The Toronto Raptors have spent the last two NBA Draft cycles using their premium draft capital on guards like Malachi Flynn and wings like Scottie Barnes. The management team has largely ignored the state of the team’s frontcourt. Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri could rectify that by drafting Duke big man Mark Williams in 2022.
Out of a desire to play versatile, switching defense and be quicker, Raptors management prefers smaller centers to patrol the paint. One unintended side effect is poor rebounding, and the Raptors’ bottom-of-the-league defensive rebounding numbers in the last two seasons are a direct result of this strategy.
The frontcourt will have to be addressed this off-season. Chris Boucher is 29 years old now and a free agent in July. Khem Birch, also 29, has had knee trouble on and off all season long. Precious Achiuwa, the prize piece acquired in the Kyle Lowry deal, may still develop but isn’t ready for a starting role.
If Achiuwa’s is the present at the center position (at least as far as the bench is concerned), it’s time the Raptors address the future. Williams, a seven-footer with defensive skills, would be a solid addition to the Raptors roster and organizational depth chart.
What would Mark Williams’ skill set mean for the Toronto Raptors?
At 7-0 with a 7-7 wingspan, Williams fits in with a Raptors team that values length and mobility above all else.
The Raptors are last in the NBA in defensive rebounding, but are 16th overall when total rebounds are considered because they grab 13.1 offensive boards a game. Toronto is second in the NBA in points off of turnovers, first, in fastbreak points and third in steals. Imagine then if this team had a rim protector? Their defense would be terrifying.
Williams could provide a change of pace; a different look coming off of the Raptors’ bench. In his second year at Duke, averaging just under 20 minutes a game, Williams gathers 6.3 rebounds and averages 3.1 blocked shots per game.
He is an ideal last-line defender who alters shots but also impacts the passing lanes with his length vertically and horizontally. Raptors’ management likes the deflections stat. The team holds the second-best tally in the league at 656 deflections this season, and Williams would only add to that team strength.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Blue Devils acknowledged how important Williams’ rebounding is for Duke after a 70-56 win over Louisville in the ACC Tournament last March. Williams scored 23 points and 19 rebounds for the double-double, and Coach K stated:
"“Look, Mark was fabulous, not good,” Krzyzewski said. “He only had one rebound yesterday, so he’s averaging 10 a game. Just to keep his ego in check. But to get 19 rebounds in a game, and those defensive rebounds in the last eight, ten minutes were the deciding factor in the game, really.”"
Offensively, while Williams does not feature heavily in Duke’s offensive schemes, he runs the floor well and can finish around the basket off of lob passes. Unfortunately, his stock could be limited due to the fact he is extremely raw on offense and offers next to nothing as a shooter.
After a 105-101 victory over the Pelicans Sunday night, Toronto holds a six-game winning streak their longest of the season. It has propelled the team into seventh overall in the East and the thick of the playoff picture.
Williams could be a target for the Raptors at the draft if their current run of good play continues. They are not likely to pick high in the lottery again, and Williams may be available to select late first-round. However, playoffs or not, the Raptors need depth and size in their frontcourt, and Williams may be the answer.