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Can the Raptors’ Dynamic Duo become a Big Three?

Toronto is flying high, can one of their supporting cast reach up to make them a real title threat?

Toronto Raptors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Three, that’s the magic number. Yes it is. It’s the magic number.

De La Soul – The Magic Number

In recent NBA history it’s been well-established that triumvirates are king (especially if they’re led by The King). Be it Bosh-Wade-LeBron in Miami, or Steph-KD-Dray/Klay, or Manu-Timmy-and Tony in San Antonio, or perhaps soon Hayward-Horford-Irving in Boston, every team worth their championship aspirations has looked to put together three stars to make a run at the Larry O’Brien.

Much of recent Toronto history has been spent searching for, or bemoaning the lack of, that third jewel. The Raptors have achieved the greatest sustained success in team history largely by relying on a pair of aces in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry — although like the card, those Raps’ value has an unfortunate habit of toggling between one and eleven when playoff time arrives.

Right now Toronto Basketball may be going through it’s best stretch ever — winning nine of ten, and 16 of their last 20. Cleveland is running out three starters who are performing well below average player status, and the Celtics have come back to earth somewhat after that 14-game win streak. The door is open, if only a crack.

So, is there anyone on the Raps roster who can be that third star? Let’s take a highly un-scientific, and somewhat snarky tour, to see whether the Raps have someone who could help the Big Two scale the mountain to, if not the title, then at least the Finals.

Not Saying They’re Not Good, But...

Serge Ibaka

The most “logical” member of the list to ascend to third star status — given he was originally sold to the Raps faithful as the third star we were missing, even though nobody really believed that. If I had written this piece three weeks ago, it would have been filled with invective and recriminations. But, Serge has started to round into mid-season form and has been much more active on both ends, shooting the three-ball at a career high, clip, and, for December at least, he’s pushed his block rate creeping up towards career averages. The great Peggy Lee asked us: “Is That All There Is?” The answer with Serge is “yep, and it’s pretty useful, but it ain’t no third star.”

C.J. Miles

C.J. Miles is incredibly good at shooting the three-point shot. He is bigger and more athletic than Kyle Korver, who is even better at shooting the same shot. Nobody on Planet Earth has ever said: “If Kyle Korver was taller and moved a little better, but didn’t shoot the ball quite as well, we would really have something here.” Still, you can absolutely win with Miles on your team, and I hope when the Raps inevitably play Cleveland this year, he dunks on Korver’s blandly handsome face.

Fred VanVleet

I love FVV. You love FVV. There is absolutely no reason to not love FVV, but FVV ain’t becoming Return of the Jedi to DD’s A New Hope or KLOE’s Empire Strikes Back. (You know that’s his fave of everything.) Still, if you told me in ten years Freddy V might have a suspiciously Derek Fisher-esque career — I might hold your beer.

Jonas Valanciunas

We all wanted this to be the case. Some of us still do (those people haven’t come to terms, quite yet that Patrick Ewing would struggle in the new NBA, but still...). But the reality of the situation is Jonas got drafted ten years too late. Throw him into the league when the Raps came into being and he might have been a guy to be that third star. Really, all of his problems stem from the fact that he is a massive human being who moves the way fairly athletic, massive human beings move. Still, if I had a time machine, screw killing Hitler, I want to take Jonas back to May 2000 so he can dunk LJ into oblivion. I feel like he and Oakley would have gotten along somehow.

Norman Powell

I’m gonna get me some hate for this one, but I’ve never been that high on Powell. I’m not saying he’s not a good basketball player (as the title to this section foreshadowed), and I’m not saying he can’t improve his weaknesses (decision making, finishing at the rim, jumper consistency), but even the fully-loaded Powell package comes in somewhat short of a star, if only because he’s a bit small to play the two, let alone the three. Best case, Norm has DeMar’s work ethic and you have a very valuable bench piece. Ultimately, I think that ceiling will be found somewhere else.

Can We Get Irrational For A Second Here?

Pascal Siakam

Squint real hard and you can see the pieces of an unorthodox third star when you look at Siakam. The dude gets two baskets a game just from running hard. His ability to switch out and corral guards is coming in leaps and bounds, he’s got a savvy defensive positioning game, and, hear me out now, if he can keep up the growth in his offensive IQ — where he’s taken leaps as a ball-handler and a scorer — then maybe he could be a bigger, much harder playing Boris Diaw. Oh, shit, he’s shooting 17 percent from three? Hmm, OK, let me keep ruminating.

