The Toronto Raptors have a top-five pick in the NBA Draft for the first time since Jonas Valanciunas was selected fifth overall in 2011. If there’s one player who could be transformational and a starter for the impact right away, that’s the focus of USC Evan Mobley.
Curiously, it is the removal of Valanciunas from the organization’s dashboard via an exchange in 2019 with Memphis to acquire Marc Gasol that makes the writing of a center this year so urgent.
Two years after trading Valanciunas, Toronto has no one important to play for center. Unless he resigned this offseason, Khem Birch is a free agent, and Aron Baynes could see and likely will see the Raptors’ management pulling out of the second year of his contract.
Considering he felt misused, his lack of scoring and rebound in the starting center role should prompt management to look elsewhere for help on the pitch.
While promising potential Henry Ellenson performed well with the 905 Raptors with well-balanced attacking play, he was slow on defensive rotations and isn’t super athletic. He was given a 10-day contract mid-season and hasn’t bonded with the Raptors.
With Toronto typically struggling to add non-organization talent in free agency, a cross acquired through the draft is the best way to resolve the team’s seven-foot hole in the middle of its roster.
Why should the Toronto Raptors target Evan Mobley in the draft?
In addition to not having depth at the central position, Mobley maybe the best big man available in the project. He could be described as a slightly less developed version of Anthony Davis. It’s a bold comparison, but a Mobley could replace.
In 33 Pac-12 games for USC this season, Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 2.9 blocks and 8.7 rebounds per game. He shot nearly 58% in total and 30% on 3 points. Even if Mobley provided half of those stats in a rookie season as a Raptor, it would still be bigger than Aron Baynes 6.1 points, 0.4 blocks and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Mobley would also give Toronto a true seven-footer who is mobile, agile, athletic and has guarding skills to handle the ball. It would be useful on the pick and roll as a finisher in the paint, where Toronto finished 2021 fifth worst in the NBA, scoring just 43.6 points per game. in this domain.
He can also help turn the Raptors’ front defensive zone into a terror for enemy attacks, as he can block, bounce, and defend multiple positions. Paired with Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and sometimes OG Anunoby, the Raptors could have an aggressive and tough all-round defense to play against.
“When your most talented offensive player is your most selfless, willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that. “
How did the Toronto Raptors acquire Evan Mobley?
It won’t be easy to select Mobley on draft night as three teams select before the Raptors. One solution is to address the Houston rockets, who selects second overall behind the Pistons. Toronto could offer the fourth overall pick and a future first round for the second round this year.
With Cade Cunningham the number one consensus pick going to Detroit, the Raptors could then select Mobley.
Another way is to get Houston to draft Mobley and the Raptors select a winger or guard like Jalen Green or Scottie Barnes that would meet Houston’s needs, then do a draft day trade with Houston. Houston will have a healthy Christian Wood at center in 2021-22 after missing big chunks of this season with injuries and playing in just 41 games.
The urgency to progress in the repechage or to exchange with Houston is precipitated by the wild card of the Cleveland Cavaliers which selects the third place in the general classification. They already have two productive guards at Darius Garland and Collin Sexton and were a team that racked up multiple crosses last season at JaVale McGee, Andre Drummond and Jarrett Allen ahead of trades and buyouts.
It would be risky for Toronto to wait and hope for Mobley to place fourth overall. If Mobley turns up as advertised then riding or getting a trade for Mobley at the cost of a future first round and fourth pick this year is the right move.
Adding a rookie contract to the central plaza is financially the right decision.
Toronto management did well and at times paid too much for their own free agents. Fred VanVleet is an example of this past offseason. Where Toronto has struggled is adding quality free agents from outside the organization. DeMarre Carroll, CJ Miles and even Baynes are on a shortlist of failed signings.
If Toronto played for Mobley, they could acquire a 20-year-old center on a manageable four-year rookie contract, a young center they can control for a few seasons before having to pay him off.
There are financial implications to spending too much on a center.
While Birch has experience under Nick Nurse for Team Canada, the Raptors are expected to play center. Plus, with guards like Tim Hardaway Jr. available through free agency, there are plenty of shooting specialists to dedicate space to.
Plus, there’s a huge decision to be made about what to pay RFA Gary Trent Jr., who opened his eyes during his short stint with the Raptors in Florida after a trade with the Trail Blazers.
Mobley has the tools to be one of the best big guys in the game right off the jump, will come to Toronto on a very cheap contract, and is always on hand given Toronto’s status at No.4.