When the 2014 draft rolls around on June 26, for the first time since 2008 the Toronto Raptors will likely not have a lottery pick. Having made the postseason after a five-year drought, barring a trade, Toronto is slated to pick 20th.
It’s not often that the Raptors are situated here. In the 2008 draft, they selected Roy Hibbert at 17, but this was part of a prearranged deal with the Indiana Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal. In 2002, Toronto selected Kareem Rush No. 20. Rush was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in similar fashion. In 2001, the team selected, and kept, Michael Bradley at 17.
In 2000, the Raptors were not a lottery team. Slotted 21st in the first round, they wound up drafting one of the most beloved players in franchise history when they selected Morris Peterson out of Michigan State University.
While there will be plenty of movement up and down the draft boards leading up to the big night, the Raptors will have an opportunity to get a solid player with their first-round pick. Widely considered to be one of the deepest classes in recent years, there will be multiple players available to fill some of Toronto’s needs.
There have been many legitimate NBA players selected with the 20th pick over the years.
In 2012, the Denver Nuggets — under general manager Masai Ujiri — selected Evan Fournier there. Less than a year later, he was playing meaningful postseason minutes for them. A decade ago, the Nuggets selected Jameer Nelson, who would go on to be named an All-Star. Dahntay Jones went to the Boston Celtics with the 20th pick in 2003 and spent his 10-year career aggravating his opponents with his aggressive defence.
The Cleveland Cavaliers unearthed a gem in 1996 — one of the greatest classes of all time — when they drafted big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Recently having his number retired by the Cavaliers, Ilgauskas’ jersey joined another Cavs player who had originally been selected 20th overall: Larry Nance, the Phoenix Suns’ pick in 1981.
Many general managers will say they will select the best player available, rather than trying to find the best fit for their team. Toronto’s position provides the front office options without the pressure that can accompany having to get a top pick right.
With work to be done in free agency — Ujiri has said that re-signing Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez will be top priorities for the team — and the draft occurring before any moves can be made, there are many directions the team could go with their first-round pick this year.
A perimeter defender would be a nice addition to Dwane Casey’s system. After struggling to contain Joe Johnson in Toronto’s first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, adding another wing with size and quick feet would be welcomed. An athletic power forward eager to play defence, grab rebounds and use his fouls wisely would bring front-court depth to the roster, too.
Toronto fans have long swooned over the thought of having a Canadian suiting up in a Raptors uniform. While that almost certainly won’t be the case for Andrew Wiggins, all but considered a lock at one of the first three picks in the draft, sharpshooter Nik Stauskas and point guard Tyler Ennis will also be available in the first round. Although neither is expected to be around when the Raptors are on the clock, stranger things have happened. The team could also try to move up if the right deal is available.
With lots to decide and plenty of workouts to take place before a draft-day strategy unfolds, know this: In a draft steeped with talent, with a young core already assembled, Toronto could do worse than owning the 20th pick.