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Draft Watch: Bigs come in different sizes and shapes

Mississippi State v Arkansas
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Reviewing some of the big men that the Raptors worked out heading into the 2022 NBA Draft.

Despite the “Vision 6-9” that the Toronto Raptors have been rocking since last season, the team still lacks quality big men on their depth chart. Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher shared the middle last season with Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.

With that in mind, there are different expectations for a “big” when it comes down to the Raptors, so it’s no surprise that the Raptors’ big prospects that they worked out aren’t your traditional lumbering guys that are supposed to fight wrestling matches with the likes of Joel Embiid.

Ismael Kamagate from France might be the closest to a traditional centre but has shown flashes of being better than that. Jaylin Williams is a bit more of a Thaddeus Young-kind-of-a glue guy, while David Roddy is an undersized big that can be a matchup nightmare on offense.

Let’s have a look at them.

Jaylin Williams, Big

  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6’8.75”
  • Wingspan: 7’1”
  • Affiliation: Arkansas (Sophomore)
  • Stats: 10.9 PTS, 46.1% FG%, 23.9 3P%, 9.8 REB, 2.6 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.1 BLK, 1.8 TO

Why Jaylin?

Jaylin Williams is among the handful of prospects I am higher on than most mock boards have him. His two-way impact doesn’t overlap the Raptors core players’ skill set on both ends of the floor, and he could be a good successor to Khem Birch’s third big roster spot.

When I say his skill set doesn’t overlap, consider this (defensively):

Williams’ best attribute defensively is paint protection. For most bigs, it’s all about rim protection — swatting shots or showing enough resistance vertically around the rim. Williams is a decent shot blocker, but if he’s already in the paint, he does a great job walling off drives, and the best part, he makes a lot of quick decisions to contest, go for the block, or take a charge. You will be hard-pressed to see a big at the NCAA level having more charges drawn on their highlights than Williams. That defensive IQ, willingness to sacrifice his body, and timing to grift for charges has been missing since the GROAT left.

I dislike bigs who just chase their block stats, and Williams is not one of them. Watch the charges he’s taken — often, he does a quick glance behind him, assesses the risk, and makes a quick decision to take a charge or do something else. These decisions are happening much faster in real-time, so it’s impressive to see Williams get into the right spot to draw a foul.

When I say his skill set doesn’t overlap, consider this (offensively):

Williams sees the floor well, and his court vision is comparable to most point guards. He can set up shot at the top of the key, at the nail, middle of the zone, or at the low block, and Williams can do some magic as long as his teammates are moving. He’s great at reading the defense and his teammates’ movements simultaneously, making precise passes to the open man. It’s not surprising that he became the “hub” of the Razorbacks’ offense. I'm not saying he's Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah, but there's some similarities with their passing game here.

Williams is one of the best passing bigs in this draft, but he’s got good touch around the basket. He’s got a decent face-up game predicated on his defender biting on his pump fake or overplaying the pass. Based on his shooting form, his midrange and perimeter shooting game can be developed.

Areas of Concern

What’s that? What am I not telling you?

There’s a reason why William is ranked low — among 13 draft sites, his average draft spot is 46th, with his range probably somewhere in the 40-46 range.

Williams’ first issue is his perimeter shooting. He only converted 17 of 71 perimeter shots. If you watch the Razorbacks’ games, you will notice the lack of attention he’s getting from the defense when he’s camping around the perimeter, even to the extent of letting him shoot wide-open shots (it didn’t work for Gonzaga). His shooting form is not bad, but he can use some changes to his shot mechanics to get the shot more fluid.

Perhaps what makes it worse is Williams’ limited scoring options inside the arc. I feel more confident with him catching the ball on the roll. That way, he can get some downhill momentum than trying to face up. His lack of explosion on his first step and the vertical pop hurts his finishing ability every time he faces up, especially if his defender can stay in front of him. Williams moves in .75x speed, including the pump-fake/jab-step reminiscent of Kelly Olynyk’s moves.

While I praised Williams’ defense earlier, here’s the bigger picture — he’s a much better help defender in the paint than a 1-on-1 defender. He looks like a fish out of the water when he gets extended to the perimeter. He struggles with deciding whether to bite on a fake (the irony!) or, often, he won’t be in a defensive stance, allowing an easy blow-by. I also have reservations about Williams’ post defense, as he’s too willing to go vertical too early when defending the post, allowing post players with good footwork to get around him.

