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Ranking Every Raptor: Fond Memories of Old Friends — #120 - 91

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Today’s batch of rankings features guys fans loved in the moment, and others whose legacies benefit from the gift of hindsight. John Salley is also in this one.

Hakeem Olajuwon stretches before the game

Today’s installment of Ranking Every Raptor will see us power through the halfway point and into the top-100. You are going to be mad at no. 91. Just hear me out, OK? You’ll see the light, I promise. If you haven’t yet, make sure you check out the first three parts of the series where we examine the bottom-100 players in Raps history. Onwards!

218 - 181 | 180 - 151 | 150 - 121 |

120. Vincenzo Esposito. PG (1995-1996); 30 GP / 3.9 points / 0.8 assists / 36.0 FG% / 23.2 3FG%

For the first time in the ranking process, I’m willing to admit that I’ve made a mistake. Vincenzo Esposito should probably be about 50 spots lower. He stunk. For whatever reason, I had him built up in my mind as a pillar of the inaugural Raptors, offering sound back-up guard play to the exhilarating stylings of rookie-year Damon Stoudamire. In actuality, Esposito was an unconsciously errant gunner who, despite shooting just 23.2 percent from deep, hoisted north of seven threes per 36 minutes ... in the mid-90s. The fault is all mine. I should have know better than to assume an Italian player had success with the Raptors.

119. Andre Barrett, PG (2006); 17 GP / 15.4 minutes / 4.6 points / 2.9 assists / 1.3 rebounds

That Barrett was able to get a single shot off during his brief Raptors tenure is nothing short of a modern miracle. Spring of 2006 was a lean time for the peasants suppressed by Mike James’ dominion over the Raptors’ usage rate — especially so for anyone, like Barrett, whose position overlapped with James. Barrett played 17 games between his March 1st debut and the end of the season, 16 of which James also played in. In those games, James averaged 41.6 minutes and 18.7 field goal attempts playing a mixture of point and shooting guard. Barrett, who got some substantial run as a reserve, was given leeway to jack up more than seven shots just once — a 15-point effort on 7-of-15 shooting in a 140-126 loss to Phoenix. James, obviously bristling at the thought of ceding the back court spotlight to Barrett for just one solitary night, opted to drop 36 on 25 shots, sufficiently drowning out the thunder of Barrett’s career-best night.

118. Will Solomon, PG (2008-2009); 39 GP / 9 starts / 4.9 points / 3.2 assists / 1.1 rebounds

Toronto has had a whole whack of back-up point guards who hung around for a portion of a season. Will Solomon was certainly one of them!

117. Julian Wright, SF (2010-2011); 52 GP / 6 starts / 14.7 minutes / 3.2 points / 2.3 rebounds / 1.1 assists / 51.3 FG%

If we’re power ranking athletic small forwards who seemed kind of promising for a bit but were ultimately just names that would adorn tombstones in the franchise’s graveyard of failed Vince & T-Mac replacements, Wright would slot in somewhere between Jamario Moon and Mickael Pietrus.

116. Omar Cook, PG (2005); 5 GP / 14.8 minutes / 4.6 points / 4.4 assists / 1.4 rebounds / 1.2 steals / 1 imagination captivated

Back in the intro of the first one of these posts I outlined my criteria by which I would slot players into the rankings. Therein I mentioned that players whose best moments with the club deeply resonated with me for one reason or another would be elevated in the rankings. I laid out those ground rules with Omar Cook in mind.

Look, my basketball understanding was not yet refined at age 12. I shouldn’t have been so naive as to believe that a strong showing in the meaningless last game of the abjectly horrible 2004-05 season was proof that Cook was the star point guard the Raptors had lacked since Damon Stoudamire. But as Cook dished out those nine pristine assists and picked apart noted lock down defender Eric Snow for 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, it become impossible to arrest my fantasies.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the GM with the talent evaluation skills of a preteen decided not to bring Cook back that summer.

115. Milt Palacio, PG (2003-2005); 139 GP / 17 starts / 5.2 points / 3.3 assists / 1.7 rebounds / 40.4 FG% / 15.8 3FG% / 16.7 FG% on shots from 3-10 feet (!!!)

114. Roko Ukic, PG (2008-2009); 72 GP / 12.4 minutes / 4.2 points / 2.1 assists / 1.0 rebounds / 38.0 FG% / 17.7 3FG%

The Raptors really had the market cornered on backup point guards who couldn’t shoot even a tiny little bit for like an entire decade, huh.

113. Sharone Wright, C (1996-1998); 78 GP / 34 starts / 7.5 points / 3.2 rebounds / 0.8 blocks / 11 games where he was kind of a monster

Sharone Wright’s Raptors career was a bizarre and ultimately sad one. Toronto picked him up in a 1996 deadline deal that sent day one Raptors Tony Massenburg and Ed Pinckney to Philly. Wright, the sixth-overall pick in 1994, was perceived as something of a bust with the Sixers, but was kind of a monster upon his arrival in Toronto ... for 11 games at least.

