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 is one player that could be transformational and an impact starter right away, it is USC center Evan Mobley.
Oddly enough, it’s Valanciunas’ removal from the organization’s depth chart via a 2019 trade with Memphis to acquire Marc Gasol that makes drafting a center this year so urgent.
Two years after trading Valanciunas, Toronto has no one of import to play the center position. Unless resigned this off-season, Khem Birch is a free agent, and Aron Baynes could and likely will see Raptors’ management opt-out of the second year of his contract.
Considering he felt he was misused, his lack of scoring and rebounding in the starting center’s role should prompt management to look elsewhere for front-court help.
While potential up and comer Henry Ellenson made a good showing with the Raptors 905 with a well-rounded offensive game, he was slow on defensive rotations and is not super athletic. He was given a mid-season 10-day contract and did not stick with the Raptors.
With Toronto usually struggling to add out-of-organization talent in free agency, a center acquired through the draft is the best way to resolve the team’s seven-foot hole in the middle of its lineup.
Why should the Toronto Raptors target Evan Mobley at the draft?
In addition to not having depth at the center position, Mobley may be the best big man available in the draft. He could be described as a somewhat less-developed version of Anthony Davis. That is a bold comparison, but one Mobley could supersede.
In 33 Pac-12 contests for USC this season, Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 2.9 blocks, and 8.7 rebounds per game. He shot nearly 58% overall and 30% on 3-pointers. Even if Mobley provided half of these stats in a rookie season as a Raptor, it would still be more imposing than Aron Baynes’ 6.1 points, .4 blocks, and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Mobley would also give Toronto a true seven-footer who is mobile, agile, athletic, and possess guard skills handling the ball. He would come in handy 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 that area.
He can also help make the Raptors’ defensive frontcourt a terror for opposing offenses as he can shot block, rebound, and defend multiple positions. Paired with Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, and at times OG Anunoby, the Raptors could have a versatile aggressive, and tough defense to play against.
How could the Toronto Raptors acquire Evan Mobley?
It won’t be easy to select Mobley on draft night as three teams select ahead of the Raptors. One solution is to approach the Houston Rockets, who select second overall behind the Pistons. Toronto could offer the fourth overall pick and a future first-rounder for the second selection this year.
With Cade Cunningham the consensus number one choice going to Detroit, the Raptors could then select Mobley.
Another way is to arrange for Houston to draft Mobley and the Raptors select a wingman or a guard like Jalen Green or Scottie Barnes that would fit Houston’s needs and then conduct a draft-day swap with Houston. Houston will have a healthy Christian Wood at center in 2021-22 after missing large chunks of this season with injuries and playing in just 41 games.
The urgency to move up in the draft or trade with Houston is precipitated by the wild card Cleveland Cavaliers selecting third overall. They already have two productive guards in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton and were a team that hoarded multiple centers this past season in JaVale McGee, Andre Drummond, and Jarrett Allen before trades and buyouts.
It would be risky for Toronto to wait and hope Mobley slides to fourth overall. If Mobley comes as advertised, then moving up or securing a trade for Mobley at the cost of a future first-rounder and this year’s fourth pick is the right move.
Adding a rookie contract at the center spot is financially the smart move.
Toronto’s management has done well and at times overpaid for their own free agents. Fred VanVleet is an example this past off-season. Where Toronto has struggled is in adding quality free agents from outside the organization. DeMarre Carroll, C.J. Miles, and even Baynes are on a shortlist of failed signings.
Should Toronto make a play 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.
There are financial implications to spending too much on a center.
While Birch has experience playing under Nick Nurse for Team Canada, the Raptors should upgrade at the center position. Further, with guards like Tim Hardaway Jr. available in free agency, there are plenty of shooting specialists to spend cap space on.
Further, there is a huge decision to make on what to pay RFA Gary Trent Jr., who opened some eyes in 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 bigs in the game from the jump, will come to Toronto on a very cheap contract, and is still within reach given Toronto’s status at No. 4.