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Despite the outside interest, the Raptors are holding on to Anunoby and now looking forward.

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The most telling indicator of the Toronto Raptors’ intentions as the NBA Draft approached came long before they took Arizona big man Christian Koloko as their second-round pick.

Before the draft, there were persistent rumors or speculation that Raptors forward OG Anunoby was in the game and trading him was the means by which Toronto would get a lottery pick while adding some additional roster depth, presumably, and that the fifth player from the year on would find a way to become a primary offensive option and potentially increase the value of his contract in the process.

It didn’t matter that most of that speculation was fueled by teams looking to add the skills that make Anunoby so valuable to Toronto: size, quickness, defensive versatility, quality 3-point shooting and the potential for more offensive hitting per game. to come. .

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In particular, the Portland Trail Blazers were pushing hard to convince the Raptors to give up Anunoby in exchange for the seventh pick in the draft, the full-court press was held Wednesday, according to sources.

But on Thursday morning, the Raptors’ answer was playing out in real time at the OVO Athletic Center as Anunoby worked out with NBA Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes and NBA forward Pascal Siakam. In theory, it was concern about not having enough opportunities to flourish behind Siakam and Barnes that was behind reports that Anunoby was unhappy with his role in Toronto and might be open to a change of scenery.

But none of that was on display Thursday.

It was no coincidence that three of the Raptors’ most important players were on the floor together, working out. If finding ways for them to thrive individually and as a group is part of the plan, working together is a small board.

“I think it’s seemed to me this summer, not just today but many of these weeks here since we parted ways, there’s a great closeness with this group,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “[Thursday] we’ve got Pascal, OG and Scottie all on the floor today working together at the same time and it was exciting to see them do a little bit… but mostly it’s just our guys, rightly so, they’re proud to be Raptors, they love the organization. .. so the team spirit feels really good right now. So it’s exciting to watch.”

Needless to say, as the lottery progressed and the Trail Blazers’ pick went back and forth at No. 7, the Raptors held their own and Anunoby remained on the roster. Any concerns you may have about his role or concerns the Raptors may have about him are yesterday’s news.

“I had a very positive end to the season with OG,” Nurse said. “We certainly talk about all those kinds of things. Listen, I think OG is really good. I really like him. He’s a tremendous person and a great two-way player. He had a bit of a rough road last year, obviously with the injuries. [that kept him out of 34 games last season]. I think more than anything, he just wants to be out there… to have more games available, and I think his production and his promise and his continued development depends on that. Right? I think he knows. [And] I think we all know that. But guys like him are hard to find in this league.”

When did the Raptors get a chance to make a pick? He didn’t make it until the second round: The Raptors traded their first-round pick in the deal that brought them Thaddeus Young at the trade deadline.

In picking the 33rd spot, Toronto chose Koloko, a junior from Arizona who stands out because at 8-foot-8 he becomes the only player on the list taller than six-foot-nine and because he hails from Douala, Cameroon, the Siakam’s hometown.

“It’s something we don’t have,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said.

Koloko averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots while shooting 63.5 percent from the ground in 25.4 minutes per game. He was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year and also won the Most Improved Player award, as he made leaps in every statistical category from his sophomore season after playing sparingly his freshman year.

The Raptors have been following him since a Basketball Without Borders camp in 2017, when the now 22-year-old was a “long, skinny, lanky kid,” Webster said. “You want to continue to see that rise and everyone knows our development [plans] And the amount of resources we want to put into a guy like him, you know, the sky’s the limit.”

Nurse said that while having a 7-footer on the roster may be an outlet for a team that has emphasized positionless basketball, the possibility that a big man could be active defensively may help his club still play. more aggressively on the perimeter.

“If he protects the rim as well as I think he does, I think that always gives you an opportunity, if possible, to be even more aggressive on the wings,” Nurse said. “[To] channel things and be even more in lanes and more handy and more billing driven and don’t have to pay for it if you gamble and make a few mistakes. Maybe you can get someone to save some of those mistakes in goal.”

It was also a great night for Canadian basketball. For the first time in NBA history, a pair of them cracked the top seven and all four players cracked the top 32.

Bennedict Mathurin, an American from Arizona, was sixth overall from Indiana, becoming the first player from Montreal to be chosen in the lottery. With the next pick, No. 7, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Shaedon Sharpe, the explosive end from London, Ontario. Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., a point guard from Gonzaga, ranked 31st for Indiana and Caleb Houstan of Mississauga, Ont., ranked 32nd for the Orlando Magic.

It was another positive for Nurse, who also serves as the head coach of the senior Canadian men’s team.

“Another really great night for Canada and basketball in the country,” Nurse said. “And congratulations not only to all those guys and their families, but to all the coaches and everything that helped get those guys there.”

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