In the first 11 games after the trade, Wright averaged 16.5 points and 5.2 boards on 50 percent shooting before an injury ended his season. Marcus Camby siphoned Wright’s minutes the following season, relegating him to rotation big duty. And this is where it gets sad: In July 1997, Wright rolled his car over in Georgia and got hella injured, including multiple breaks to both of his arms. He made a go of it late in the 1997-98 season, but those seven games proved to be his last in the NBA.

112. Tony Massenburg, PF (1995-1996); 24 GP / 20 starts / 27.5 minutes / 10.1 points / 6.9 rebounds / 51.0 FG%

111. Gary Trent, PF (1997-1998); 13 GP / 7 starts / 12.2 points / 8.0 rebounds / 1.1 assists

File Massenburg and Trent under ‘Guys Who Had Pretty Nice NBA Careers And Were Productive Over a Short Stay During the Franchise’s Weird Years.’

110. John Salley, PF (1995-1996); 25 GP / 6 starts / 6.0 points / 3.9 rebounds / 1.6 assists / 48.6 FG%

Salley’s contempt for playing in Toronto didn’t see him spurn the franchise the way Kenny Anderson or Alonzo Mourning would years later, but he sure as shit did his best to avoid a long-term spell north of the border. Just 25 games into his stay, Salley negotiated a buyout and jumped ship to the Bulls. Toronto at least served up a spot of revenge a month later when it handed Chicago one of its 10 losses in the 1995-96 season. I’m sure Salley was extremely torn up about it.

109. Lonny Baxter, C (2003-2004); 36 GP / 4 starts / 4.2 points / 3.4 rebounds / 46.9 FG%

Baxter goes down as the Raptor with the wildest post-career run-ins with the law. In August 2006 he was arrested for firing a gun into the air within a couple blocks of the White House in DC just hours before he was set to head overseas to play for an Italian club. A year later he was sentenced to 60 days in jail for FedEx-ing four guns without declaring them. What’s most impressive is that he still managed a seven-year career in Europe after all of this went down.

108. Landry Fields, SG/SF (2012-2015); 107 GP / 33 starts / 3.3 points / 2.7 rebounds / 0.9 assists / 0 Steve Nashes acquired

Steve Nash could have never ...

107. Joey Dorsey, PF/C (2010-2011); 43 GP / 9 starts / 12.1 minutes / 3.1 points / 4.4 rebounds / 52.5 FG% / 2 enormous fucking shoulders

Joey Dorsey is without a doubt the swollest dude to wear the uniform. He’s what present day Mike Bibby aspires to be.

106. Quincy Acy, PF (2012-2013); 36 GP / 11.2 minutes / 3.6 points / 2.8 rebounds / 53.9 FG%

105. Aaron Gray, C (2011-2013); 95 GP / 56 starts / 3.3 points / 4.4 rebounds / 0.7 assists / 52.4 FG%

Acy and Gray didn’t deserve to be shipped to basketball purgatory as salary filler in the Rudy Gay deal that ignited the franchise. Acy was a quick fan favourite, as high-energy / low-skill bigs tend to be in these parts. He had a role to play as a bench hand and spirit-booster on good Raptors teams. Instead, he’s been tethered to bad situations, all the while honing himself as a more modern NBA big than he was when the Raptors snagged him in the second round. On that note, it’s pretty dumb that he remains unsigned a week before camps start.

Gray was eventually ushered into a coaching career by issues with his heart. His departure left the position of Jonas Valanciunas Practice Dummy vacant, and opened up a post-career job for Jamaal Magloire.

104. Loren Woods, C (2004-2006); 72 GP / 34 starts / 14.4 points / 3.3 points / 4.6 rebounds / 0.9 blocks

Anyone whose first move in a new NBA Live 2006 franchise mode wasn’t swapping Woods out of the starting five in lieu of Pape Sow was playing the game wrong. That said, Woods was a much more reliable contributor to the real life Raptors than Sow ever was.

103. Lucas Nogueira, C (2014-2018); 140 GP / 10 starts / 3.2 points / 2.8 rebounds / 1.0 blocks / 1.6 personal fouls (!!!) / Franchise leader in face tattoos

We were always kinda waiting for Bebe to recapture the magic of his first real run of opportunity with the Raptors. Remember that game in Atlanta early in the 2015-16 season? Jonas Valanciunas was out. The Raptors trailed by 14 at half time, and were in need of a spark, and Bebe got the call for the entire fourth. His four points, seven boards and menacing length at the rim (though he didn’t record a block) helped drive a 39-20 outburst in the frame, and 96-86 win. This game brought us the first instances of the hallowed Bebe-Lowry lob connection, as well as what has to be the only foul-free night of Bebe’s career. It also introduced the world to post-game interview Bebe., who is a treasure of most indescribable value.

