Only a week away from the NBA Draft, it’s safe to say that GM Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors have compiled a fairly extensive list of prospects to choose from after another series of pre-draft workouts this week. But of the few players who could fulfill the majority of the team’s needs, contribute immediately, and possibly be available, Michigan State‘s Adreian Payne should be the franchise’s primary first-round target.
Projected to be chosen in the middle of the opening round, much like UCLA‘s Kyle Anderson, who has already attended one of Toronto’s pre-draft workouts, Payne is another of this year’s true wildcards due mainly to concerns over his offensive game. But nevertheless, Ujiri remains intrigued and got a closer look at the forward on Tuesday at the team’s practice facility.
At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Payne is already armed with both the size and strength to play in the trenches as an NBA power forward, which isn’t all that the former Spartan would bring to the Raptors who are looking to build around a young, core group while still learning to navigate a delicate team chemistry.
With four years of college basketball to his credit, Payne is fairly seasoned compared to many of his peers. And aside from having to earn his keep in one of the country’s top conferences, the former Big Ten standout is no stranger to success and developed under the tutelage of Spartan’s head coach Tom Izzo, an experience that included four straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
But more than the sum of his 16.4 PPG and 7.3 RPG he averaged last season as a senior, Payne is an energetic forward with the skill-set to fit nicely alongside center Jonas Valanciunas, and has an ideal disposition for a player who would be joining a relatively inexperienced team that still has plenty of growing pains in its future.
At this critical point in the franchise’s history, Ujiri and the Raptors have to draft wisely in order to sustain the turnaround that made last season so significant, and avoid anything that could potentially pollute the locker room. This is why Ujiri’s ”best player available” approach could lead to disaster and needs to be questioned prior to draft day.
It’s no secret that spending time in the ”me-first” world of college basketball can significantly change a player’s attitude. For Payne however, the past four seasons have clearly been viewed as an opportunity to develop into a promising young man both on and off the court, and it’s characteristics such as these that make the MSU alum a perfect fit for Toronto.
Ty is an NBA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldTy.