North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

March Madness, Toronto Raptor style

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March has rolled around again and, as seems to be case in recent years, the Raptors’ season has regressed to going through motions; the team is far out of a playoff spot, yet not poor enough to have a real shot at winning the draft lottery, and it’s hard to really work up the desire to sit through some games.
There’s an upside to this, though: this poor finish has got me wondering about the draft and on who to watch in the NCAA tournament. What follows is a brief look at some players I like – and one I don’t – and wouldn’t mind seeing in a Raptors uniform come fall.

Fun to watch but not likely to wind up where the Raptors will be
Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke; Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State

Both Irving and Sullinger are two of the most talented players in the tournament (that is, if Irving suits up and returns from an injury) and on teams likely to go deep. But they’re also likely to go early in the draft and most mock drafts have either one going first overall, meaning it’s unlikely they’d drop into the Raptors’ lap. Still, stranger things have happened.

Irving’s a talented guard who can score and create for other players. He only appeared in eight games this season, yet he averaged 17 points and five assists per game. He also leads Duke in True Shooting Percentage, a metric which measures both two- and three-point field goals plus free throws. If he returns – something which isn’t exceptionally likely to happen – he makes an already-good Duke team that much better. If he doesn’t play, will it cause his stock to slide south? Maybe – at least one mock draft has him landing with the Raptors.

Sullinger, however, is the centre of Ohio State’s team. A tall – 6’9” – power forward. he leads the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding, averaging 17 and 10 respectively. And don’t look now, but he’s ninth in the NCAA in Win Shares, with 7.4. He’s peaking at the right time, too, having just ripped off three straight double-doubles in the Big 10 tournament. One would expect for him to continue into this tournament.

Could find their way down, but do they fill a hole?
Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona;  Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina, Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut

These are the players being projected to go further down in the draft, in the four to ten range in most, which is probably where the Raptors will end up. But the question here is what role would they play on the team? Some would immediately fill a hole on the team while others would be deeper in the rotation.

It’s possible that Williams may be the best scorer in the tournament this year. True, he’s only putting up 18 a game – well behind Jimmer Fredette’s 28.5 per game – but he’s an efficient scorer: he leads the NCAA in both True Shooting and Effective Field Goal Percentage – a metric which adjusts for the difference between two and three-point field goals – with .703 and .669. respectively. His scoring is a big part of Arizona’s unsuccessful run in the Pac-10 tournament, where he dropped at least 20 points a game for three consecutive games. As somebody who being projected to go anywhere from second to fifth in the draft, he could easily end up with Toronto, where I think he’d fit in nicely behind Ed Davis and Amir Johnson.

As the Jose Calderon era comes to a close, one PG to keep an eye on is Connecticut’s Kemba Walker. Given that he runs their offence, it’d be hard to miss him: he’s averaging over 37 minutes per game and leads the team in scoring with nearly 24 points a game. He’s also got some moves: just look at his buzzer-beater against Pitt in the Big East tournament. He’s already got the gravitas to hold onto the ball and take big, late game shots himself, which to me is as good a sign as any. His ball-handling does leave something to be desired (his assist -to-turnover ratio is nearly two to one) however. Could he replace Calderon down the road? I wouldn’t complain.

Thanks to an explosive 40-point night, Harrison Barnes’ stock couldn’t be higher – especially with Raptors forward Ed Davis, who gave him props in the Toronto Sun the other day. While that outburst was a bit of an aberration from his norm (he had only scored more than 20 four times to that point, and never more than 26), he’s still a solid wing player who averages about 21 points and eight rebounds per 40 minutes . Interestingly, he hasn’t fouled out this season, either. And given the Raptors hole at small forward, he’s somebody who could contribute right away.

He’ll be around in the tourny and draft, but I don’t want him and neither should you
Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU

I don’t care how odd it sounds to not want the NCAA’s leading scorer and maybe one of the more exciting players in the tournament in Toronto. I stand by it 100 per cent and I’ll explain why in a second. First off, Fredette is a fun player to watch and he can score in bunches. He’s dropping an average of 32 points per 40 minutes and had a 52-point outburst against New Mexico in the Mountain West semifinal. He’s scored more than anybody in the NCAA this season (by over 100 points, too) and has some nice offensive numbers: .598 True Shooting, .538 Effective Field Goal and 7.8 Win Shares. But there’s some ugly ones, like his 1.95 assist to turnover ratio or any defensive metric; Fredette is maybe as bad defesively as he is good offensively. And another shoot-first, can’t defend point guard is not something Toronto needs.

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Written by M.

March 16, 2011 at 9:58 pm

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