Raptors Draft: Yannick Nzosa has potential in the second round

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13: Yannick Nzosa of Unicaja and Carlos Suarez of Unicaja and Trey Thompkins of Real Madrid (Photo by Sonia Canada/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13: Yannick Nzosa of Unicaja and Carlos Suarez of Unicaja and Trey Thompkins of Real Madrid (Photo by Sonia Canada/Getty Images) /

Thanks to the genius of Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri, fans have become accustomed to the team hitting on late-round draft prospects and finding value without the help of the lottery gods. Ujiri has the ability to pluck quality NBA players out of thin air. Only Scottie Barnes was taken in the top ten of the entire Raptors roster.

That’s why it’s not misplaced to value the Raptors’ pick at No. 33 overall. Masai’s connections overseas and ability to evaluate talent could help an early second-round choice crack the active roster as early as next season. There are plenty of players with the talent to do so.

One of whom is Unicaja Baloncesto Malaga’s teenage center Yannick Nzosa. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nzosa grew up playing goalie due to his 6-11 frame. His discovery as a basketball player was as coincidental as they come, yet he has carved out a solid career for himself.

At only 18 years old, Nzosa is still a raw prospect, but the potential for greatness is there. His mobility at his size is his selling point, but only because it’s paired with exceptional defensive instincts. With shot-blocking on the interior and fleet feet on the perimeter, Nzosa has all the trappings of the modern defensive big man.

Will the Toronto Raptors draft Yannick Nzosa?

The Raptors need a true center, this much we know. While Nzosa fits the bill of a rim protector/runner, he’ll likely need a year or two in the lab before he can grab the starting position. He’s still very young, and while he has the length to contend with the NBA’s top big men, he needs to put on weight before he can match up physically.

That said, teams on the rise draft for the future, not the present. The same age and inexperience that keeps Nzosa from dominating today is a boon for a future of success. Nzosa is one of the youngest players in the 2022 NBA Draft and has the work ethic to pair with his potential.

“His right hand was not his best hand, he’s left-handed, but now he’s getting a lot better,” said Yannick Kizito. “He can finish now with his right hand. Also shooting, doing stuff off the dribble he’s working on all of that and getting really good.”

It may not wow fans to learn that Nzosa has learned to score with his off-hand, but more than that, it speaks to his commitment to improvement. Adding skills, striving to achieve greater heights, and implementing these new abilities into his game is exactly the kind of character the Raptors search for in the draft.

Being likable won’t win your team games, but character is essential for a player in his position and, in turn, how the Raptors will evaluate him. He will be drafted for the player he can become, and his commitment to self-improvement is almost more valuable to his current abilities.

Getting him into the Raptors system and the 905 could only accelerate his development. At just 174 pounds and fresh off averaging two points per game, there’s a lot of work to be done.

How would Yannick Nzosa fit on the Toronto Raptors?

Nzosa fits the mold of a classic rim-runner/shot blocker. He has the length and frame to play the true five position, but with speed to switch onto perimeter players. The Raptors’ need for interior size is no secret, but rather than slot Nzosa into the Khem Birch spot, he’d more likely be taking over Thad Young’s minutes if he leaves.

Both Young and Chris Boucher are on expiring contracts this summer, and it’s unlikely that Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri will re-sign both, or maybe even either. This would open up frontcourt spots.

Nzosa isn’t ready to be relied on in 2022, but letting him dip his toes in the water, test his abilities against NBA backups, and having him there as insurance for the inevitable mid-season injuries to come will be valuable.

I’ll say it again, he’s a project. However, he’s oozing star defensive potential. If the Raptors are looking to take a swing on a big make-or-miss prospect, Nzosa may be the only man in the second round who could eventually challenge for an All-Defensive team

And you know the Raptors training staff will teach him how to hit a corner three.

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