” said Stefanski.
Fortunately for Toronto, there are players who should be available who fill a need on the Raptors, even if that need is not at the position they would like to fill. Austin Rivers can create off the wing and Jeremy Lamb is the shooter Coach Casey was asking for at his end-of-season press conference.
“Austin has a good body and is more athletic than I thought and he really can compete,” said Stefanski. “He has a terrific cross-over dribble to his left hand to get to the basket. He is quick off the bounce. He is going to be one of the top players picked from this draft.
“(Lamb) He can shoot the basketball. More reserved than other kids, Lamb is quiet, more reserved, a nice young man. He has a good personality where he would be able to fit in with no problem in our locker room.”
Lamb hit over 60 percent of his two-point attempts last season and has NBA three-point range. Lamb is the natural shooter Coach Casey wants.
“Jeremy Lamb is in our mix,” said Stefanski. “That’s all I’ll say.”
After spending last season watching his team lose games in order to create salary cap space and future flexibility, Colangelo is ready to make deals at the draft and in the coming free agent period. Unfortunately, it takes two teams to make a deal and Toronto has to prepare for the draft assuming any number of possible scenarios could be played out.
“The one issue that we have here is that we have three picks in this draft and we have Valanciunas coming over,” said Stefanski. “No coach wants four rookies on his team so that’s an issue that we have to look at and there are various ways if you move (picks) or make trades that we could reduce that number.”
If the Raptors retain their lottery pick, they will be selecting Barnes or the best available player and that best available player could be Lamb. With their next pick, Toronto will be able to find a point guard to play behind Calderon, but whether or not the best available player and their second pick is around for training camp will probably depend on Colangelo’s ability to make a deal.