Raptors: Drafting Bane means no Barnes

Photo by John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

By @RyanGrosman
Laced
December 30, 2022

After the beatdown at the hands and protruding muscles of the Memphis Grizzlies, one topic will undoubtedly be on the minds of many Toronto Raptors fans. There’s the, what in god’s name is happening with this team? Can they please trade for a centre, already?

That’s, of course, on every fan’s mind. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about the hearty discussion around Grizzlies guard, Desmond Bane. More specifically, Masai Ujiri and co.’s decision to draft Malachi Flynn instead. It’s actually less of a discussion and more like, what the hell were you guys thinking? Bane was right there!

Last night was just another example of how much better Bane is than Flynn, torching the Raptors with 16 points on 3 of 7 shooting from 3. And not just better, but bigger and stronger, too. We’re talking 6–5, 215lbs vs. 6–1, 175lbs. And 6–1 is being generous.

As we all know, in the 2020 NBA Draft, presumably before “Vision 6–9” was in full effect, the Raptors selected Flynn with the 29th pick while the sharp shooting Bane went 30th. Since then, the short-armed assassin has lit up the league from beyond the arch.

In 159 career games, at 26.8 minutes per game, Bane is shooting a spectacular 43% from 3 while scoring 14.7 points per game. A number that’s up to 22.4 PPG this season in just 15 games. On the other hand, Flynn, in 113 career games, at 15.9 MPG, is shooting 35.6% from 3 while notching just 6.2 PPG. (This season, he’s shooting 47.1% from 3, but it’s a small sample size.)

Now you could say that a lot of teams missed the boat on Bane — not just the Raptors. This includes the Boston Celtics who actually drafted him, but subsequently traded Bane to the Grizzlies for a pick. But no doubt he’s someone the Raptors could really use right now, considering how desperate they are for 3-point threats.

Over the past couple years, this has led many a Raptors fan to tweet, “If only we drafted Bane instead of Flynn.” And I can guarantee you quite a few of these tweets were fired off during the game. Especially after a Bane make or a Flynn miss.

Even with Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, finally removing the shackles from Flynn’s ankles and letting him loose for the first time since the Tampa Tank®, and him performing relatively well for his role as the only other point guard in Nurse’s trust circle, the majority of Raptors fans would still take Bane over Flynn in a millisecond.

But to everyone who says they wished the Raptors drafted Bane instead of Flynn, I ask you the following: would you rather have Desmond Bane than Scottie Barnes? Because that’s what you’re saying.

Because if the Raptors drafted Bane in 2020 instead of Flynn, they’re likely not in a position to draft Scottie Barnes at #4 in the 2021 draft.

I don’t know about you. But I’d rather have Barnes.

Sure, Barnes has had his ups and downs this season. Most likely due to knee and ankle injuries. And the fact that he’s JUST 21-YEARS-OLD AND PLAYING IN JUST HIS SECOND PROFESSIONAL SEASON. But his upside, including his versatility and ability to impact games on both ends of the court, is clearly much higher than Bane’s.

If it was possible to swap Flynn for Bane and have the roster stay exactly the same, then of course I’d want Bane. In a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? But that’s not how reality works. You can’t just go back and change one outcome and say with absolute certainty that everything will play out exactly the same way.

With Bane on the Raptors’ roster in 2020 instead of Flynn, it changes everything. It creates a different timeline and reality.

For instance, with the infusion of Bane, maybe the Raptors win 5 more games, moving them from 27–45 to 32–40. Oops. They just jumped over 3 teams. So instead of finishing 7th worst, they’re now 11th worst.

At 7th worst, they had a 31.9% chance to move up into the top 4. And they miraculously hit the jackpot, moving up 3 spots to #4, where, as we know, they selected Scottie Barnes.

Or maybe Bane lifts the Raptors to a winning record prior to the trade deadline, causing the front office to trade the 2021 pick to improve the team for a playoff run. Oops. Now there’s no pick to draft Barnes with.

It could’ve just as easily gone the other way, too. They could’ve lost more games with Bane on the roster instead of Flynn.

Maybe Bane suffers a season ending injury early on in the 2020–21 campaign. Or Nurse decides to play him sparingly because, well, it’s Nick Nurse. There’s also no guarantee that Bane performs as well as he did as a Grizzlie in his rookie season. The Raptors have a different roster with different coaches and different offensive sets.

So let’s say this causes the Raptors to lose 4 extra games. Now they’re tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves at 23–49. Let’s also say that the Raptors win the lottery coin flip. At 6th worst, maybe they don’t move up to 4th. It’s also possible they move up to 3rd instead of 4th and select Evan Mobley. (Mobley vs. Barnes is a whole other debate, but I still prefer Barnes.)

As you can see, things get complicated when you draft one player over another. So you can’t just say that the Raptors should’ve drafted Bane over Flynn because it changes the entire future. A future where maybe the franchise doesn’t get Barnes.

This change one thing and assume everything still plays out the same way nonsense rears its stupid head all the time in sports. It popped up in last year’s first round playoff series between the Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers.

It’s Game 3. The 76ers are up 2–0 in the series. Joel Embiid splashes a soul crushing game-winning shot in OT, ripping the victory from the Raptors’ clutches (or claws). They’re now down 3–0. But then the Raptors bounce back, winning the next 2 games to push the series to 3–2.

So what happens next? Many Raptors fans, along with several very reputable Raptors media members, claimed that had the Raptors just won Game 3, they would’ve been up 3–2 instead of down 3–2 and therefore could’ve easily won the series.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Again, that’s now how reality works. It’s also not how basketball works. The Raptors winning Game 3 creates a new timeline. It changes everything. Including the Game 4’s game plan.

Let’s say the Raptors did beat the 76ers in Game 3. Now they’re going into Game 4 down just 2–1 instead of 3–0. That’s 2 completely different circumstances, which would likely spawn 2 completely different game plans from Nurse and his staff. Maybe Nurse doesn’t make the same adjustments in Game 4 after winning Game 3. Maybe there was something Nurse wasn’t willing to try until they were down 3–0. Or maybe 76ers head coach, Doc Rivers, changes up his game plan after losing Game 3. So, in this reality, it’s possible the Raptors lose Game 4 instead of winning it.

There’s also human psychology to consider — for both teams. The Raptors, still a young team, get all high and mighty after eking out a grueling Game 3 OT victory. And at 2–1, there’s less urgency than 3–0. So they let up a little bit in Game 4, leading to a loss.

Being up 2–1 instead of 3–0 also changes the mentality of the 76ers players. At 2–1, the outcome of the series is still up in the air. Whereas at 3–0, they’re in the driver’s seat. They’re thinking, we have this one in the bag. No team in NBA history has come back from 3–0. So they take their foot off the gas. It’s only natural. This could very well have helped the Raptors win Game 4.

So you see how one small thing can change everything. And drafting Bane instead of Flynn is a big thing. Because it doesn’t just change the outcome of one game or one playoff series. It changes the outcome of an entire season.

Everything that happened — from drafting Flynn to the Tampa Tank® at the end of the season — led the Raptors to finishing 7th worst in the 2020–21 NBA season. This in turn led them to moving up to the 4th pick where they selected Scott Wayne Barnes Jr. You add or remove any element along the way and the results could’ve been very different.

So the next time you say, oh, I wish they drafted Bane over Flynn, ask yourself, would I prefer Bane over Barnes? I’m hoping the answer is no. But either way, you need a reality check.

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Ryan Grosman

Welcome to Laced — sports with a little something extra. Follow me on Twitter @RyanGrosman