2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors could become one of the most fascinating teams to watch out for in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery
Rucker: The 2023 NBA Draft Lottery is shaping up to have plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding each NBA organization. But personally, I believe that the Toronto Raptors are one of the most underrated “case studies.”
Toronto headed into the 2022-23 season as a team that was looking to take another stride forward in their development. After a rollercoaster of a season, the Raptors found themselves at the tail-end of the lottery. Former head coach Nick Nurse has moved on and has recently agreed to terms to become the man in charge for the Philadelphia 76ers.
While Raptors fans are still patiently waiting to find out who their next head coach will be, the Raptors still have some intriguing pieces on their roster. Pascal Siakam is coming off a sensational season. OG Anunoby is still a big asset on this team and could be a popular name in trade speculation if Toronto elects not to give him an extension. Fred VanVleet is expected to potentially hit the free agent market.
But the main storyline here is the development of Scottie Barnes. After an impressive rookie campaign, Barnes showcased some flashes during his second season, but this will be the year when a sizable leap should take place.
Metcalf, there are so many promising pieces on this roster, meaning that not only could the Raptors shake things up in the offseason, but they could also go in so many different directions in this Draft.
Where are you at with this roster? Do you think it’s out of the question that they could have a bit of a “bounce-back” year? Or are we trending towards course-correcting the developmental stages?
Metcalf: The Raptors are so tricky because I don’t know what their plan is, and the more concerning part is that this team doesn’t seem to know what direction they want to go in either. They could blow it up and rebuild around Barnes while getting a lot back for Anunoby and Siakam. They could also chalk this year up as a down year and push for homecourt again next year. Not having a coach signed yet is really concerning.
For the last few years, their whole team-building mantra has been this Project 6’9” idea. On paper, it makes a lot of sense. Size, length, and athleticism across the board make for what should be a really difficult team to deal with. While that is reflected in their steal and block numbers, they are incredibly mediocre, if not just bad, in every other area. The biggest concern is the lack of shooting and playmaking. Siakam, Anunoby, and Barnes are terrific players to build around, but none of them have proven that they can be the number one creation option on a legitimate contender. I still think that with those wings, the Raptors should still pursue winning basketball, but they need to pick a direction.
Regardless of the direction they pick, though, this team desperately needs help in the backcourt. Not only were the Raptors one of the worst shooting teams in the league this season, but they were also one of the worst passing teams. Their offense constantly stalled out and they didn’t have an option who could reliably create for himself or others when needed. Do you think the best course of action this offseason is to target the point guard position and add someone who can fill that role, even if they don’t fit the Project 6’9” idea?
Rucker: It’s going to be the million dollar question moving forward when we talk about this Raptors team. You could argue that Toronto is the most interesting team that is picking in the lottery. They could go in any direction on the night of the draft and it would make some sort of sense.
When evaluating prospects and young talent across the league, there’s always a golden rule that I’ve been passed on from NBA scouts and executives: “Give them three years, then re-evaluate.” With this philosophy, we are about to find out a lot about Scottie Barnes as he prepares for his third year in the league. My expectation is that Barnes takes a serious stride forward and cements himself as the piece to build around moving forward.
But if that does happen, as the Toronto front office hopes, then what is the best course of direction to surround a talent like Barnes? The 2023 NBA Draft has gotten plenty of buzz for some of the notable names that are projected to go within the Top 5 picks. But there’s a range in this class in which chaos can quickly start to enter the conversation.
That means that although Toronto finds itself picking at 13th overall, they could find the board falling right into their lap and presenting some intriguing value. If the Raptors are head-over-heels for a big-name prospect, they have the pieces to be aggressive in moving up. But for the sake of this projection, there are some names that I think could present outstanding value for this team if they stay put.
My money wants to say that the Raptors will look to add a punch in the backcourt. That could involve names like Kobe Bufkin (Michigan), Keyonte George (Baylor), or even Cason Wallace (Kentucky). But if they do look to add some more size on the perimeter, we could be talking about prospects such as Jett Howard (Michigan), Bilal Coulibaly (Metropolitans 92), or maybe even Gradey Dick (Kansas).
Is there anyone you would lean toward from that list Metcalf? Any potential names that you could see creeping their way into the conversation? If you’re in the war room, who is your guy you’d be smitten with?
Metcalf: So reading those names, there is an obscene amount of talent and potential. I love all three of those wings on this roster, especially when paired with the already entrenched defenders they have. That viewpoint, though, is based on the assumption that VanVleet is there for the long haul. Based on various musings over the last few seasons, I’d be shocked if he ends up extending there.
All of that leads me to loving the names you proposed in the first grouping of guards. Bear with me as I work through these. Starting with George, I think his upside is really getting slept on. We’ve talked all year about how he was asked to do more on both ends of the floor this season at Baylor than he ever was in high school. This led to his shooting numbers dropping off, but it also led to him exceeding expectations defensively, showing off a lot more movement shooting, and displaying a much more versatile playmaking arsenal. I’m really high on George, but I still think he’s a lot closer to a shooting guard than a point guard. Unless someone like Dalano Banton takes a big jump, I think it could be a sloppy fit while they search for their point guard if VanVleet is out the door.
That leaves me with Bufkin and Wallace, both of whom I love on this roster. I’ll start with Bufkin, though. Bufkin is definitely more of a combo guard than a pure point, but he’s shown plenty of ability to morph his game to whatever is needed. His size also fits with the Raptors’ track record and immediately helps their shooting issues. On top of that, he should be a great defender in time once he improves his footwork and consistency.
While I love Bufkin, it’s tough to imagine a better fit on this team than Wallace. For starters, he may be the best defensive guard in the class. A lineup of him, Barnes, Anunoby, and Siakam just feels like a nightmare for opponents. Wallace isn’t a prolific scorer or shot creator, but he proved that his shot is legitimate and that he can effectively run an offense in a subtle role.
Do you disagree with any of that? Is there any chance that they could completely shock us and go for an assassin of a bucket-getter? It would be a big departure from their tendencies, but they would be able to insulate him with their current defenders.
Rucker: I think you’re spot on when it comes to the way in which some of these prospects mentioned could fit with this team. I’ve been a huge believer in Cason Wallace throughout the 2022-23 NCAA season. He’s got the potential to be one of the “safer” projected lottery picks. Wallace just checks so many boxes and is going to be a player that simply just punches the clock and brings it on a nightly basis. It would be Toronto continuing to push forward the belief that they can build a scrappy defensive-minded team that can cause headaches for opponents.
But let’s talk about Kobe Bufkin here for a second. There’s an interesting world in which you could argue that Bufkin could present the “best of both worlds” when it comes to what the Raptors have a history of targeting. He measured in at 6’4.5” at the NBA Draft combine WITHOUT shoes. Given the fact that he was listed at 6’4” before the combine, that was a thrilling development. He also measured in with a 6’7.75” wingspan, something that pops often on tape. Bufkin has the versatility on both sides of the ball that could become extremely desirable for the front office for the Raptors.
He won’t turn 20 years old until September, despite being a sophomore. There’s some serious upside with Bufkin, as we’ve both thrown around the name Mike Conley when it comes to the talented prospect. There’s definitely a world in which the Raptors say enough is enough and look to add some lethal floor spacing on the wings. But that also brings in the conversation of the future involving OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
For now, Toronto looks like a team that will be one worth paying close attention to moving forward. The Raptors are always a wildcard on draft night and it’s going to be fascinating to see what the next step in their roster construction will be.