TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors believe they have met a need by drafting Christian Koloko.
The Raptors won Koloko 33rd overall on Thursday with Toronto’s only pick in this year’s NBA Draft. The seven-foot-one center averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game for the University of Arizona last season.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he was intrigued by what the new addition could do for his defensive plans.
“Good shot blocker, really good defensive numbers, scored really high in all college basketball in many categories last year,” said Nurse, adding that Koloko could also be an option offensively. “A pretty good pick and roll player and he has good feet.
“I think he’s a great edge-protective shot blocker, but I don’t think he’s without the ability to shift gears and also move his feet around the perimeter.”
Koloko was the 2021-22 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and All-Pac-12 First Team pick. He led the Pac-12 in blocks per game and ranked 14th in the American collegiate game, being named a Lefty Driesell Defensive all-American and a Lute Olsen all-American.
“I’ve talked to him and he’s super, super excited to be here,” Nurse said. “Like very, very glad we selected him.”
Toronto acquired the 33rd pick on February 10 in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. Drew Eubanks, Thaddeus Young and a 2022 second round draft pick who originally belonged to the Detroit Pistons were sent to Toronto in exchange for Goran Dragic and a protected 2022 first round draft pick.
The Raptors’ original second-round roster was traded to Philadelphia on February 6, 2019, and the 76ers later moved it to Golden State.
Toronto general manager Bobby Webster said the Raptors had no offers to move up the draft, but that he felt they had selected the best player available.
“He was in our top 20 or top 25, whatever our list was, (and) we felt comfortable (then) when he was 33,” Webster said.
Koloko is from Douala, Cameroon, the same hometown as Raptors striker Pascal Siakam. The nurse hopes that Siakam’s presence will help Koloko quickly acclimate to Toronto.
“He doesn’t have to wander around that much,” says the nurse at the OVO Center, the Raptors’ training facility. “I know that sounds a bit silly, but just finding your way and getting into places and knowing ‘Hey, there’s the strength coach and there’s the chef and here’s where you park’ and all those things help you to to go to work.”
Siakam, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby were training at the OVO Center on Thursday, along with Nurse and other Toronto coaches watching.
The nurse said it is important for the Raptors to continue working through the off-season and to continue to promote team chemistry.
“It was exciting to see how they were a little bit into it,” he said. “I think it can only help them play against each other on both sides of the ball.
“Athletes of similar size in positions of similar size. They have to guard each other and try to score on each other and things like that. So that’s good.”
Visa issues are currently preventing Koloko from entering Canada, but Webster said once the 22-year-old signs his deal on July 1, he can get a work permit.
Barnes was selected fourth overall in last year’s draft by the Raptors last year, with Dalano Banton (46th) and David Johnson (47th) going to Toronto in the second round. Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, becoming the third player in Raptors history to win NBA Rookie of the Year.
Webster said Koloko as a second round pick will have fewer expectations than Barnes faced.
“Historically, a second-round pick is a different journey,” Webster said. “When you come in like Scottie, you come in as a first round pick, there’s a little bit more expectation and maybe responsibility that you have.
“I don’t think we want to put boxes around these guys. So he’ll come in and he’ll be in the summer league, and we’ll see what he can do.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.
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