Raptors add Luke Winn as player prospect rock-turner

TORONTO - FEBRUARY 26: Jamario Moon
TORONTO - FEBRUARY 26: Jamario Moon /

The Raptors have a new executive on the masthead. He’ll be looking at prospects, something he’s been doing for years.

The Toronto Raptors have hired a former Sports Illustrated writer to fill a newly created position. Luke Winn, who primarily covered college basketball for the venerable magazine, is on board as Director of Prospect Strategy.

If you haven’t heard of a job with that title before, don’t worry. It’s poppin’ fresh, and the description reads like Winn will be combining the roles of college scout and analytics wizard. That’s not a huge leap for him, as he’s been doing that sort of thing in his SI articles for years.

I think creating the position, then filling it with a strong candidate, is a wise move by Masai Ujiri. The Raptors are enjoying the best run of regular-season success in franchise history, and I’m one of those who thinks the enjoyable ride will continue. But there’s a downside to success in the NBA (and all pro sports); that being less access to the annual draft’s best prospects.

TORONTO, ON – APRIL 15: Jakob Poeltl
TORONTO, ON – APRIL 15: Jakob Poeltl /

Always late

Masai is well-acquainted with selecting late in the draft. In Denver, his first-round picks were Kenneth Faried (#22 in 2011) and Evan Fournier (#20 in 2012), both of whom are still enjoying productive careers.

In Toronto, he’s had but one pick which didn’t begin with a 2, that being Jakob Poeltl (#9 in 2016). Otherwise, he’s selected Bruno Caboclo (#20 in 2014), Delon Wright (#20 in 2015), and Pascal Siakam (#27 in 2016). The jury remains out on all of them.

However, it’s the draft’s second round and later where Masai will no doubt pressure Winn for help. The San Antonio Spurs have proven long-term success is possible if a team is able to find gems among the dross of the draft’s later selections. Tony Parker was #28 in 2001, Manu Ginobili #57 in 1999, and Kawhi Leonard was #15 in 2011. (That draft is remarkable; the top pick was Kyrie Irving, after which you have to slide to Kemba Walker, Leonard and then Jimmy Butler at #30 to find the cream of the crop. In between there are flops like Derek Williams, Jan Vesely, and Jimmer Fredette. The second round featured super-Smurf Isaiah Thomas at #60.)

Undrafted but talented? Yes, please

Then there’s the ultimate example of finding a $50 bill in an old pair of jeans: discovering an undrafted player who can stick. Fred VanVleet is the only Raptor who qualifies. A list of top undrafted players gives an indication of how many talented players fly under the radar, including Jose Calderon, Bruce Bowen, Jeremy Lin and Ben Wallace. Hands up those who remember the brief sensation named Jamario Moon!

There’s a compelling need for additional eyes on prospects. I hope Winn can somehow find time to head overseas as well. If not, he’ll be plenty busy hopping from airport to airport, as the U.S. college hoops season will soon be upon us. Winn will surely feel like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the air”.

One final thought: This is a new position; Winn isn’t taking over for a fired/departed executive. Masai clearly can spend dollars as he sees fit. That’s a very good sign.

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