Toronto Raptors betting on “second draft” prospects this season

Stanley Johnson (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Stanley Johnson (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With few options available in free agency, the Toronto Raptors gambled on former lottery-picks with questionable production at this point in their career.

By the time the Toronto Raptors entered the free agency market there weren’t many options available. The Raptors, were, of course, waiting on the decision of Kawhi Leonard. The Klaw took until the early morning of July 6th to make his decision. In today’s tampering filled NBA, July 6th is closer to the start of training camp than it is the start of free agency from a logistical perspective.

Regardless of Leonard’s decision, Toronto didn’t have much cap space to spend anyways. When you combine the timing and capital, the Raptors free agent pool selection was about as fruitful as the candy aisle the day after Halloween.

Masai Ujiri, as he often does, made the best of his situation. Rather than filling the team out with limited veterans and minimum contracts, Toronto valued upside and targeted young free agents with the potential to grow. The Raptors put their faith in the “second draft.”

What is a “second draft” prospect?

A “second draft” prospect is typically a lottery, or at least first-round selection, who didn’t pan out at their first stop.

Whether it be a lack of a jumpshot, the inability to translate to a new role, or poor decision-making, players who aren’t brought back after their rookie contract, can oftentimes provide a high-upside play for other teams on the market.

Toronto is betting on that upside.

Second draft additions

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This offseason, the Raptors brought in Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Cameron Payne. All three players were selected in the first round, with Johnson and Payne being chosen as lottery selections. All three players have also shown flashes during their time in the NBA, even if they have not produced to the level expected of them.

Stanley Johnson was the most highly regarded prospect of the three and the eighth overall pick of the 2015 draft. He’s 6-foot-7, an insane athlete, and surprising skilled with the ball in his hands. He played a major role on a Pistons playoff team as a rookie and comes to the Raptors as one of the best defenders on the team.

But he was an unrestricted free agent this summer for a reason. To this point in his career, Johnson’s been a detrimental offensive player. He’s incredibly ineffective and inefficient as a scorer, he’s turned the ball over at an alarming rate, and has shown almost no growth as a three-point threat.

Another talented defender with an inability to score early in his career, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson shares many similar characteristics to Johnson. Drafted 23rd in the same draft class, Hollis-Jefferson made an impact early in his career on some horrendous Nets teams. RHJ started for long stretches of his first three seasons in the league, before falling out of the rotation completely last season. He’s a talented defender, tenacious rebounder for his size, and other than scoring, a valuable offensive player.

Yet, he’s posted an effective field goal percentage in the bottom 30-percentile of his position every season of his career. In today’s NBA you need to be at least a moderate threat to score. If RHJ can’t develop that part of his game, he’ll likely only last one season in Toronto.

Cameron Payne might not even last that long. The former 14th pick of the 2015 draft was guaranteed just $150,000 this summer and isn’t a guarantee to make the final roster.

Payne wasn’t able to secure a guaranteed contract for good reason. He’s been extremely unproductive throughout his career. He’s been an inefficient scorer, a mediocre passer, an average defender, and virtually every impact metric rates him horrendously. Last season, Payne was cut from the Chicago Bulls despite having a fully guaranteed contract.

For Payne, the Raptors are betting on the development of a jumpshot which was showcased during his time in Cleveland and this Summer League. Payne’s a solid athlete and the emergence of a jumpshot may completely open up the rest of his game.

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None of these players are a finished product. If they were, the Raptors wouldn’t have been able to sign them for less than $8 million combined. Masai took a few smart gambles on low-cost lottery tickets.

In terms of overall talent, Toronto undoubtedly took a step back this offseason. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green walked out the door and were replaced with multiple question marks. However, given the circumstances, the Raptors made the best long-term play possible by betting on the “second draft.”