Williams is a really good drop coverage big. He's excellent at cheating the middle, but I'm not sure if he can do that at the NBA level, where his subpar quickness can get easily attacked. Another thing that's worth looking into is that since coach Nick Nurse took over, they don't do drop coverage that often. Even Gasol had to show hard defending PNRs. I don't think I've seen Williams rotate and contest perimeter shooters that often, and given his lack of foot speed/quickness, he might struggle on this front.

Raptors Fit

Anyone that can affect both ends of the floor as a glue guy should have a spot on the Raptors’ roster. While I questioned Williams’ (lack of) perimeter defense earlier, I think that’s something that can be mitigated once he learns the defensive philosophy. I believe there’s a possibility that Williams can develop as a defensive anchor, reading the opposing team’s set plays and redirecting traffic like how Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka did in the past.

The fun part is seeing Scottie Barnes and Williams on the floor together, breaking out of the Raptors’ predictable schemes and letting one of them on either side pick the defense apart if they have teammates willing to move and cut to shift defenses constantly. Williams touching the ball occasionally can add a few wrinkles to the Raptors’ offense. Otherwise, there’s a chance that he can be just clogging the paint. That said, I think his shooting can improve once he’s on the Nurse’s Pill program.

If the Raptors can fix Oshae Brissett and Justin Champagnie’s perimeter shot, I’m confident they can move Williams close to 35% in a couple of years, but the lab work might have to include plenty of trips to Mississauga.

David Roddy, Big?

  • Age: 21
  • Height: 6’4.5”
  • Wingspan: 6’11.5”
  • Affiliation: Colorado State (Junior)
  • Stats: 19.2 PTS, 57.1% FG%, 43.8 3P%, 7.5 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.1 BLK, 2.3 TO

Why David?

Roddy is the only bonafide scorer out of this group who can legitimately create his own shots. I was debating whether to put Roddy as a wing or a big because he can be both, or he can be neither.

Roddy is a mismatch nightmare on the offensive end. Put a big on him, and he will take that big out to the perimeter and drive by them. Put a guard on him, and he’ll be feasting on the post. Put someone around the same height on him, and he’ll have plenty of options to finish with his bully ball style of basketball.

Roddy took up the mantle as “the guy” at Colorado State. He was their offense, from generating scoring opportunities for himself, finding open teammates as defense focuses on him, to crashing the boards for a putback and as an off-ball scorer at times. He’s so valuable to the team that Roddy’s minutes, especially in the latter half of his Junior year, make coach Nick Nurse smile with approval. Many draft pundits compare him to a PJ Tucker type of player, but the comparison stops at the body composition. If anything, Roddy is closer to a Charles Barkley skill set than PJ Tucker’s. I’m not saying he can be Barkley, as Sir Charles was much more athletic than Roddy, but the “bag” is similar.

Despite being the focal point of Colorado State’s offense, Roddy is also an “effort” guy. He would utilize his motor and fights hard on 50/50 balls, especially on the boards. He plays bigger than his size, and he’s willing to bang down low and has found success finishing with contact thanks to his strength and girth.

Areas of Concern

Because of Roddy’s unique size and style of play, it’s hard to figure out where he fits in the NBA position-wise. It also doesn’t help that he played at a weaker conference, making some draft evaluators skeptical about what he can do. For reference, Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris sat at the top of that conference (MWC). Sadly, going MWC hasn’t gone too well for the Raptors.

Because Roddy’s frame is built like a tank, his subpar foot speed and limited athleticism put a question mark on his defensive versatility, especially around the perimeter. He’s had a lot of bad closeouts, but I will not penalize him too much when he’s playing almost the entire game at heavy usage.

Roddy’s handle can be tighter, as he can be careless and prone to getting the ball poked out of his hands. But then, again, fatigue and self-preservation can be a factor here, just like how his free-throw shooting is lower than what it should be.

Do we want Roddy to slim down? Maybe, but then I wonder if his girth is a significant factor in his game and might not be as effective without it.

Raptors Fit

Looking back at last season, the Raptors sorely missed Norman Powell’s impact off the bench. Aside from Chris Boucher, they did not have an instant offense that coach Nick Nurse could utilize. Having someone that can score at three levels and is crafty enough to create their own shot opportunities can ease the burden on the Raptors’ core players who shouldered the scoring workload last season. Roddy can fill that void, and with the way Nurse likes to invert positions and play calls in the name of creating a mismatch, he’s a perfect fit for the Raptors.

