Toronto is winning right now. The Blue Jays just traded for the best shortstop in baseball, Troy Tulowitzki. The Raptors had themselves a nifty little offseason. The Maple Leafs are, well…Drake’s clearly winning his beef with Meek Mill. Good times in The 6, man.
This — winning — doesn’t usually happen to Toronto. It’s hockey team is known for being the Chicago Cubs of the NHL. The baseball team had an amazing two-year run and has reveled in complete and utter mediocrity ever since. The Raptors have never had a 50-win season, even!
The Raptors, however, over the course of the franchise’s 20-year existence, have had some incredible talents walk through the doors of the Air Canada Centre. If nothing else, Toronto’s all-time starting five comprises of some of basketball’s most freakish athletes of the last 20 years. So before we roll out the lineup, let’s lay down some criteria, first.
- Players must have completed at least one full season in Toronto (or the equivalent to 82 games) in order to qualify for the lineup.
- Basketball Reference will be used to determine eligibility for positions. For example, if Player X is listed as a small forward by Basketball Reference, then Player X is not eligible to player power forward in our hypothetical lineup. Our lineup does not grant positional flexibility in the sake of convenience.
- We’re basing our selection process exclusively by what a player did while he was a Raptor. Nothing a player did before, nor after his time in Toronto, has any impact on the decision.
- Popularity matters. Basketball in Toronto is like few else. Some players develop a keen relationship with the fan base — Amir Johnson, for example — and create a unique cultural bond. If two players are equal in production, the more popular of the two will likely be chosen.
- Within our positional guidelines, we’re trying to assemble the best five-man lineup. Fit really serves no purpose, here.
So without further ado, here’s our all-time five.
C – Chris Bosh
The most impressive thing about Bosh’s time in Toronto, by far, is how he still managed to blossom into an All-Star despite the fact he was consistently surrounded by such suspect talent. Everyone is well-aware how LeBron’s first run in Cleveland was accompanied by some less-than-stellar teammates. Well, how come Bosh’s time in Toronto hasn’t received nearly the same amount of attention? Here’s a list of some of Bosh’s teammates: Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Rasho Nesterovic, Jorge Garbajosa (!!!), T.J. Ford, Juan Dixon, Matt Bonner, Rafer Alston, Milt Palacio (actual guy) and Antonie Wright. Now, bear in mind, these players I’ve just listed weren’t 10th or 12th men, they were key contributors, all of whom played at least 20 minutes per game in a given season with Bosh.
I don’t really need to go over Bosh’s numbers, they’re just as beastly as you’d expect and or remember. Although he didn’t play much center (if my memory serves me correctly) in Toronto as he did once he joined the Heat, Bosh absolutely needs to be the center on this team. The fellas after him are slim pickings. Apologies to: Jonas Valanciunas and Marcus Camby.
PF – Amir Johnson
Admittedly and obviously, this is the weak spot of the starting five. There wasn’t a real creative way to tinker with this spot unless we played outside the bounds of our criteria (i.e.: using a completely unrealistic small ball lineup). I considered choosing Camby to play the 5, which would then slide Bosh to his natural 4 spot and form a highly impressive defensive frontcourt, but I couldn’t rationalize it. Camby, offensively, was far too inefficient to be worthy of an all-time spot, despite his defensive prowess. My options, needless to say, are limited.
I went with Johnson here because he’s really the epitome of a glue guy. He’s always in excellent help position on defense, rarely blowing a rotation. He can stretch the floor a little on offense, too. I could see Johnson blending in with the superior talent around him so seamlessly — think Udonis Haslem or Ron Harper. Johnson would hold his own, and that’s all you’d really ask of him.
I gave Antonio Davis heavy consideration here seeing as Davis made an All-Star team while in Toronto. But then you look at Davis’ numbers — he put up an uninspiring 13 and 10 on 50.5 percent true shooting in the aforementioned All-Star season — and Johnson actually grades out to be the more efficient player, overall. So I feel comfortable taking Johnson. Apologies to: Davis, Charles Oakley and Donyell Marshall.
SF – Vince Carter
This is obviously the no-brainer of the bunch. What more needs to be said about Carter other than he single-handedly made basketball relevant in Canada? Carter made basketball cool in a country obsessed with hockey much in the way Americans obsess over football and Europe obsesses over soccer. He inspired a generation of young hoopers. Truly, a transcendent figure.
Another interesting aspect here: Carter’s probably a Hall of Famer. Despite his ugly departure, he’s undoubtedly the most influential player in franchise history. I hope one day Air Canada does make the Hall because even if his numbers are borderline, his impact off the court is immeasurable. Apologies to: Jalen Rose.
SG – DeMar DeRozan
Shockingly close call, here. Yeah, DeRozan is arguably the face of the franchise for the present day Raptors. He’s a gifted athlete with a penchant for scoring (and if you were to ask me, he’s a sneaky good defender, to boot). Paired with Carter, athletically speaking, this is an all-time great combination of swingmen. Although as we’ve seen in the past with DeRozan, he doesn’t exactly thrive when playing next to a high usage forward (Rudy Gay, anybody?). I was very, very tempted to select Morris Peterson for this spot. DeRozan and Peterson are more similar than you think!
It also breaks my heart that I couldn’t pick Mo Pete based solely off of this play and this play alone. #NeverForget #BabyOnions
I’m sure the name Tracy McGrady also rings a bell, and while one could make the case for young T-Mac to supplant DeRozan or Peterson, the heights of McGrady’s career occurred outside of Canada. Sure, McGrady certainly showed promise as a Raptor, but he didn’t become a freak of nature until he played with the Magic and the Rockets.
In the end, I gave DeRozan the slight nod over Mo Pete basically because the proposition of DeRozan and Carter catching impossible lobs is everything I’ve ever wanted in terms of entertainment value. Apologies to: Peterson, McGrady and Doug Christie.
PG – Kyle Lowry
Another tighter-than-expected race. Maybe recency bias is winning out, but I’m going with another present day Raptor, Kyle Lowry. In today’s NBA, it’s probably safe to say Lowry’s a top ten point guard. He’s fearless and scrappy. He tested free agency and came back to Toronto without causing worry he was actually going to leave. That counts. Again, popularity matters.
Lowry’s main competition for this spot is Jose Calderon. People may not realize, but Calderon is the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, and he leads that category by almost 2,000 over the next closest guy. He’s also third in win shares, fourth in 3-pointers and fifth in steals. For a time there, Jose Calderon was a really, really good player.
I guess what pushed the needle towards Lowry is the success his teams have had. Since Lowry’s arrival, the Raptors have won an unprecedented amount. The team is currently experiencing the most success the franchise has ever seen, thanks in large part to Lowry. So for that reason, I’m sticking with Lowry. Apologies to: Calderon, Damon Stoudamire and Alvin Williams.
So, that’s all, folks. Agree? Disagree? Drop a comment and let me know what you think.