Brice Johnson: Raptors Power Forward of the future?

Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) dunks the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) dunks the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Raptors need a power forward, so it’s an easy decision to begin my occasional series of prospect reviews with Brice Johnson.

We begin our examination of potential selections for the Toronto Raptors in the June 23 NBA draft with a power forward prospect. As promised, I’m going to concentrate on players who are likely to still be on the board with the Raptors pick, which is projected to be around #8. Of course, it isn’t really the Raptors pick, but the less valuable of the picks owned by Denver and the New York Knicks, which Masai Ujiri acquired in the Andrea Bargnani trade.

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I’m zeroing in on Brice Johnson, an intriguing senior at North Carolina. He’s a tweener, tall enough to play the 4-spot, yet wiry and mobile like a 3. Bobby Gonzalez, who’s forgotten more about basketball than I’ll ever know (and I know a lot) really likes this fellow and has him at #9. Two other sites of note, www.nbadraft.net, and www.draftexpress.com, rank him at #14 & #30, respectively. The NCAA season-ending March Madness tournament tips off shortly, and that’s when a lot of players make huge leaps (or tumbles) in the rankings.

Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Michael Young (2) makes a move to the basket as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) defends in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Michael Young (2) makes a move to the basket as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) defends in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

I need to declare my bias at this juncture. I’m looking for someone who can help the Raptors in a position of need, and that means I want a power forward when our lottery choice is made. The tiresome “Just pick the best player” jive has run its course with me. Is there a neon light flashing over the head of the best player available when it’s the Raptors turn to pick? Of course not – reasonable people can disagree about who’s the best at any point, with the likely exception of this year’s #1 (LSU’s Ben Simmons).

The Raptors don’t need another point guard. There aren’t enough minutes already for Delon Wright. I wouldn’t blame the guy if he secretly wished for Cory Joseph to turn an ankle. There’s a case to be made for another shooting guard, particularly if DeMar DeRozan packs his bags after the post-season. Terrence Ross is on most depth charts as a SG. Norman Powell is penciled in as the backup’s backup, but he certainly has no stranglehold on the gig.

Assuming DeMarre Carroll returns in full health, we should be covered at SF. We have three centres, and Lucas Nogueira is rotting on the bench. That leaves our current PF situation, which is woefully weak, and won’t get better without fresh blood.

I like athletes, and Brice has a track background. He runs and jumps effortlessly, and in today’s NBA, everybody has to be able to move. I’d like him more if he showed a better jump shot with greater range. There are question marks about Brice’s frame, but Chris Bosh was mighty skinny out of college and he’s done all right.

One commentator says Brice’s closest comparison is to Taj Gibson, and I don’t see that. Brice reminds me of Corey Brewer, a ball of energy who impacts a game defensively, and can contribute with points by cashing in on turnovers and presenting at the basket in broken-floor situations. While using a #8 pick on a Corey Brewer type might seem extravagant, this is not a great draft class.

I’m not in love with Brice. He needs to bulk up to the limits of his body type, and could use a better handle. He doesn’t look ready to step into a starter’s role. The Raptors place a great deal of emphasis on closed-door workouts and prospect interviews. That’s all to the good, and I suspect will have a huge impact on Brice’s chances of being our lottery pick. Masai will “reach” if he likes the guy.

One down…many to go.