2014 NBA Draft: Improving In 2nd Round Must Remain A Priority For Masai Ujiri And Toronto Raptors

By Ty O'Keefe
Chris Humphreys-USA Today Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA Today Sports

Among the many responsibilities assigned to GM Masai Ujiri upon his return to the Toronto Raptors in May of 2013, improving upon the franchise’s overall performance in the NBA Draft was clearly a priority; and without a single pick in last year’s affair, June 26 will mark the former scout’s first opportunity to add a rookie to the roster.

More specifically, the Raptors have almost always struggled to add someone of value in the second round of the draft throughout their 19 years of existence. However, considering that Toronto currently owns both the 37th and 59th overall selections of the final round and the amount of potential that’s expected to be available, Ujiri is understandably focused on making the most of every opportunity.

Over the past couple of weeks, Toronto has been entertaining a long list of projected second-rounders during a series of invitation-only, pre-draft workouts at the Air Canada Center’s practice court. But attempting to figure out who the Raptors will select with the 20th overall pick is difficult enough, and if you’re looking for clues, Ujiri’s draft-day strategy won’t be of any assistance.

While Toronto’s front office leader initially found success as a scout and rose up the ranks of the NBA’s executive ladder due largely to those talents, Ujiri has thrown what some would consider to be the safest approach out the window by making it clear that the Raptors will draft the best player available, rather than address any needs that the team may have.

For now, compiling a list of 20 players that Toronto would gladly draft with the 20th overall pick remains the top priority. But contrary to the past, there’s clearly been a greater significance placed upon the franchise’s performance in the second round, and Ujiri confirmed that approach late last month in an interview with the Toronto Sun.

”They [second-round draft picks] are valuable, depending on roster spots, trades, who is available, to move up, they are very valuable to us and I think this year we’re taking them very seriously.”

Most recently, Toronto selected Quincy Acy and Tomislav Zubcic in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, and as part of the seven-player trade with the Sacramento Kings that sparked the team’s long-awaited resurgence, Acy provided the franchise with at least some value.

But with the Raptors now headed in the right direction and an on-court chemistry that’s delicate to say the very least, is Ujiri’s ”best player available” strategy really the best approach in any round of the draft?

That question can only be answered with time. But whatever Ujiri and the Raptors ultimately decide to do with each of the three draft picks will directly impact Toronto’s ability to continue it’s current run of relative success, and making the most of the franchise’s opportunities in the second round must remain a priority.

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