Bruno Caboclo

Keep in mind, I am also the guy who used to vociferously argue that Zan Tabak could become a legit starting centre in the NBA. (The fact that even now, almost twenty years later, some part of me still believes that I was right despite — in pure Ronald Regan-style — the facts and the evidence tell me that I am not, should also be kept in mind).

I know Bruno is making Fran Fraschilla’s “two years away from being two years away” comment seem optimistic, and I know he hasn’t come close to taking advantage of any chance he’s had in the NBA, and I know he’s emotionally immature, but... that size... the fact he’s played less than three-thousand minutes in his high-level basketball career and he has some defensive instincts already, the fact he’s averaging over three stocks a game this year (blocks plus steals — thanks Simmons!), his smooth shooting stroke (albeit with below-average results). IF it breaks right, IF he tightens his handle and the maturity comes with age, there isn’t a guy on this roster with his potential upside. Bruno could be a super-sized Shawn Marion. He probably won’t be, but this is about hope.

No... Just No

Lucas Nogueira

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but staying healthy is a skill too. Lucas actually has an interesting skillset. There is a world where he rounds into the high-low feeding, open-three taking, rim protecting goofball we all want him to be, but if there is one guy in the rotation who could be out of the league in two years, it’d be him.

Malcolm Miller

We have barely seen Miller play NBA basketball. It is entirely possible that Malcolm Miller may be, as 905 aficionado Blake Murphy claims, a guy who could do some special things. But an undrafted player becoming the legit third best player on a title contender? Even the Spurs haven’t done that (checks database, exhales. OK, that’s true.)

Alfonzo McKinnie

Similar to Miller, I think McKinnie has a chance to be a real NBA player. He’s athletic, defensive-minded, can stroke the three and played for one of my favourite random NCAA programs (Jeff Nordgaard lives!), but that feels like half the league now — and he also only has one meniscus, so, you know...

Lorenzo Brown

I think you need a Usage Rate North of eight-percent to qualify for this “third star” thing.

So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?

Delon Wright

Full disclosure: I am not super rationale about my feelings for Delon Wright. There’s just something about his game that makes me giddy. The fact he can stick almost any player in the league on his hip and crab-dribble them into the lane for an and-1; his wrecking ball potential on the defensive end, where just trying to make a simple entry pass becomes like “simply” trying to go for a swim at Amity Island; his ten-year vet understanding of the nuances of his craft. Delon’s game is never going to be sexy, but if he can find a legitimate three-point shot, there’s a non-zero chance he could be the kind of guy that opposing broadcast crews are not-so-secretly terrified of.

OG Anunoby

Just read this. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Hyper-ventilating a little? Not wanting to even think that “The Claw” (sigh) and OG could one day have the same sort of game? Look, I get it, neither do I. We here in Toronto like to dramatically over-hype anyone who even seems competent — it’s what keeps us from being allowed to have (or at least enjoy) nice things. But, OG being a sort of Kawhi? It’s not, like, impossible, right? And hell, even if he just “ends up” like the other NBAer mentioned in there, Victor Oladipo, that’d be fine, right?

And, admit it, the fact that Bruno got a little name-check in there got you a little hot and bothered didn’t it? That’s like fifteen feet of wingspan that could be gobbling up Eastern Conference offenses.

(And hey, OG, might even be able to solve our JV problem.)

Jakob Poeltl

The guy who might be the most obvious answer to his question, given that he’s the highest draft pick, is also the guy most Raps fans talk about the least. I get it, Jakob hasn’t always been able to fend off Bebe for playing time, and when you watch him there’s nothing he does that seems, you know, special. But here’s the thing, even in this era of pace and space, big men still matter. In fact, they matter now more than ever. Having a legit 7-footer, who can step out and corral a guard, while also being a huge deterrent at the rim? That’s a real advantage.

If you really want to dream on him, Poeltl is the big who can stay on the court against the Line-up of Death, and punish the Dubs by ransacking the offensive boards. He can use his baby-soft hands to catch lob passes in traffic and slam them home. He’s shown flashes of being able to make good passes when catching in the lane, and if he finds a way to develop a passable outside game, he could become a vicious pick and roll poison, either popping or barrelling to the rim. That doesn’t sound like a modern NBA unicorn, and it isn’t, but sometimes having an old-fashioned, but light on it’s feet, front-court monster in your corner is just as magical.