The Raptors can also put out a lineup on the floor where Roddy is the shortest player and still has ball handlers and perimeter defenders. Roddy’s size makes a conventional draft analyst think, “well, what’s his real position? He’s too slow to be a guard and undersized as a big. What is he? A SF or a PF?” With the Raptors, it’s not an issue, as long as Roddy can buy in on the defensive scheme and be effective off-ball whenever he’s not being asked to exploit a mismatch. If anything, there’s enough evidence that he’s a decent, if not a good off-ball/help defender.

Despite the subpar free-throw shooting, I can see Roddy’s perimeter shooting holding up. Still, he’ll need to improve as a catch-and-shoot release valve, as touches may not come that often, unlike when he was the fulcrum of Colorado State’s offense. With a smaller role (and lesser minutes) at the NBA level, Roddy’s free-throw shooting and defensive effort should trend since he won’t be asked to do everything while playing the entire game.

Even with all of that offensive talent, what makes Roddy a great piece for the Raptors’ bench is his mindset. He’s a workhorse, has a great compete level, and is an energy/effort guy. Roddy is the type of guy that can make things happen even if he doesn’t have the ball. He’s shown that he can catch-and-shoot, cut to the basket, and crash the offensive boards for a putback. With fewer minutes and responsibilities, he can concentrate on dealing damage every time he’s on the floor and make the opposing teams feel his presence.

Ismael Kamagate, Big

  • Age: 21
  • Height: 6’11” (listed)
  • Wingspan: 7’4”
  • Affiliation: France (International)
  • Stats: 11.3 PTS, 64.3% FG%, 0.00 3P%, 6.3 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.6 BLK, 1.7 TO

Why Ismael?

Kamagate is an intriguing prospect with his size, length, mobility, and athleticism at his position. He is a long-term play, and, based on his tools, can have another level that can be unlocked if he ends up in the right environment and is willing to invest in his long-term development.

As is, Kamagate projects to be an excellent defensive big. Once he develops, his rim protection will be his calling card. He’s got good timing blocking shots but understands well enough the value of providing verticality if swatting a shot might not be feasible. His nimble feet allow him to quickly go from point A to point B to provide help around the rim.

Speaking of his nimble feet, Kamagate has shown flashes of defending in space. Right now, he’s doing it by instinct, but his length gives him a more considerable margin of error and allows his light feet and quick laterals to catch up and stay in front of wings/guards trying to put him on an island.

Offensively, Kamagate’s vertical pop is above average, even on those no-gather attempts. He tries to dunk everything whenever possible, and his insane catch radius and good hands make him an ideal lob target. Kamagate’s long and quick strides make him a dangerous rim runner/rolling target, and once he catches that ball on a downhill, you can guarantee that it’s a power dunk waiting to happen.

There’s evidence that Kamagate might develop better utility on the offensive end, as he has shown flashes of excellent and timely passing instincts. IMO he’s already a better passer than Precious Achiuwa LOL.

Areas of Concern

Kamagate is very raw on both ends of the floor. His offense is limited to yamming on people (can we call him “Yamagate” if he ends up with the Raptors?), while his offense when he’s not able to dunk the ball is almost non-existent. For a big, he’s only reliable as a vertical target and rim runner. He doesn’t have anything on the post yet, as he has yet to put together a good mix of footwork, fakes, strength, and length to get a shot up quickly.

Defensively, Kamagate plays more instinctively than strategically, which is understandable at this point of his career. He gets stuck with ball watching too much, making him unaware of where his switches or rotations should go, putting himself in many bad spots defensively and tanks his defensive awareness. Just close your eyes when you see him tasked to defend a PnR action, for now.

Kamagate needs plenty of seasoning and has to work on his fundamentals. He projects to be an excellent rebounder, but relies a lot on his size and effort than positioning/boxing out when it comes to the battle of the boards.

Raptors Fit

If the Raptors choose to take a traditional centre with their 33rd pick, Kamagate is the guy. The Vision 6’9” is cool, but having a young big that can develop as your traditional rim protector AND still has an upside to develop into a modern NBA big might be the best long-term route.

Kamagate is raw and might take at least a couple of years before he’s considered “playable” under Nick Nurse’s system, but bigs take a while to develop. I’m not sure if Nurse will trust someone like him outside of spot minutes, and he’ll likely spend a lot of time with the Raptors 905 team.

He can be a great complementary long-term piece alongside Scottie Barnes and might be the bump this current core needs in a couple of years. With the league getting bigger and more skilled, where unicorns are showing up every year, I think it’s a worthy gamble to develop someone like Kamagate as a modern-day big. The Raptors know a thing or two about developing players who are “late” into the game, and, who knows, Scottie Barnes was supposed to be an upside pick and will need a year or two to develop, but we all saw how the season turned out.

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