TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors believe they have filled a need by drafting Christian Koloko.
The Raptors took Koloko 33rd overall on Thursday with Toronto's only pick in this year's NBA Draft. The seven-foot-one centre 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 might do for his defensive schemes.
"Good shot blocker, really good defensive numbers, ranks really highly in all of college basketball last year in a lot of categories," said Nurse, who added that Koloko can be an option offensively as well. "Pretty decent pick-and-roll player and he's got good feet.
"I think he's a big rim-protecting shot blocker but I think he's not without the ability to do some switching and move his feet on the perimeter as well."
Koloko was the 2021-22 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and All-Pac-12 First Team choice. He led the Pac-12 in blocks per game and was ranked 14th in American collegiate play, getting named a Lefty Driesell Defensive all-American and a Lute Olsen all-American.
"I did talk to him and he's super, super excited to be here," said Nurse. "Like really, really happy that we selected him."
Toronto acquired the 33rd pick on Feb. 10 in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. Drew Eubanks, Thaddeus Young, and a 2022 second-round draft pick originally belonging 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 pick was traded to Philadelphia in a trade on Feb. 6, 2019, with the 76ers later moving it to Golden State.
Toronto general manager Bobby Webster said that the Raptors had no offers to move up in the draft, but that he felt they selected the best available player.
"He was in our top 20 or top 25, whatever our list was, (and) we were comfortable (when) at 33 he was there," said Webster.
Koloko is from Douala, Cameroon, the same hometown as Raptors star forward Pascal Siakam. Nurse hopes Siakam's presence will help Koloko quickly acclimate to Toronto.
"He won't have to wander around nearly as much ," said Nurse at the OVO Centre, the Raptors' training facility. "I know that sounds kind of silly, but just finding your way around 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 that stuff helps you get to work."
Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby were at the OVO Centre on Thursday working out together with Nurse and other Toronto coaches watching.
Nurse said it's important for the Raptors to keep working through the off-season and continue to foster team chemistry.
"It was exciting to watch them go at it a little bit," he said. "I think that on both sides of the ball it can only help them, playing against each other.
"Similar sized athletes in similar sized positions. They've got to guard each other and they've got to 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 that as soon as the 22-year-old signs his deal on July 1, he will be able to get a work permit.
Barnes was selected fourth overall by the Raptors in last year's draft, 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 that as a second-round pick Koloko will have fewer expectations than what Barnes faced.
"Historically, a second-round pick is a different journey," said Webster. "When you come in like Scottie, you come in as a first-round pick, there's a bit more expectation and maybe responsibility that you hold.
"I think we're not wanting to put any boxes around these guys. So he comes in and he'll be on summer league, and we'll see what he can do."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press