The Toronto Raptors were all about good vibes Tuesday night.
They had their good luck charm Fred VanVleet representing the organization at the NBA Draft Lottery and all day there was good positive energy around the team, general manager Bobby Webster said. The entire front office gathered together at a bar in Chicago to watch what may have been a franchise-altering evening.
"Obviously the reaction is once you get past 10, which was unlikely, then nine and eight, a little bit more, then seven. Once each one of those ticks off, a bit more excitement builds," Webster said.
When Mark Tatum read out the seventh pick was heading to Golden State, Toronto knew it had moved up at least to the top four. A commercial break later, the Raptors found out they'd be selecting at No. 4, a great spot to be in this season considering this class has five or six supremely talented players many scouts believe could be the top pick in most other drafts.
Is it truly franchise-altering? That's a term Webster wouldn't use. It'll come down to who Toronto selects and, of course, how that player develops. It's been a while since one of those plus-and-play all-stars has been selected No 4, but the Raptors have gotten lucky there in the past, drafting Chris Bosh with the fourth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Even earlier to that, Toronto turned the fourth pick in the 1998 Draft, Antawn Jamison, into Vince Carter in a draft-night trade.
Now the Raptors are going to have some unique scouting to do. Assuming Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are off the board in the top three picks, Toronto will presumably be picking from a four-player pool that includes two college prospects Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes, and two players from the NBA G League's inaugural prospect team Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga.
While G League players have been selected in the draft before, they've never gone as high as No. 4 before and they've never had the kind of talent Green and Kuminga possess.
"I would say, considering the state of the world, there's a lot of things different this year so I don't view that one as meaningful as, obviously, playing under pandemic conditions," Webster said of scouting the G Leauge prospects. "So I think for us, it'll be a good challenge for us to figure out the difference between the G league season in college or maybe there isn't anything."
If there was any positive to playing in Tampa last season, it at least gave the Raptors front office plenty of opportunities to see Green and Kuminga play in the G League's Orlando bubble. The problem is there's just a lack of draft comparisons for those two players because of the unique route they've taken to the NBA. Nobody really knows how Green's 17.9 points per game or Kuminga's 15.8 points per game in the G League compares to Suggs' 14.4 points, 4.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds at Gonzaga or Barnes' 10.3 points and four rebounds at Florida State. The style of play is totally different, the minutes played are totally different, and the competition, as Webster acknowledged, is vastly different between the two leagues.
Right now, it seems as though the Raptors can't go wrong with their pick. They're in a great spot in a loaded draft class, but, as always, a few of these so-called can't-miss prospects will miss. This year's class provides an interesting wrinkle for Toronto to sort through. How they navigate that question will answer if moving up to No. 4 will really be a franchise-altering jump.