Brian Colangelo, GM of the Toronto Raptors has some serious decisions to make before the 2011 NBA draft on June 23. One decision, I think he should be weary of making is one that involves European players. Can the Raptors really afford to draft another player from Europe? According to a number of mock draft/basketball websites – ESPN, Hoopshype and nbadraft.net – the Raptors are being slotted to select either Jan Vesely or Jonas Valanciunas. The few websites that predict the Raptors will pick a non-European player, mostly suggested Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight. I am more inclined to agree with draft projections involving these two point guards.
Selecting Valanciunas or Vesely is not the way to address the needs of the team. From a public relations standpoint, the addition of another European player might not sit well with the loyal fan base. Fans are weary of experiments like Rafael Araujo, who is often used as the poster child of the failed Euro-experiments of the team. Although the team is obviously going through a rebuilding phase, selecting a player that might have to stay overseas for a couple of years does not really improve the team.
The Raptors have two major needs. The first is a true-big that loves to bang in the paint and can play post defense. In the 2010-2011 season, the team was ranked 21st in the league in rebounds per game. The team average of 40.32 RPG was better than that of the Boston Celtics’ 38.79 RPG. While the Raptors can stand to improve in the rebounding department, the fact that the Celtics made it to the second round of the playoffs with a lower rebounding average shows that the Raptors have other pressing needs.
I believe that the team’s second and more pressing need lies in the backcourt. Even though it is important to have a low post player, improving the backcourt is more crucial for the future success of the franchise. Starting point guard Jose Calderon’s inability to stay in front of his man has been, what I would describe as the gateway to the defensive liabilities that plague the team. I am not knocking Calderon’s ability to command the offense and distribute effectively to his teammates. His 2010/2011 averages of 10 PPG and 9 APG proves this point. I think Colangelo should revisit the options available to him if they traded Calderon for a veteran post player or maybe for another draft pick in this draft.
This brings me back to the two players I think Colangelo should look to draft, if they are still available on the board. Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker are two point guards with different skill sets, but both have the potential to have solid NBA careers. Knight is a one-and-done player that played for the Kentucky Wildcats, where he posted averages of 17 PPG, 4 APG and 4 RPG. Even though he started the season slowly, Knight managed to show the promising game that was expected of him. He is 6’3, very athletic and is probably the best defensive point guard in the draft. His strengths are his athleticism, size – an NBA ready body – quickness and jump shot. My knock on his game is that he sometimes disappears for stretches. This is a weakness that can be addressed through more experience playing the game at the next level.
Walker had a remarkable season and led the Connecticut Huskies to a victory in the NCAA championship game. He averaged 23 PPG, 4 APG and 5 RPG. Walker is considered more of a heady point guard that makes his teammates better. I beg to differ on this notion. From the several games that I have watched, I consider him to be a guard that looks to score almost every time he has the ball and only passes when he has to. His height, 6’1, might be a considered a weakness but I don’t see it as such.
If the Raptors were lucky enough to find both of these players available on the draft board, which one do I feel they should pick?, I think the sure bet here is Brandon Knight. His size, shooting ability, defensive willingness and ability along with his strong NBA-ready physique, make him a better prospect than Walker and put him right behind Kyrie Irving as the second-ranked point guard in this draft.