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Raptors go with best available need-filler

So bring on free-agency and trade market, because Dwane Casey could not have been clearer: Terrence Ross was very much Plan 'B' for the Toronto Raptors at Thursday night's NBA draft.

This was not one of those 'best available players' things. The Raptors did not have Ross 'ranked higher on our board,' the way teams in every sport always say they do. Once Harrison Barnes went to the Golden State Warriors with the pick immediately before the Raptors made their first-round choice, the Raptors went with best available need-filler.

Ross can shoot the ball, so the 6-foot-6 sophomore from the University of Washington was their choice with the eighth pick, on a night when Canadian Andrew Nicholson of Mississauga's Father Michael Goetz Secondary School, by way of Bonaventure University, went 19 overall to the Orlando Magic.

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Nicholson, a 6-9 power forward, led the Bonnies to the NCAA tournament as a senior and was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, averaging 18.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and two blocks. He watched the NBA draft at home with teammates, friends and family, tipped off by his agent about the Magic's interest.

"I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, so excited and so elated," Nichoson said on a conference call. "I'm ready to play. I've been around (the game) for a long time. This is exciting. They're a great team, a great organization, and I think I can go in and contribute right away."

At Washington, Ross averaged 16.4 points per game, with 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists, while shooting 45 per-cent from the field and 37 per-cent from three-point range.

"(Ross) was next down on our list," Casey said. "What impressed us is his ability to run the floor and get his shot off. Of all the guys available on the board, he was the guy who could get his shot off. We need shooting. We need shooting and wing runners who can run the floor.

"It happens," Casey added of Barnes going before the Raptors could take him. "You have to take what's given you. He is such a talented player that we knew the possibility was there. So, you go to Plan B."

Ross was considered one of the best pure shooters in the draft, finishing his sophomore season with four consecutive 20-plus point performances. He was in the mid-teens in several mock drafts and according to Casey was at or near the top in athletic measurables at the Chicago draft combine – "he had some of the top measurements in terms of slides, feet and quickness," and the first team All-Pac-10 performer surprised Casey and the Raptors staff during his workout with his defensive abilities. Defence will be a hallmark of the Raptors if they are ever a finished product under Casey, but this was a pick first and foremost about offence. Ross will not start, but Casey made clear he would not be afraid to see the ball in his hands late in a game.

"He's more of a shooter, where as DeMar (DeRozan) is more of a scorer," Casey said as a means of comparison. "We cannot get enough shooters this year for our team. He has the one skill that transfers to all levels of basketball: shooting."

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That shooting was what separated him from the name that most mock drafts had linked with the Raptors, Duke guard Austin Rivers. Most mock drafts had Rivers, Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, Weber State guard Damian Lillard (the only player brought back for a second workout by the Raptors) or Barnes, a forward from North Carolina, as other Raptors possibilities. Rivers ended up going to the Hornets who used their second first-round pick to select him 10. Waiters went fourth to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With their second-round pick (37th) the Raptors chose Baylor forward Quincy Acy, a 6-7 3/4 senior, finishing the night by selecting 6-11 power forward Tomislav Zubcic from Croatia with the 56th pick.

"We still have 48 hours until we go into the next salary cap year," said general manager Bryan Colangelo, who did not rule out using the collective bargaining agreement's amnesty clause, when asked whether settling for Ross didn't put an even greater emphasis on free agency and trades. "Within the next 24 to 48 hours we'll be exploring some more conversations we've been having. We'll look to see if there's any opportunity to take advantage of our salary cap flexibility."

The Raptors have been linked with free-agent Steve Nash and went into the draft the subject of rumors focusing on the Houston Rockets and point guard Kyle Lowry. With Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas joining the team, general manager Bryan Colangelo must continue his search for another legitimate NBA starter while preparing for the departure of point guard Jose Calderon. That didn't change with the selection of Ross. The only thing that happened Thursday is the Raptors have a little more of a commodity they sorely need.

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