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Raptors Player Formula: Taking a peek into Masai Ujiri’s lab

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

Over the past several years, the Toronto Raptors have overseen a league-renowned developmental program. Led by Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and an assortment of coaches with both the Raptors and the G-League Raptors 905, Toronto has done an extraordinary job in growing the talent of several young players within the organization.

While Ujiri and the Raptors went a different direction this past draft, top-rated prospect Jalen Suggs spoke about the impressive Raptors development program before this year’s draft.

The Raptors and Ujiri shocked the NBA world and opted to take Scottie Barnes out of Florida State last month, even though Jalen Suggs was heavily favoured to be selected before him. While it may come as a surprise to many around the league and even Raptors fans as a whole, the selection of Barnes follows a clear trend of what Ujiri is looking for in an NBA prospect.

Suggs is currently far more prepared for an NBA game than Scottie Barnes is, however Ujiri and Webster have developed a tendency of selecting players who have a far higher long-term ceiling rather than pro-ready players.

Although these players may require more developmental work on the court and in the weight-room, Ujiri’s track record has shown that the Raptors are committed to this approach rather than a player that can start on the court right away such as Suggs.

With his first draft pick as General Manager of the Toronto Raptors Ujiri selected Bruno Caboclo, a raw 6’9 forward from Brazil, who was dubbed as “two years away from being two years away.” This selection began that trend for the Raptors, using their draft picks to select players who are tall, defensively focused and may need some work and extra growth in their offensive game.

While missing on Caboclo, Ujiri has hit on nearly all of his other draft picks in the past seven years. Led by the Nigerian, the Raptors organization have developed a specific mold of prospect which includes an athletic player, who is talented in many different aspects of the game, while holding a priority on defensive skills.

The draft style by Toronto has led to home-run selections such as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby as well as Jakob Poeltl who was a pivotal piece of the Kawhi Leonard trade. While Ujiri’s draft track record also includes Norman Powell and Malachi Flynn, it is clear to see what the Raptors front office is looking for in a player, especially after the selection of Scottie Barnes.

The selections of Siakam and Anunoby closely relate to the Barnes selection as they are players who come out of college as great athletes with a developed defensive game and an all-around skill set. With their developmental program the Raptors have made it a priority to refine the offensive skills of many of these young player’s skills and will hope to do that in upcoming years with Barnes.

The strategy has worked for Siakam, who has turned into a star player around the league, while Anunoby seems to be a future franchise cornerstone. Siakam became an all-star in his fourth year with Toronto, while Anunoby had a career-best season last year. Both players were an important part of the championship team in 2019.

It should come as no surprise that back in 2013, Ujiri also attempted to draft a raw prospect from Greece in Giannis Antetokounmpo who just became an NBA Champion and Finals MVP.

With their G-League team and their organizational structure, the Raptors have made it a priority to develop many of the young players they have drafted. Outside of Caboclo, Ujiri has been ultra successful in his plan.

Siakam and Anunoby are examples of players who have significantly improved their offensive talent and have helped the Raptors display their highly-touted developmental program across the association.

Once the selection of Barnes was announced, it was clear that Masai still had a decisive say in the decision-making of the Toronto Raptors. Even before he signed his contract extension.

While passing on Suggs may come as a surprise to many, drafting Barnes completely fits the mold of what Ujiri is looking for in a prospect. The selection depicts Ujiri’s strategy of focusing on skill development in a short amount of time to maximize on the potential of many talented prospects.

The Raptors will hope that the development of Barnes follows a similar trajectory to that of the development of Siakam and Anunoby.

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