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“Yeah, obviously they need to Bradshaw, good job!” – you after reading the title, probably.
That’s true, loyal reader! It should be very simple, right?
But come draft season, in any sport, there’s a discussion on whether a team should draft for what it needs most or if they should take the best player on their board and figure it out later.
In some sports, that’s an easier decision to make.
In the NHL and MLB, a lot of players won’t make it to the highest level for a couple of years so drafting for need makes little sense when that might not be your team’s need by the time the player arrives.
In the NFL, you lean towards need a slight bit more due to the sheer size of your roster but in the end, if there’s a player who is head and shoulders above any position you need, you should absolutely take them. Shoutout to Kyle Pitts.
But unless MLSE makes a drastic change, the Toronto Raptors are forever going to be an NBA team.
And the discussion is a bit more complicated (but also it shouldn’t be).
I want to take a quick look at some of the perils of drafting for need as it can lead to some pretty hilariously bad results.
But let’s start with assessing this from a Raptors needs perspective.
What are the Raptors needs?
The most glaringly obvious need is a big.
After splitting centre minutes between Aron Baynes, Khem Birch, Chris Boucher, and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors could use a really good big man.
Enter: Evan Mobley from USC.
Easily the best big in the draft and a clear top three pick.
However, if all goes right, Mobley won’t be there at the number four pick for the Raptors to select him.
The Raptors need a player who can get his own shot in the half court. Many people covering and watching the team know that in the last couple years, the Raptors half court offence has been… less than stellar.
That could be a Jalen Green-type of player, but once again, he most likely won’t fall to the Raptors on draft night (he could but I don’t think it’s a likely scenario).
I would also argue the Raptors need another high level ball handler, regardless of if Kyle Lowry leaves or not. Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn are solid and Pascal Siakam has developed his handle quite well and has turned into a very good passer. But in the theme of half court offence, the Raptors will need another guy.
But it’s not the primary need, so when it gets to the fourth overall pick on July 29th, do the Raptors look to take a big like Kai Jones from Texas or a half court scorer like James Bouknight from UConn?
Let’s look at some of the worst case scenarios that drafting for need has caused in recent memory.
Who needs need!
The clear worst case scenario in recent memory were the Sacramento Kings drafting Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic at number two overall in 2018.
The logic in their mind was that they didn’t want two primary ball handlers and floor generals after having drafted De’Aaron Fox. On its face that is a horrendous decision.
Doncic was one of the greatest draft prospects ever, full stop. You’re the Sacramento Kings, you don’t pass up a generational star like that.
Oh, and former Kings GM Vlade Divac didn’t like Doncic’s father so that was also a factor.
But hey, very few teams (let alone the Raptors) are as dumb as the Kings.
So what about a well run organization like the Golden State Warriors? Surely they couldn’t have made such an error in drafting for need instead of an obviously better prospect.
James Wiseman was, by some advanced metrics, one of the worst players in the NBA last year. For players who played over 800 minutes, he had the second-lowest total RAPTOR, third-worst RAPTOR wins above replacement, fifth-lowest box plus/minus, and in the bottom 15 for value over replacement (VORP).
Can Wiseman turn it around? Absolutely! He won’t be one of the worst players in the league forever, but he’ll never reach LaMelo Ball’s peak.
(I also wouldn’t be comfortable giving up Siakam for Wiseman, no matter the draft compensation.)
You could even make the argument that the Milwaukee Bucks should have taken Joel Embiid over Jabari Parker in 2014 despite the injury concerns for Embiid. He was so dominant in college when he played that he was on his way to becoming the consensus number one pick.
If the Pistons pass on Cade Cunningham for Jalen Green because they have Killian Hayes (who I love as a prospect), that’s buffoonery.
But those are just a couple of recent examples.
That’s not to say “never draft for need” either. If there’s a tie on your board, take the need. If you’re a contender and have an obvious need for a bench piece, you can take a need as long as it’s not a horrendous reach.
So why best player available?
In theory, drafting for need in the NBA makes sense, right?
There are only five players on the court for one team, so they have a greater chance of making an impact in Year One than essentially any other league.
But if that player you drafted for need isn’t very good, it doesn’t matter.
The Warriors needed a centre more than a guard, but they ended up being considerably better without Wiseman on the floor. Sure would have been nice to have the Rookie of the Year instead!
There are times where that doesn’t work out either. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Darius Garland already having Collin Sexton on their roster, it hasn’t been great, and now the Cavs could be in the market to move one.
But overall, you always bet on the talent over the need/fit.
This is all to say, if Jalen Suggs is the best player available in the Raptors eyes, they should take him.
Or if they think Jonathan Kuminga is the best player available, take him.
Or Scottie Barnes, or anyone (within reason).
If you believe in your coaches and development team, you take the best player on the board and they’ll find a way to make it work.