This past season, the Toronto Raptors took significant steps towards becoming a respected force in the Eastern Conference, which clearly altered the team’s approach going forward. However, the time has arrived for us to move on and for the business of basketball to take center stage, and that started with this past week’s NBA Draft combine in Chicago.
But other than a few obvious exceptions, the franchise hasn’t exactly excelled in the draft during its relatively brief history, and Toronto’s past is littered with examples of poor judgment and once-promising additions such as Aleksandar Radojevic, Michael Bradley and Rafael Araujo.
Fortunately, what were then thought to be the initial stages of an extremely long rebuilding process were taken at the end of the 2012-13 season, and nearly a full year into the reign of GM Masai Ujiri, Toronto’s acquisition of its new front office leader has already paid tremendous dividends.
During his time in the league, it’s been Ujiri’s ability to accurately judge talent that first led to his success as an NBA executive, and the Raptors are now depending on the former Director of Global Scouting to improve upon their past performances in the draft. Without a single pick last year however, this will be Ujiri’s first crack at bringing a serviceable youngster to Toronto, and the ‘2013 NBA Executive Of The Year’ capitalized on the opportunities presented at the combine this past week by scheduling interviews with many of the top-10 prospects despite the fact that the Raptors currently own the 20th overall selection.
Rumored to have used the majority of the team’s 18 player interviews, Ujiri sat down with some of the prospects that Toronto would love to add through the draft, such as fellow Canadians and projected lottery picks Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis. And with the uncertainty that often comes on the day of the draft, Ujiri was sure to get a closer look at a variety of other NBA hopefuls such as Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, and Marcus Smart during a series of drills and scrimmages held throughout the combine.
Clearly one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, Ujiri’s focus hasn’t only been on the first round, and the GM’s attention seems almost equally geared towards Toronto’s final two picks at 37th and 59th, which should come as welcome news to Raptor fans when you consider the franchise’s continued inability to secure talent beyond the opening round.
After finally finding the right on-court chemistry during the regular season, the job of drafting players potentially suitable to Toronto’s system on both ends of the floor won’t be easy, and with the core group already in place, whoever the Raptors do select will have to learn quickly if they plan on contributing in 2014-15.