By: Greg Rector
The busiest week of the year for NBA franchises has seen 60 draft picks made, numerous trades, and for the last few days plenty of free-agent signings. So I am going to review what We The North has done during this period.
The week started off with the draft and the Raptors had the 29th and 59th draft picks. There were no deals to move up or down. Personally I believe the Jrue Holiday trade by Milwaukee, really shook up trade values for everyone else. There were deals after the facts for a lot of teams, but Toronto stayed out of the fray.
With the 29th pick, the Raptors selected from San Diego State 6′ 1″ PG Malachi Flynn. This pick showed where Toronto goes against the grain compared to most franchises. They chose a 4-year collegian in Flynn, and not a one and done player. Keeping in line with the success they’ve had with players like VanVleet, Davis, and a three year player in Pascal Siakam. The feeling is they are more mature and better able to contribute sooner.
Flynn is a skilled point guard who has a trait the Raptors absolutely value greatly, he is a very determined player. Plays at both ends of the court and that competitive level is evident when you watch Flynn on tape. Personally I would have liked more length but Flynn will bring exactly what this team mandates, a team-first mentality. He will have two excellent teachers in front of him to learn how to play at this level at the very demanding point guard spot. I was surprised at the pick in all honesty. However, after watching him on tape and hearing what others have had to say about Flynn, this pick made sense for the Raptors. Former Pistons great Isiah Thomas, a damn good PG in his day said of Flynn he is the best pure PG in this class.
At the 59th pick, the Raptors selected from the University of Nevada 6’5″ combo guard Jalen Harris. Like Flynn, he is 22 and because of a transfer from Louisiana Tech, played three of 4 eligible seasons. Thank you for more length in the backcourt!!! He will be looked at more like a 2 guard but is a capable ball-handler and passer that he can handle the 1 for periods as well. Harris’ biggest asset is his ability to create his own shot, whether it’s off a screen or in isolation. He averaged 21.7 points for the Wolfpack, including a 32 point game against the first Raptors pick Flynn’s San Diego State team. That came in a week he was named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the week in February. Throw in an average of 6.5 rebounds and he could be exactly what was missing from the Raptors at key times last year another FINISHER in the backcourt. He will need to improve his spot-up jumper. He’s got work to do on the defensive end, but coming to a team coached by Nick Nurse, you know that area will be addressed.
Overall I like the picks they made. Will admit I was a bit surprised because of what I will go into next, that they didn’t go big at 29. I thought a Xavier Tillman who went 33rd to Sacramento might have gone at 29.
With Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet, all unrestricted free agents, and the definite focus on next years free agent group, Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri, had to make a plan on how to remain competitive this season along with being able to maneuver for that much better crop of free agents coming after this season. Led of course by a guy known as the “Greek Freak.”
The priority was of course Fred VanVleet. Raptors fans got nervous prior to free agency because the rumor mill had several teams interested in Fred. Including the Knicks who were rumored to be ready to back up a Brinks truck to sign him. Further anxiety when in an interview VanVleet said his priority was getting paid. Well, he got paid to the tune of a four-year $85. million dollar deal. The 4th year is a player option. For me, one area must improve for Freddie. When he goes inside against the trees, he must FINISH much better than we have seen from him. No one can find fault with his leadership, determination, and ability to be effective at both ends of the floor, however, when baskets are so badly needed in the playoffs and close game in the season, you have to put the ball in the bucket.
This leads to the frontcourt players Ibaka and Gasol. While both are gone and that’s why I had thought Tillman might have been drafted. Gasol and Ibaka, are both Los Angeles bound. Serge will join his friend, Kawhi Leonard, on the Clippers, while Gasol joins King James and company with the defending champion Lakers.
This is where the work really began for the front office. The first step was keeping restricted free agent Center/Power forward Chris Boucher. They indeed signed the Canadian to a two-year deal. Next was deciding who to bring in as a new starting center. The Raptors decided on Aron Baynes. Hassan Whiteside had to be considered, but Baynes is better defensively so he was the choice. The Australian is just slightly younger than Gasol. A big reason as well is Baynes has won a championship in 2013 with the Spurs.
Now that the main piece was in place it was time to fill out the roster. To back up Baynes and Boucher, the Raptors signed former first-round pick Alex Lens. A true traditional big man at 7’1″ 250 lbs along with Baynes, the Raptors will be able to defend the likes of Giannis and Embid in the Eastern Conference. Lens will be another to benefit from the Nick Nurse coaching staff. If Len can avoid injuries that have stalled his promise, this could be a very good piece for the Raptors.
The last signing by the Raptors might turn out to be the best one of them all. Deandre’ Bembry formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, can play both the 2 or at times the 3 spot. Here’s why I like this signing, pedigree. Born and raised in a basketball hotbed Charlotte North Carolina. Went to Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia, yeah you know the city where Kyle is from, and where hard-nosed basketball is paramount. Another former first-round pick he as well went through injuries that hurt his progress. Being on an awful Hawks team didn’t help matters either. However, because of the possible legal situation with Terence Davis, Bembry does bring a couple of keys for the Raptors. He is a very good defender both on and off the ball. In limited opportunities he is also a guy that drives well to the basket, to compensate for a below-average outside shot.
Overall the pieces are in place for the Tampa Bay Raptors (Thanks COVID-19) to be their same ornery defense first, determined family on and off the court, to compete in the Eastern Conference this year along with the salary cap flexibility needed for next offseason.
WE THE NORTH ERR SNOWBIRDS
You can find me on Twitter @GregCowboys