One of the biggest mistakes NBA organizations make during the draft is selecting players based on need.
It's a mistake the Toronto Raptors have generally steered clear of under president Masai Ujiri's tutelage, opting instead to take the best player available and figuring out the rest later. This year, however, it might be a little tough for Toronto to adhere to the best player available philosophy.
The biggest issue for the Raptors this season has been their frontcourt rotation and heading into the offseason there's no clear way to fix it. That, of course, will make it extremely tempting for the Raptors to draft a centre with their first-round pick. But it's that temptation specifically that forces teams into the worst kinds of mistakes.
You'll see what I mean in a moment. But first, let's take a look at ESPN's latest mock draft.
Raptors select Isaiah Jackson from the University of Kentucky
ESPN's mock draft has the Raptors selecting a little bit later than most others because it's based on ESPN's Basketball Power Index and therefore it has Toronto selecting at No. 11 in the 2021 draft. With that pick, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have the Raptors going with Isaiah Jackson, a freshman out of Kentucky.
Jackson is a 6-foot-11 centre who started 18 of 25 games for the Wildcats this season while averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. He's a traditional big who shot 54% from the field and 0-for-2 from 3-point range in his lone season in Lexington.
"Teams are all over the place on Jackson, who has lottery-level physical tools and the ability to be a monster shot blocker but with limited offensive feel and skill," Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo wrote. "He’s a likely first-rounder off the strength of that upside, but in some ways, the pure rim-runner model has become replaceable, with teams starting to favor skilled bigs and prioritize those who can space the floor on offense. Jackson isn’t that, clearly. He’s a total project and was highly foul-prone and unable to consistently stay in games at Kentucky. But as a gamble on tools for a team seeking developmental bigs, you could do worse."
In Woo's mock draft, Jackson is tabbed to go 21st overall to the New York Knicks. According to The Athletic's Sam Vecenies, Jackson is the 19th best prospect this year.
It's entirely possible that Jackson becomes a very productive NBA centre for many years to come, but drafting him so high seems like a bit of a reach. It might be tempting for Toronto to go with a traditional big who in theory can slot in and be an impact player in the rotation, but reaching for a player to fill a need is typically when things go wrong.
If the Raptors want a player in that range who can help contribute immediately, someone like James Bouknight out of UConn might be a better bet even if he's blocked by a few other guards on the roster.