Raptors Uprising GC fleshed out its esports roster in the NBA 2K League draft Thursday, the latest moves in an off-season of roster change prompted by a disappointing 2022.
Toronto traded up to pick shooting guard Anthony (Gazulli) Gonzalez 10th overall and then took lockdown defender Muhammad (Haam) Scott 13th.
The rebuilding Raptors chose point guard Jamaal (Mooch) Gill in the second round (26th overall) and power forward Bryson (Putback) Fleming, formerly of Hawks Talon GC, in the third (45th).
Undrafted last year, Gonzalez said he has worked hard to elevate his game.
"I feel just blessed and amazed right now," said Gonzalez. "I've been working at this for, honestly a few years trying to get into the league. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, it's finally happened and I'm just ready to come and get to work."
Hawks Talon GC, which won the draft lottery in October, selected 18-year-old shooting guard Mark (Glizzy) Smith with the first overall pick at the New York City draft. The Atlanta team finished last season with a 20-18 record
"I'm ready to change a franchise," said Smith.
Nets GC took point guard Tariq (Greens) Reed second with Lakers Gaming opting for Ryan (Spam) Harris third. Point guard Claude (Claude) Knight went fourth to Blazer5 Gaming and point guard Dylan (Greenlight) Sanderson fifth to Pacers Gaming.
Artreyo (Dimez) Boyd, a former Raptors Uprising player, went 13th to Kings Guard Gaming. Jaden (Naynosss) Bhopal of Duncan, B.C., was taken by Warriors Gaming in the second round (36th overall).
In a draft-night deal, the Raptors acquired the 10th and 45th selections from Hornets Venom GT in exchange for the 15th and 25th selections.
NBA 2K League teams field five-player rosters during the season. Toronto, which brought in 23-year-old Roy Krishnan as its new head coach in November, came into the draft with Waseem (Ball Like Seem) Talbot and four picks.
Toronto got Talbot and the 13th pick in a trade Tuesday that sent former league MVP Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey, the Raptors' first-ever draft pick and the face of the franchise, and the 36th pick to Mexico's DUX Infinitos. Hailey was subsequently flipped to Warriors Gaming in a draft-night deal.
Seventy-seven players who competed in the 2022 season were retained by their teams in the off-season and expansion NBL Oz Gaming started its roster by picking up Harry (RealHvsn) Spierings in the NBA 2K League Australian Invitational. That left 47 roster spots to be filled during the three-round draft.
More than 200 players were draft-eligible, including non-retained league players, top talent from elsewhere in the NBA 2K community and players who worked their way through a qualifying process involving more than 101,000 gamers from 126 countries.
Scott was delighted to be taken by Toronto, saying Talbot is a good friend and that he has heard good things about how the Raptors treat their players.
"I'm ready to get to work and I'm ready to earn some money," he said of joining a league that boasted US$2.5 million in prize money last year.
Raptors Uprising had its best season in 2020 when it went 16-0 during the regular season and won two tournaments. It had a 28-1 record in all competitions that year. But that one loss was costly — in the semifinals to eventual champion Wizards District Gaming.
The Toronto team has not been able to match that success since.
The league changed formats in 2022, switching from a regular season and playoffs to a "tournament-centric season" structure. Toronto was the only team not to win any prize money last year.
Raptors Uprising made three trades in November and December, acquiring draft picks while shipping out Xavier (Type) Vescovi and Xavier (Big Saint) St. John, the two other players it retained after the 2022 season.
Emmanuel (FantaSZN) Gosman and Tyer (Plondo) Lay were left unprotected for the November expansion draft to stock NBL Oz Gaming.
The NBA 2K League, a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, is the first official esports league operated by a U.S. pro sports league. It started play in 2018 with 17 teams, each affiliated with an NBA franchise.
Since then, the league has expanded to 25 teams, 22 of which are affiliated with NBA clubs. The non-NBA-affiliated teams are Mexico's DUX Infinitos, Gen. G Tigers of Shanghai and expansion NBL Oz Gaming, which represents Australia and the National Basketball League.
Teams compete in both three-versus-three and five-versus-five game play with Pistons GT (3v3) and Bucks Gaming (5v5) the reigning champions.
Knicks Gaming won the 2018 league title following by T-Wolves Gaming (2019) and Wizards District Gaming (2021 and '22).
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press