Raptors Draft: Look no further than the champs for Toronto's next pick

Donovan Clingan, Stephon Castle, Alex Karaban, Connecticut Huskies
Donovan Clingan, Stephon Castle, Alex Karaban, Connecticut Huskies / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The end of the 2023-24 NBA season is drawing near, which means in just a few days the Toronto Raptors will turn their gaze from playing basketball games to preparing for a pivotal 2024 NBA Draft. After another lost season, the front office needs to come out of the draft this year with real long-term pieces to help turn the franchise around.

After losing 15-straight games down the stretch of the season, the Raptors are in position to finish sixth in lottery odds, giving them around a 50 percent chance of retaining their Top-6 protected first-round pick. Add in Indiana's first-round pick and Detroit's second-round pick and the Raptors could have three picks in the first 31 selections of June's draft.

The 2024 draft is considered to be a relatively weak one, which means there is no clear-cut superstar prospect at the top like Victor Wembanyama in 2023, or a top-tier of elite talent like in 2022 with Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. A flat draft therefore means more difficult decisions, especially for the teams at the top, and introduces the potential for absolute chaos (such as in 2013 when a similarly flat draft yielded surprise pick Anthony Bennett at No. 1).

The Raptors' draft plan is simple

What works in the Raptors' favor is that they no longer need to bother with scouting dozens of players for the 2024 NBA Draft. They don't need to try and compare the bona fides of international wings with overhyped domestic guards. If the Raptors' front office had a television on Monday night, their decision was made for them.

The Toronto Raptors just need to draft a member of the Connecticut Huskies.

UConn absolutely demolished the Purdue Boilermakers in the National Championship Game on Monday night, their 12th-consecutive double-digit victory in two years worth of tournament games. They became the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat as champions, and the first team since a guy named Lew Alcindor was wearing "UCLA" across his chest to do so in such dominant fashion.

Some college teams find success despite a lack of NBA talent, but the Huskies have their fair share of NBA prospects. That means the Raptors don't need to look far to find their next draft pick: just take one of the Huskies.

Not every player on the roster is worth drafting, of course, and only a couple are worth drafting with a Top-6 pick. But as the Raptors look at their long-term needs and who the very best prospects on the champs are, it becomes obvious that there is a potential connection to be made.

7'4" center Zach Edey came into the title game with some eye-popping numbers as a two-time National Player of the Year, and 7'2" UConn center Donovan Clingan knocked him off of his game for much of the night Edey shot a whopping 25 times to get to 37 points, a relatively inefficient night from him, and when matched up against Clingan was repeatedly forced into less efficient shots or turnovers. At 7'2" with a 7'7" wingspan his impact on the paint is as good as anyone in the draft.

Jakob Poeltl is currently entrenched in the middle but is a strong candidate to be traded as the Raptors continue their retooling, and Clingan would be an exceptional replacement candidate as a future All-Defense candidate at center. He is a lob threat in the pick-and-roll, an elite rebounder and can finish well enough inside to be a part of the offensive gameplan. He would be an excellent selection in the Top 6.

The perfect fit for the Raptors

If Toronto wants to add an even better fit, however, there is an even more obvious pick in the Top 6, and it is UConn freshman Stephon Castle. The 6'6" guard joined a loaded Huskies team and was an important starter, balling out in the title game to the tune of 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal.

He was seemingly everywhere on defense, his best calling card, and enters the NBA Draft as a difference-maker as a perimeter defender who can take on point-of-attack assignments but also guard up to defend an opposing team's top scoring threat. Castle plus Scottie Barnes equals an absolute erasure of opposing offensive attacks.

What makes Castle worthy of a top pick is that he is far from a defensive specialist. He has excellent feel for the game and timing as a ball-handler and playmaker, and he is quick and strong enough to get to the rim and finish there. His shot is the big swing factor, but his work ethic suggests he will improve in that area and his motor and other tools raise his floor extremely high even without it.

There is more value to be found on the Connecticut team as well, with forward Alex Karaban a candidate to be drafted in the second round. He is a catch-and-shoot maven with good size at 6'8" and projects as a pick-and-pop specialist at the next level. He would be an intriguing addition in the second round.

The Connecticut Huskies dominated the competition in the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season, and luckily for the Raptors, boast a number of draft prospects that should make things easy to decide come draft night this June.