The most telling indicator of the Toronto Raptors’ intentions heading into the NBA Draft came long before they made Arizona big man Christian Koloko their second-round pick.
Prior to the draft, there had been persistent rumors or speculation that Raptors forward OG Anunoby was in play and trading him was the way Toronto would secure a lottery pick while adding additional roster depth. , presumably, and that the fifth-year coming would find a way to become a primary offensive option and potentially increase his contract value in the process.
It didn’t matter that much of this speculation was driven by teams looking to add the skills that make Anunoby so valuable to Toronto: size, speed, defensive versatility, quality three-point shooting and the possibility of a more offensive punch. coming. .
In particular, the Portland Trail Blazers were working hard to convince the Raptors to give up Anunoby in exchange for the seventh draft pick, with all-court press coming in on Wednesday, the sources said.
But on Thursday morning, the Raptors’ response was playing out in real time at the OVO Athletic Center as Anunoby trained with rookie of the year Scottie Barnes and NBA forward Pascal Siakam. In theory, it was the fear of not having enough opportunities to grow behind Siakam and Barnes that was behind reports that Anunoby was unhappy with his role in Toronto and could be open to a change of position. decor.
But none of that was on display Thursday.
It was no coincidence that three of the Raptors’ most important players were on the court together, practicing. If finding ways for them to thrive individually and as a group is part of the plan, training together is a small part of it.
“I think it’s occurred to me over the summer, not just today but a lot of these weeks here since we broke up, there’s a pretty good closeness to this group,” the coach said. Raptors Nick Nurse. “[Thursday] we have Pascal, OG and Scottie all on the floor today training with each other at the same time and it was exciting to see them get into it a bit… but most of the time it’s not that our guys, rightly so, they’re proud to be Raptors, they love the organization…so team spirit feels really good right now. So it’s exciting to see.”
Needless to say, while the lottery rolled on and the Trail Blazers pick came and went at No. 7, the Raptors remained pat and Anunoby remained on the roster. Any worries he might have about his role or any worries the Raptors might have about him is yesterday’s news.
“I had a really good, positive end to the season with OG,” Nurse said. “We certainly talked about all that stuff. Look, I think OG is really good. I really like him. He’s a great person and a great two-way player. He’s had a bit of a way strewn with pitfalls last year obviously with the injuries [that kept him out of 34 games last season]. I think more than anything, he just wants to be out there…to have more games available, and I think his production and his promise and continued development hinges on that. Right? I think he knows it. [And] I think we all know that. But guys like him are hard to find in this league.”
When did the Raptors get a chance to make a selection? That didn’t happen until the second round — with the Raptors having traded their first-round pick as part of the deal that got them to Thaddeus Young at the trade deadline.
Selected 33rd, Toronto chose Koloko, an Arizona junior who stands out because at seven-foot-one he becomes the only player on the roster over six-foot-nine and because he hails from Douala, Cameroon, the birthplace of Siakam.
“That’s something we don’t have,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said.
Koloko averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots while shooting 63.5 percent from the floor in 25.4 minutes per game. He was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year and also won the Most Improved Player award by making jumps in every statistical category in his sophomore season after playing sparingly as a rookie.
The Raptors have been tracking him since a Basketball Without Borders camp in 2017, when the 22-year-old was a “long, skinny, lanky kid,” Webster said. “You want to continue to see this rise and everyone knows our development [plans] and the amount of resources we want to put into a guy like him, you know, the sky’s the limit.”
Nurse said that while having a seven-footer on the roster may be a start for a team that has emphasized positionless basketball, the possibility that a big man could be active defensively may help his club play even more aggressively on the perimeter.
“If he protects the rim as well as I think he does, I think that still gives you a chance, if possible, to be even more aggressive on the wings,” Nurse said. “[To] funnel things down and be even more in the hallways and more hands-on and more revenue-driven and not having to pay if you play and make mistakes. Maybe someone can salvage some of those mistakes on goal.”
It was also a great night for Canadian basketball. For the first time in NBA history, two of them made the top seven and all four players were selected in the top 32.
Bennedict Mathurin, an All-American at Arizona, finished sixth overall against Indiana, becoming the first Montreal player to be selected in the lottery. With the next selection – No. 7 – the Portland Trail Blazers took Shaedon Sharpe, the explosive winger from London, Ont. Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., a Gonzaga point guard, went 31st at Indiana and Caleb Houstan of Mississauga, Ont., went 32nd at the Orlando Magic.
It was another bright spot for Nurse, who is also the head coach of Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team.
“Another really great night for Canada and basketball in the country,” Nurse said. “And congratulations not just to all of those guys and their families, but to all of the coaches and everything that helped get those guys there.”