That game, along with his 14-point explosion in Toronto’s classic, narrow loss to the undefeated Warriors a few days later, are the standard by which all future Bebe performances would be measured. He never quite reached those heights again on the court. The same cannot be said for his abilities as an interviewee.

102. Reggie Evans, PF (2010-2011); 58 GP / 19 starts / 3.9 points / 7.8 rebounds (seems low tbh)

Things were so bleak in the first year after Chris Bosh skipped town that the high point of that season was the 15-game run where Reggie Evans grabbed a whole bunch of rebounds (12.1 a game, to be exact). Naturally, he got injured one game after a 22-board performance and missed the next four months.

101. John Lucas III, PG (2012-2013); 63 GP / 13.1 minutes / 5.3 points / 1.7 assists / 1.0 rebounds

Lucas is one of the only point guards of the José Caldéron era who didn’t even try to mess around and compete for the starting job. It’s good to be self aware.

100. Darrick Martin, PG (2005-2008); 88 GP / 8.0 minutes / 2.5 points / 1.4 assists / The biggest goddamn three a Raptor ever did hit

Kyle Lowry’s three-quarter court heave against the Heat, Cory Joseph’s Game 6 dagger against Milwaukee, Darrick Martin keeping the streak alive — this is the short list of the most important three-pointers made in Raptors history.

A refresher for the uninitiated and/or fans who didn’t stick around to watch the end of a blowout loss to the Mavs: Going into November 29th, 2006’s game in the Dallas, the Raptors had made at least one three in a league-best 628 straight games. Look man, it’s a dumb ass thing to have cared about. But 2003 through 2006 was as miserable a stretch as any North American fan base has endured this century, non-Browns division. A 5-10 start to the eventually good and fun 2006-07 season threatened to extend the ever-creeping cloud of dread the Vince Carter divorced spawned. This stupid streak was the lone fiber attaching the Raptors to relevance at the time.

So when Martin rose up and canned a buzzer-beating three over a lazily-reaching Anthony Johnson, you could understand why some fans responded with disproportionate glee, or in some cases, made grammatically questionable tribute videos set to Evanescence songs.

Things have gotten better since 2006.

99. Steve Novak, PF (2013-2014); 54 GP / 1 start / 10.0 minutes / 3.3 points / 1.1 rebounds / 41.1 FG%

Steve Novak was part of the return for Andrea Bargnani. He could have missed all 122 of his three point tries as a Raptor and he’d still be a NET positive. As it happens, he hit 41.1 percent of them and was a small but memorable part of Toronto’s season of rebirth.

98. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, PF/C (Two stints from 2009-2010); 35 GP / 10.6 minutes / 3.7 points / 3.8 rebounds

Pops is the most efficient Raptor in history. Not in a lame, dorky, statistical sense. From that perspective he was actually sorta bad.

No, Pops’ economical expertise was more in the realm of turning minutes played into fan affection earned. He is without question the all-time leader in hearts throbbed per minute played for the Raptors — accomplished through a combo of energy, dunks and handsomeness. Although he remains tied with Martin when it comes to ridiculous fan tribute videos inspired per-36.

97. Chuck Hayes, PF/C (2013-2015); 74 GP / 11.2 minutes / 2.0 points / 2.9 rebounds

We’ve already assigned Bench Dad and Bench Uncle to CJ Miles and Greg Stiemsma respectively, so I guess that makes Chuck the bench Godfather?

Never forget the Raptors were 14.7 points per 100 possessions better with Chuck Hayes on the court during their seven-game loss to Brooklyn in 2014, per NBA.com. Was it in just 38 minutes of action? Maybe. Who cares. Chuck is unassailable. As is his butt, and his free throw stroke.

96. Kris Humphries, PF (2006-2009); 159 GP / 2 starts/ 11.7 minutes / 4.6 points / 3.2 rebounds / 47.0 FG%

Bryan Colangelo got Humphries in the deal that rid Toronto of Hoffa Araujo. Colangelo has plenty of blemishes on his resumé, but picking up player #97 for player #206 straight up is a quantitatively remarkable heist.

95. Tyler Hansbrough, PF/C (2013-2015); 138 GP / 12 starts / 14.8 minutes / 4.2 points / 4.0 rebounds / 2 playoff starts ... :/

Last year’s Bench Mob gets due praise for being a kick ass unit, but the 2017-18 Raptors weren’t the first incarnation of the team that was buoyed by a killer set of reserves. Psycho T is a punchline of a player, but it’s worth remembering he was a staple of the OG Bench Mob, alongside Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson and Patrick Patterson in 2014-15. That five-man group posted a 114.6 / 96.8 / +17.8 efficiency slash line over 229 minutes of court time. A 96.8 Defensive Rating! With Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez!

