Raptors keeping open mind with plenty of options for 33rd pick in NBA draft

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The possibilities for the Raptors are endless, to an extent.

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That’s part of the feeling for the club heading into the 2022 NBA draft on June 23.

With no first-round pick — it went to San Antonio in the trade in February that landed power forward Thad Young — Toronto will pick 33rd overall, using a selection that was acquired in that same trade.

“I wish I knew,” Raptors assistant general manager and vice-president of player personnel Dan Tolzman jokingly said on Wednesday when asked who the team would be drafting. “I’ll take any suggestions.”

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Fact is, Tolzman and the Raptors aren’t overly concerned with playing the role of spectators through the first round. Sure, the net they’ve cast over the pool of potential picks with the third choice in the second round is much wider than what it would be had they held on to their first-rounder, but the team is fine with that.

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“With this year’s draft, after the top-15 players, it’s pretty wide-open in terms of where guys might slot in,” Tolzman said. “There’s a lot of really good positives being in that spot, because you’re just outside the first round, so you have a lot of flexibility with the contract itself (it’s not guaranteed for second-rounders) and you’re getting the pick of the litter outside of the first-round guys.

“But it’s also who is in that group that is up in the air until 10 minutes before you’re picking. We’re trying to narrow down the group of guys that we think we’re going to be looking at, and then trying to fine-tune who we like in that group.

“No matter where the pick is, there’s always pressure to get the best available talent. The hope is that you get a player that’s going to make your team and be a rotation player for a lot of years. From a pressure standpoint, it’s obvious that if you mess up at 33, it’s a little less of a big deal than if you mess up at four.”

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One player who could wind up with the Raptors at No. 33 would bring some familiarity for the organization.

Among those being worked out on Wednesday at the OVO Athletic Centre was guard/forward Julian Champagnie, the twin brother of Justin Champagnie, who signed a two-way contract with the Raptors last year after going undrafted. The latter managed to work his way into the mix and played in 36 games for the Raptors. 

After initially declaring for the 2021 NBA draft, Julian Champagnie took his name out of the draft and returned to St. John’s, where he averaged 19.2 points in 31 games after undergoing off-season wrist surgery.

Julian hadn’t seen his brother in a couple of months before arriving in Toronto for the workout. Rather than go for dinner, Justin took him out for a haircut as the twins took advantage of the opportunity to catch up.

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“I definitely have a lot of respect for him, going through (last season), he had some really high moments and he had some really low ones where he was not playing,” Julian said. “Seeing him persevere, and continue to go harder, eventually find his role and find his way, that was something nice to watch.

“It’d be cool (to be a teammate of his brother). We haven’t played in a while together, so it would probably be a bit difficult at first. I think we’ve grown apart as people and as players, but playing together again, we would find a way.”

Tolzman sees common traits in the twins’ play.

“They’re different, from how they impact the game and probably what type of player they ultimately will become,” Tolzman said. “But at the same time, they’re clearly raised very similar. They’re very tough-minded guys. 

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“So much of that competitiveness, that’s what translates to the NBA. The way Justin fit in and how he approaches being a Raptor, I think it’s probably likely that Julian will have a similar mentality.”

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In the bigger picture, Tolzman and the Raptors staff as a whole are glad to be returning to a regular routine in evaluating draft-eligible players. The pandemic has a source of major disruption in the day-to-day operations of teams in every sport, but the worst days are in the past. 

“It has been such a challenge the last couple of years,” Tolzman said. “To have some sense of normalcy and getting back to our usual pre-draft process, it makes everything a little more comfortable. It makes things a bit easier and smoother.”

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