by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10
After four losing seasons, everyone in Toronto wants nothing less than a Playoff team.
The Raps are coming off a 23-43 season that saw some positive steps forward, but not enough to avoid missing the postseason for another year. Future centerpieces DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and even Andrea Bargnani (who had, by a spate of injuries, a spoiled breakout ’11-12 campaign) still have a lot of growing to do.
The Raptors are no doubt looking for multiple opportunities heading into the Draft, with significant upgrades at small forward and point guard as first priorities.
It’s no secret that the Raptors are willing to part with the No. 8 pick in order to acquire Andre Iguodala or Rudy Gay. Fan favorite Jose Calderon (and his expiring $10.5 million contract) is at the center of most trade speculation. A package involving Numero Ocho, the No. 8 pick and Ed Davis could possibly land an impact wing.
That said, players on rookie-scale contracts are valuable in the NBA, especially with the League’s punitive luxury tax. Trading the No. 8 pick—especially with so many NBA-ready, character guys still available—would be a crime.
Syracuse SG Dion Waiters and UConn SG Jeremy Lamb can light it up, and the Raptors need a scorer. Both talented scoring guards are certainly on the radar, but the team is still far from making promises.
Both Lamb and Waiters made questionable moves at the Pre-Draft Combine. Waiters blew off the combine altogether, as well as his interview with the Raptors. Lamb bailed on the on-court portion, and his passivity carried over to the interviews as well.
Perry Jones III is another consideration with his length and athleticism, but he’s a project who needs time to develop. Toronto needs more of an immediate impact.
Austin Rivers is a skilled 2-guard and a deadly scorer, but his average decision-making and sometimes poor attitude aren’t qualities that fit the team.
All of which leads us to a humble and hungry Oakland point guard who has been on Toronto’s radar from the jump.
With the eighth pick in the 2012 SLAMonline Mock Draft, the Toronto Raptors select…
Damian Lillard from Weber State.
First featured on SLAMonline in February, the Weber State PG finished his redshirt junior campaign second in the NCAA in scoring at 24.5 ppg. He’s an extremely efficient shooter, who connected on 41 percent of his attempts from the beyond the arc.
He’s also a terrific rebounder (5 rpg) for his size and takes care of the ball well—ranking first among point guard prospects in turnovers per possession. Lillard is extremely explosive (40-inch vertical) and drives well in either direction, which helped him get to the free-throw line (where he knocked down the second most FTs in NCAA at a 90 percent clip).
The two-time Big Sky POY says he hears the question often: “Do you think you’re a 2-guard?”
His answer: “No,” adding that he wants to run an offense—not “just to push the ball up the floor, but run NBA sets.”
But Lillard’s work ethic is possibly his the most impressive quality. It’s hard to get him out of the gym and was incredible shape at the Pre-Draft Combine.
“I’m from Oakland. Gary Payton was that kind of person, really competitive,” the 6-2, 190-pound Lillard said. “Jason Kidd, Brian Shaw. I feel I have to bring that same thing to the table as an Oakland point guard. I want to compete and I feel I still have to prove myself playing against higher lever guys and I’m happy to have the opportunity.”
Lillard may not be a Gary Payton or Jason Kidd, but some see an athletic Chauncey Billups as a best-case NBA comparison.
The Raptors are looking for a PG of the future. It’s clear that player is neither Calderon nor Jerryd Bayless (he missed over half the season due to injury and failed to prove much when healthy). Lillard could down hold the starting position for the next decade.
Regardless of how his potential plays out, Lillard’s excited about the possibility of becoming Toronto’s only first-round PG selection since Mighty Mouse, tweeting, “Heard toronto is a nice place. We shall see!”
|2012 SLAMonline Mock Draft|