Over the past 18 years the Toronto Raptors have made several draft day mistakes. We take a look at the franchise's five worst picks since 2000.
Since arriving in Toronto, team president Masai Ujiri has an outstanding record in the NBA Draft. The team has experienced success stories such as OG Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright...and don't forget about Fred VanVleet, who went undrafted. (Critics will bring up Bruno Caboclo, but one miss among several makes is nothing to sneeze at)
However, you shouldn't confuse the team's recent success with an impeccable history. Since the franchise's inaugural draft in 1995, the team has made 37 selections, 23 of which have been in the first round. Of the 37 selections some have been good and some..... did not pan out.
Drafting is an inexact science. Despite what some might say, there is no such thing as a sure thing in sports -- yes, even the selection of child prodigy LeBron James came with some risk. Every draft pick represents an educated guess...a calculated risk. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Some turn out wonderful (Kevin Durant)...
...others not so much (Greg Oden).
Earlier, we took a look at the best picks in franchise history. DeMar DeRozan, Tracy McGrady, and Chris Bosh to name a few. Now its time to sift through the mistakes.
Here are the five worst selections made by Toronto, dating back to 2000 (Let's spare Tyson Wheeler and the other early draftees forced to develop for an expansion franchise).
Kareem Rush (selected 20th overall in 2002)
Kareem Rush was taken 20th overall and subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers (along with Tracy Murray and a draft pick). In return, Toronto received Linsey Hunter, Chris Jefferies, and a 2003 second-round pick they would eventually use to draft Ramon Van de Hare.
Hunter would play 29 games in Toronto -- Chris Jefferies' entire NBA career would last just 72 games. And Ramon Van de Hare never played an NBA game. Luckily for Toronto, Rush never panned out as a player either.
The Missouri product never played longer than three seasons with any one team and while his offensive game periodically surprised, it was a lack of consistency on both ends that ultimately limited his NBA impact. He was particularly bad on defense, posting a career defensive rating of 109.
A streaky shooter in college, Rush was never able to replicate his shooting touch at the pro level -- a career 35-percent career shooter from 3 in the NBA, after posting a 42% mark in college.
Fun Fact: the draft pick Toronto traded as part of the Rush transaction would eventually be used to select Luke Walton.
Michael Bradley (selected 17th overall in 2001)
Michael Bradley, after a standout junior season at Villanova, was selected 17th overall by Toronto in 2001.
In his first and only season with the Wildcats (after transferring from Kentucky), Bradley averaged 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per contest. As a consensus All-American, he led the NCAA in field-goal percentage, offensive win shares and scored the fourth most points in the Big East.
Bradley's college success would help him little in the NBA, as his pro career lasted only 173 games. Injuries played a part in the derailment of his career, although most blame falls on Bradley's shoulders...he did not adjust to the physicality and speed of the pro game.
His post-NBA journey included several stops in Europe before ultimately retiring to pursue a career in coaching and focus on family duties.
Today, he and his wife travel the world with their three daughters. You can read more about their post-basketball family adventures at www.journeyoftheglobe.com.
Fun Fact: Zach Randolph (1,116 games played) was selected two picks after Michael Bradley. He would've looked good in a Raptors uniform, no?
Joey Graham (selected 16th overall in 2005)
Coming out of Oklahoma State, Joey Graham was tabbed as a physical small forward who could play both ends of the floor.
Having transferred to Oklahoma State after two seasons at UCF, Graham started 60 of 68 games and averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds. Liking what they saw of him, general manager Rob Babcock made him the 16th overall selection in the 2005 draft -- after selecting Charlie Villanueva 7th overall (also a controversial pick at the time).
"We sit here today wondering what on earth Rob Babcock is thinking. What is he doing?" - Stephen A. Smith, on Toronto's 2005 draft performance (via cbc.ca)
Graham would begin his rookie season as the team's starting small forward but the party wouldn't last long. He would start the team's first five games before being moved to the bench. He never fulfilled the expectations of the team or fan base and would eventually leave via free agency.
His failures at the pro level were rooted in shooting inconsistencies -- an efficient shooter in college, Graham shot over 50 percent on two-point field goals in all four years. In the NBA, Graham would eclipse 50 percent only three times in six seasons. Furthermore, he never became the defensive stopper many scouts believed him to be, especially considering the physical tools he had at his disposal.
Joey Graham, perhaps more than anybody on this list, represents the biggest what if...
Fun Fact: Danny Granger was selected 17th overall in 2005.
Rafael Araujo (selected 8th overall in 2004)
The fourth-year senior out of Brigham Young University was supposed to solidify the five position in Toronto...
Rafael Araujo didn't...in fact, he made it worse.
Perhaps one can attempt to defend the previous three selections, but there is literally nothing anybody can say about Araujo's career that paints it in a positive light.
At 6-11 and 280 lbs, Araujo had difficulties with the speed of the game. He averaged three rebounds per game in his rookie season, which, laughably, represented a career high -- note that his NBA career lasted only 2+ seasons.
What irked Raptors fans so much about Araujo's tenure is how the organization handled his playing time, electing to start him 41 of the 59 games he featured in as a rookie. Despite being a starter, he would only play ~ 12 minutes a game, largely in the first and third quarters. Talk to any Raptor fan and the mere mentioning of his name will evoke a cringe or possible eye roll.
The big Brazilian would eventually be traded to Utah, getting in return Kris Humphries (former Kardashian) and Robert Whaley. The fact Toronto received more than a basketball for Araujo is impressive.
Fun Fact: With the 9th pick (one after Toronto), the Philadelphia 76ers selected Andre Iguodala.
Andrea Bargnani (selected 1st overall in 2006)
When Toronto won the 2006 draft lottery, it was bittersweet in that it represented a monumental victory for the franchise...
But it came in a year where the draft had no generational talent. There was no LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Hell, there wasn't even a hometown hero ala Andrew Wiggins to get excited about -- defensive disinterest aside.
Armed with the league's most prized commodity (most of the time), the Raptors opted to use it to select Andrea Bargnani. A seven-foot forward/center out of Italy, Bargnani's (nicknamed Il Mago) greatest claim to fame would likely be his TV spot for PRIMO pasta and sauce...
It certainly wasn't anything he did on the court.
Besides Millsap, who was literally passed over by everyone in the league, there were countless other players who would've been more appropriate first overall selections.
Some might suggest JJ Reddick, who went eighth overall. But the real elephant in the room is LaMarcus Aldridge...a standout at the University of Texas, Aldridge was taken second overall right after Toronto whiffed on their pick.
Admittedly, the '06 draft contained many imposters -- Tyrus Thomas, Adam Morrison, and Shelden Williams rounded out the top five. But for Toronto, wasting the first overall pick on Bargnani set the franchise back years and it wasn't until Ujiri's arrival that things began taking a turn for the better.
Perhaps some of Ujiri's recent moves have been iffy (Carroll, Ibaka, and Powell contracts come to mind) but let's never forget he is also the man who traded Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks for three players, while also receiving not one, not two, but THREE draft picks in return.
(James Dolan, you fool)