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Opinion | Raptors believe contributors will be available in second round of NBA draft. Will they be able to find one?


It’s a giant ask, to be sure. But in a dream scenario, it could make real impact.

On Thursday night the Toronto Raptors will lean on the collective wisdom of their scouting staff in the hopes of delivering a hard-to-find basketball gift – that is, a player still available in the second round of the NBA draft with the talent and mentality to make an impact on the franchise’s fortunes as early as next season.

The depth-challenged Raptors could use the help. And history suggests, if the draft breaks right, it can be done. Last year, for instance, there were at least a couple of players picked in the second round who played significant roles on teams that ended up making the playoffs. Herbert Jones and Ayo Dosunmu, who made real contributions in New Orleans and Chicago, were selected 35th and 38th overall, respectively. Precedents like that bode well enough for Toronto’s chances of finding a gem with Thursday’s 33rd-overall pick.

Still, if projecting the future of young athletes is never a science, the second round is hardly the territory of sure things. It’s one thing to nail the fourth-overall pick, as the Raptors did a year ago when they nabbed Scottie Barnes, the NBA’s eventual rookie of the year. It’s another to find an NBA-ready product so much later on draft night. Still, there’s a reason why NBA teams pour enormous manpower and money into scouting the world’s best draft-eligible talent, and why the Raptors have spent the past handful of weeks hosting some 72 potential draftees in a dozen separate workouts at their Lakeshore Avenue practice facility.

“I think it is one area of roster building where the potential is unlimited,” Bobby Webster, the Raptors’ general manager, was saying on Tuesday.

While free-agent signees and potential trade targets generally come with professional track records, the talent plucked from the draft is often the opposite of fully formed product, especially when it comes from the second round. Toronto’s first-round pick in Thursday’s draft was used in the February deal that off-loaded Goran Dragic’s salary to the San Antonio Spurs and brought Thaddeus Young to Raptorland.

“The draft is that great unknown. I think that’s why teams spend so much time (on it),” Webster said. “If you can get a really good player in the second round who becomes an all-star, the value there is basically immeasurable.”

The odds, of course, are against it. For every Nikola Jokic, Denver’s 41st-overall pick in 2014 who’s now the NBA’s two-time reigning MVP, there’s a DeAndre Daniels, Toronto’s 37th-overall pick that same year, who’s played professionally everywhere from Mississauga to Finland to New Zealand but has yet to play an NBA minute. Webster estimated that for every 10 second-rounders selected, maybe three will turn out to be NBA players.

Still, of the 20 to 25 players on Toronto’s radar for the 33rd pick, Webster said there’s a belief that all of them have a chance to contribute to the cause as early as next season.

“There’s going to be (good players) in this range,” Webster said. “It’s our job to find them.”

Webster said the philosophy on Thursday will be the same as it always is: Take the best-available talent, regardless of position, especially considering that the Raptors are building a team that values versatility over specialty, and defence over offence.

“It’s always going to be best available,” Webster said.

Two words that describe the player Toronto is searching, the GM said, would be “versatile” and “defensive.”

“And if he can make a shot, great,” Webster added

In Toronto, of course, there’s another complication. Given the club’s current level of competitive expectation, there’s very little patience for newbie struggles. If you’re a playmaking savant like Barnes, that’s hardly a problem. If you’re Malachi Flynn or Dalano Banton – recent draft picks whose potential, if it’s as vast as the Raptors hoped when they were selected, has yet to be unlocked – the road to quick improvement isn’t exactly clear. Toronto head coach Nick Nurse isn’t wont to give obligatory minutes to developmental projects. Dogged effort and mental toughness are organizational non-negotiables. Those who don’t bring them simply don’t play. Which may or may not speak to why Flynn saw a little more than half as much floor time this past year than he did in his rookie season, and why Banton, the 46th-overall selection last year, rarely got off the bench after he revealed himself as a too-raw talent in a league that simply demands more polish.

Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe the Raptors, and their now-quite-ready-for-prime-time roster players, are victims of their own undeniably high standards. And there’s little doubt that a likely scenario for Thursday’s pick would be a slower route to Toronto’s rotation – one that might include significant time in the NBA G-League.

Still, if last season proved anything, when Nurse overworked his starters for lack of other options, it’s that the Raptors need more game-ready contributors, pronto. And if the Raptors have enough organizational swagger to believe they can unearth an immediate contributor, you’ll understand why. Pascal Siakam, the resident all-NBAer, wasn’t quite a second-round pick. But his selection at 27th overall in 2016 puts him in a similar vicinity to Toronto’s pick on Thursday. Ditto OG Anunoby, picked 23rd overall a year later.

Nobody’s suggesting they’re on the verge of finding the next two-time reigning MVP, or even Barnes’s successor as rookie of the year. But this wouldn’t be Masai Ujiri’s Raptors if they didn’t believe in their ability to use the 33rd pick to find another piece to an in-progress puzzle that’s still a few players short.

“I think we’ve always operated in this space,” said Webster, speaking of the late-first-round, early-second-round domain. “So I think we’re kind of attuned to (the idea) there’s gonna be guys in this range. It’s obviously our job to find them.”

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