In a most heralded 2014 draft class with no shortage of marquee names at the top of the draft board, the Toronto Raptors in a rarity for the franchise are sitting outside the draft lottery. With the #20 selection in the first round, in a draft class that has not received nearly enough credit for its depth, the Raptors pose to do some serious damage with the 20th pick.
In ordinary years, picking in the middle of the first round won’t generate NBA-ready talent but especially in recent years, the middle of the first round means opportunity for teams to trade back and stockpile future draft picks or draft-and-stash an international player. However, the 2014 draft class contains players with NBA-ready talent in the middle and even falling into the late first round, there’s great value throughout the entire draft really. Players who would be virtual sure-fire lottery picks in any other year are going to be available at #20 when the Raptors are on the clock, which makes this draft all the more exciting even if Toronto native Andrew Wiggins isn’t coming back to Toronto but probably the Canadian Cavaliers instead.
As I’ve detailed previously, the Raptors are going to need frontcourt help this offseason as it’s the area an upgrade makes the most sense. Depth in the form of a true power forward or a power forward / center blend would be the ideal draft candidate for a Raptors team that received consistent but so-so production from both Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson over the course of last season. I’ll say it again, I’d have no issue with Johnson or Patterson (or both) being brought back next season because both are still useful players, and seeing what a full season’s worth of the starting five that brought Toronto to the #3 seed in the East is capable of is completely reasonable and justified.
Regardless, there’s a higher possibility Patterson won’t be brought back next season than Johnson, and even if Patterson was able to return to the Raptors next season the draft pick needs to address the frontcourt. Neither Johnson nor Patterson can guard centers, and there are a few potential draftees out there that fit Toronto’s need for flexibility off the bench for backup big men.
Adreian Payne out of Michigan State fits the bill for everything Toronto needs and is looking for in terms of immediate impact. Payne measured at 6-foot-10 at the NBA draft combine and recorded at 7-foot-4 wingspan, which is a full four inches better than what he measured at in 2009. Weighting in at 239 pounds, Payne figures to be sturdy and long enough to guard both the four and five in the NBA. He has some concerns with lower body strength and positioning on the block, but his overall game improved remarkably over his college career.
What I mean is, that while his deficiencies in areas like help-side defense and utilizing his body better are indeed issues Payne must improve on, the development he made in four years at Michigan State should far outweigh those issues. If anything, Payne’s shown ability to drastically better his offensive and defensive skills over the course of his collegiate career should offset any concern over common minuet details.
The largest area of concern for Payne is his age, as he’s currently 23 and turning 24 in February. In comparison, 2012 #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving is only 22, won’t turn 23 until March, and holds three years of NBA experience under his belt. Luckily for Payne, the Raptors are in the market for contributors not projects, and Payne’s age shouldn’t undervalue his areas of strength on the court.
For starters, Payne’s scoring average from his freshman year to his senior season look like this: 2.5, 7.0, 10.5, 16.4. That’s development, that’s growth. Furthermore, Payne attempted one three-pointer his freshman year – he made 44 in his senior campaign and shot an excellent 42.3% from downtown. Payne’s proven he’s a knockdown standstill shooter from deep, any time he has his feet set. To me, it’s all about Payne’s base. When things look good from the ground-up, Payne can shoot with the best bigs in this draft class. Not to say he’s only a stationary shooter, he looked comfortable in the pick-and-pop with NBA-level talent around him at Michigan State this past season.
He’s a strong finisher at the rim and doesn’t shy away from contact, but when you watch Payne play his posture appears somewhat unorthodox. It’s almost as if he’s slouched over regularly and moves a little mechanically. But then, there was the college dunk contest, which begs the question – has anyone ever benefitted more from a dunk contest than Adreian Payne? Fluid, swift, and the eyebrow raising bounce Payne showed-off in the dunk contest eviscerated any questions over his athleticism.
I like Payne a lot at #20; he fits nicely as both pick for need and for talent. Plus, he realistically could produce what Patterson gave the Raptors last season at a much cheaper cost. This pick doesn’t come attached with a long-term mentality; Payne’s upside is lower than the international players who might also be available at #20. But the Raptors aren’t in a position where they should feel compelled to draft young; they can expend a pick on the “older” Payne due to their position in the draft. If the Raptors were picking in the top 15, Payne’s not the pick. At 20, he’s a much more comfortable selection and not by any means a reach.
Last season, the average age of the Raptors was 26.6, but three of their starters and future pieces are 24 or younger. Payne’s a complement to a nucleus that’s established in Toronto. The timing of the situation isn’t calling for a draft pick based on potential, the Raptors are ready to make the leap into consistent NBA relevancy in the Eastern Conference and drafting a player like Payne makes Toronto better, quicker.