Tuesday was a good day for the Toronto Raptors. As the front office assembled in front of a television at a bar in Chicago following the day’s NBA Draft Combine action, the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery unfolded. With Fred VanVleet representing the organization at the lottery virtually, the Raptors moved up to the No. 4 overall selection.
After finishing the 2020-21 season with a 27-45 record, the Raptors started the night with the seventh-best odds. The team had a 31.9 percent chance of a top-four pick and an 8.5 percent chance of securing the fourth overall pick.
“It’s a silver lining on a tough season, but the work starts now,” Raptors General Manager Bobby Webster told the media during a zoom call shortly after the lottery concluded. “For us, the jump from seven to four is meaningful.”
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Draft Lottery took place in Secaucus, New Jersey at the NBA office, while representatives for each of the lottery teams were present virtually. The significance of being selected to be the face of the Raptors at the Lottery five years after going undrafted in the 2016 Draft himself wasn’t lost on VanVleet. Shortly after the Raptors were revealed to have the fourth overall pick, VanVleet went to Twitter to remind everyone of his own NBA journey.
From undrafted to signed, to NBA Champion and NBA starter in five years, VanVleet knows better than anyone the importance of ending up in the right situation.
With the front office together in Chicago to evaluate this year’s upcoming draft class at the NBA Combine, the hours were long and the time passed slowly, in the countdown to Lottery time.
“You wake up today with good energy and you want everyone to have positive thoughts,” Webster said of the organization’s approach on Tuesday. ”It’s obviously a possibility [that we could have moved up the draft board]. You don’t want to put too much certainty around it, but we felt good going into today and obviously, having Freddie up there is always a nice good luck charm.”
VanVleet is always ready for the action, whether he’s scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter of a championship-clinching Game 6 victory, or he’s representing the Raptors at the Draft Lottery. Once again, the Raptors organization was rewarded for betting on VanVleet.
This is the third time in franchise history that the Raptors have had the fourth pick in the NBA Draft. In 1998, the team chose Antawn Jamison who was then traded on draft night to Golden State for Vince Carter, who had been selected fifth overall. Carter went on to be a five-time All-Star with the Raptors, as well as helping Canada begin its love affair with the game of basketball. In 2003, the Raptors drafted Chris Bosh fourth overall. Bosh went on to spend seven seasons with Toronto. Like Carter, was an All-Star five times as a Raptor.
Though the Lottery is ultimately uncontrollable, waiting is the hardest part.
“It’s incredibly stressful,” Webster said with a laugh. “The fun part is that it’s pretty quick. It’s not too agonizing, they get everything done there pretty quickly on TV. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, [being in the Lottery]. You’re in this position because the season wasn’t what you planned, but it’s a bit of a silver lining.”
With the Draft Lottery now complete, Webster and the rest of Toronto’s front office can begin the work of preparing for the upcoming draft in earnest. While scouting of the top prospects in this year’s draft class has been well underway for much of this season, the team can now hone in on details and planning for upcoming workouts.
“There’s the opportunity here in Chicago to go watch some pro days [and] we’ve already had dates scheduled in the books,” Webster said. “This obviously changes a bit of who the players are [that we’ll be seeing], but as most of you know, we’ll be back in Tampa and we’ll get that going sooner rather than later.”
Teams can sometimes feel pressure from moving up the draft board and into the top four in a draft that is already being heralded for its depth, but the Raptors aren’t focusing on any outside distractions. With a focus firmly on the process ahead, Webster anticipates it being an enjoyable one.
“I think it’s more of a challenge and [it’s] fun,” he said. “We have not, fortunately, been in this situation much in the past. For us it’s a great challenge, it’s a great project for us to dive into. From that perspective, we view it as less pressure and more of a challenge.”
The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled to take place on Thursday, July 29. In addition to the fourth overall pick, the Raptors also own the 46th pick (originally belonging to Memphis via Sacramento) and the 47th pick (originally belonging to Golden State via Utah and New Orleans).