I’ll be honest, until real recently, I just haven’t given the due credit deserved to both Andrea Bargnani and the Toronto Raptors for picking him up in 2006. After watching his 22 and eight performance last night in the Raptors’ 106-105 win against the Lakers, I guess I’ve just kind of held a blind eye to the 7-foot Italian. With both Bargnani and rook DeMar DeRozan playing well this season – and yes, I know Bargnani was putting up over fifteen a game last season – it got me thinking about just how far T-Dot has come since drafting its worst player in franchise history: Rafael Araujo.
The 6-11 Brazilian out of São Paulo was Toronto’s eighth overall selection in 2004 from Brigham Young University. Let that sink in for a second: the eighth overall selection and he was a senior. That at the least – minus Sean May – should all but guarantee a solid role player in the rotation, right? Sadly for Araujo, he never really made it into any NBA rotation for much more than 12 minutes a game during his three seasons in the League. In his rookie season in 2004-05, Hoffa was only able to put up 3.3 points and 3.1 boards a game – that coming with forty-one starts. It didn’t take management long to realize the error of their ways, as they drafted another big man, Charlie Villanueva, with their Lottery pick the following season (making three Lottery big men in a row: Chris Bosh, Araujo and Villanueva).
Sure his rookie season may have been tough, but every young guy deserves a little flexibility after only one year – even if he was selected over the likes of Andre Iguodala, Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith. However, in Araujo’s second season with the Raptors, he endured more of the same. Low minutes and low production became synonymous with the Brazilian (averages of just 2.3 and 2.7 his sophomore year).
So why did Toronto draft Araujo? Well, for starters, Bryan Colangelo wasn’t affiliated with the organization yet and…well that’s all I got.
Let’s look at why Araujo might have been coveted. Araujo spent two years at junior college in Arizona before heading north to play for BYU in Provo, Utah. He did play well in a mid-major conference and was awarded Co-Player of the Year in the Mountain West as a senior in 2004. From Toronto’s POV, Hoffa had a good mid range jumper, a big body and, although he was a better fit for the international style of play, he still had the potential to improve. They wanted a complimenting big man banger to fill in the frontcourt alongside their second-year star in Bosh, and Jefferson (coming out of high school) probably seemed like too much of a reach at the number eight spot.
However, at 270 pounds, Araujo was very strong, but lacked any real athleticism or vertical on his jump – I heard a rumor* that combine officials couldn’t even slide a clipboard under Araujo when he tested for the vertical leap (*rumor may also substitute for a dream at work I had). He was a near 7-footer who not only couldn’t block shots – as evident by his .10 career blocks per game average – he simply couldn’t finish around the basket. Looking back on it six years later, it’s easy to jump on Toronto’s terrible move now, but honestly, even in 2004 it was hard to find reasons to agree with the decision.
I remember watching Araujo play at Air Force when I was a junior in high school, the same year that he was eventually drafted. All I remember was how ridiculously surprised I was that Araujo was even on the NBA’s draft radar and that Toronto must have accidentally selected the wrong Rafael Araujo; the guy was being pushed around by 6-5 and 6-6 Air Force cadets.
What is Araujo up to these days? After setting course for Russia upon being waived by the NBA in 2007, he was actually invited to the Minnesota Timberwolves training camp in the fall of 2008. After being waived in October of that same year before making the final squad, Hoffa has found basketball salvation in his native Brazil. After bouncing around the countryside – and probably gearing up for Los Olympicos in 2016 – he has landed with club Paulistano in the Brazilian premier league. A much thinner, and still much-tatted, Araujo has been playing pretty well – and in front of much more Hoffa-friendly crowds – as you can tell in the YouTube clip below.
Araujo may not have turned out like Toronto expected he would, but at least Bosh and Bargnani will have a pad to crash at in 2016. You got to take your positives where you can, right?
Who is your team’s worst draft pick since 2000?