94. Shawn Respert, SG (1997-1998); 74 GP / 4 starts / 15.0 minutes / 5.5 points / 1.4 rebounds / 1.0 assists / 38.3 FG%

Based on his meager numbers and high draft slot — eighth-overall in 1995 — you might think Respert was just another lottery bust. But then you learn Respert was diagnosed with stomach cancer during his rookie season in Milwaukee, underwent three-straight months of daily radiation treatment, lost 20 pounds, didn’t tell anyone but the Bucks’ trainers and head coach Mike Dunleavy, and still turned in 172 games in the NBA. Should he have told more people instead of hiding his condition? Maybe. Was he a bad ass anyway? Hell yeah.

93. Acie Earl, C (1995-1997); 80 GP / 6.0 points / 2.7 rebounds / 0.6 assists / 1.0 turnovers

Alvin Robertson gets the pub for his team-leading 30-point effort in the Raptors’ first game and win against the Nets on November 3rd, 1995. But don’t sleep on Earl’s contributions that night at SkyDome. In 35 minutes off the bench in relief of Zan Tabak, Earl dropped 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting along with five boards, three assists and three blocks. A purple dino Earl would be a low key immortal jersey purchase.

92. Hakeem Olajuwon, C (2001-2002); 61 GP / 37 starts / 22.6 minutes / 7.1 points / 6.0 rebounds / 1.1 assists / 1.5 blocks / 1.2 steals

If this were a ranking were based on the full careers of everyone to have played for the Raptors and not just their Raptors exploits, Hakeem be the clear winner. Unfortunately we’re forced to rank the crumbling husk of a top-three centre in history on what he did with the team. He was better than Loren Woods, at least.

91. Ben Uzoh, PG (2012); 16 GP / 8 starts / 22.3 minutes / 4.8 points / 3.7 assists / 3.9 rebounds / 1.0 assists / The Triple Double

Okay, I’ve been building up to this take for a couple posts now, and it’s time to unleash it: Ben Uzoh’s triple-double is one of the very best things to ever happen to the franchise.

A simplistic assessment of the 98-67 win over New Jersey on April 26, 2012 suggests Uzoh helped ruin the Raptors lottery odds and put to waste an entire season of attempted tanking. With a loss, the Raptors would have finished with the sixth-best lottery odds and had their pick of Damian Lillard or Harrison Barnes. The win landed them Terrence Ross at eight.

A more nuanced reading of the situation reveals a few truths. Firstly, the Raptors were always winning that game, Uzoh triple-double or not. Despite having no incentive to tank (Portland had their pick), the Nets trotted out a roster incapable of NBA success. MarShon Brooks scored nine points on 17 shots. We covered Sundiata Gaines’ inability to be on a winning team in the last batch of rankings. He started for New Jersey in this game. Johan fucking Petro played 39 minutes off the bench. The Nets’ lineup made Toronto’s tanky seven-man rotation of Uzoh, Alan Anderson, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Jamaal Magloire, Gary Forbes and Solomon Alabi look eminently stout. Uzoh’s triple-double turned what would have been a 15-point win into a disgusting blowout. It was not the difference between two evenly matched titans of tanking.

Then we must consider the ramifications had the Raptors lost this game. Let’s say Uzoh doesn’t put up 12-11-12 that night, and Toronto does end up picking sixth instead of eighth. If they take Lillard, it’s likely they never swing a deal for Kyle Lowry in the summer of 2012. Lillard is great, yes, but Lowry has been the soul of this era. We’ve seen the limitations of a team led by Lillard and a shoot-first, defense-averse back court partner; imagine the massacre had it been 2018 playoff Lillard in place of Lowry against the Cavs this year. It would have been an affront to the concept of True Shooting Percentage.

Lowry’s ability to exist away from the ball also set the stage for DeRozan’s evolution as a play maker. Without that development it’s possible the Spurs never view DeRozan as a viable means by which to stay relevant in the post-Kawhi era, and a trade for Leonard never transpires.

If they took Barnes instead of DeRozan, maybe they do go and get Lowry, but Colangelo would have never felt compelled to swing a deal for Rudy Gay. Unable to properly supplement the roster with the second Gay trade, the Lowry-DeRozan-Barnes trio stagnates, with Barnes gradually leeching touches from DeRozan only to produce similarly inefficient shooting lines. Lowry departs after the 2014 playoffs, and the We the North Era as we know it never comes to pass.

I’m only like 60 percent kidding when I say Uzoh’s number 18 should be retired. It would only be the seventh-most embarrassing thing in the rafters after the five Atlantic Division banners and that Bon Jovi bullshit.

****

Check back on Wednesday as shit gets real, and we rank players 90 through 61!