If you’ve ever sat down with a copy of NBA2K or NBA Live, then there is a good chance that you’ve created a player, plopped him on your preferred team and dropped 52 points a game with a 75 percent usage rating. With free agency somehow only days away, the Raptors are going to be searching for the perfect player(s) to fill out their rotation — and maybe even a starting spot or two. What if, through the power of imagination and/or bioengineering, there was a way to build that perfect player out of former and current Raptors players? What would that player look like?
Well, for starters (no pun intended), it’s important to set some parameters for what components this player would need to possess in order to become the best possible Raptor that could ever be built. Before diving in, an important caveat to this exercise is that the player components that will eventually be used will be taken from the individual’s time as a Raptor. For example, none of Hakeem Olajuwon’s components will be featured in this process.
The idea for this entire piece was born from an episode of the High & Low podcast I guested on a couple of weeks ago. Now, the only reason I mention that, outside of the shameless plug, is that athleticism is category that has a hotly contested definition.
For this exercise, athleticism comprises running and jumping as its pillars — obviously a dude like Vince Carter is perhaps the peak example of these qualities. Yes, there are other aspects of athleticism like hand-eye coordination, balance, and footwork but if you’re slow and can’t jump, you’re not the type of hyper-athlete we’re looking to build here. All apologies to the Tim Duncans and Dirk Nowitzkis of the world.
Setting Carter aside, and despite the fact that he choose his moments carefully, Kawhi Leonard is perhaps the best example of overall athleticism the Raptors have ever had.
The main point to highlight in this category is that ball-handling is more than just showy crossovers. If you can routinely destroy someone with a Shammgod but your turnover rate is through the roof, then you’re going to score a little more poorly than someone a little more responsible with the rock.
Credit to some of the Raptors’ past point guards, like Muggsy Bogues with his all-time low assist-to-turnover ratio, or, of course, we can put Kyle Lowry in this category.
Is there an ideal basketball body? Is it LeBron? Yes, it is, it’s LeBron, so which Raptors has the closest body to jam all of these components into and why isn’t it Joey Graham? All right, maybe it isn’t Joey Graham, but maybe it is? Stay tuned!
We’re looking at individual, on-ball defense, help-defense, fast-hands and intelligence all wrapped up into one here. I anticipate that this category is going to be one of the tougher ones to decide thanks to the defensive renaissance of the Nick Nurse era.
For older Raptors fans, there’s a place to remember names like Doug Christie (ahead of his time), Charles Oakley (a throwback, but very effective), or everyone’s current favourite: OG Anunoby.
Durability is an interesting category to define because there is more to durability than just staying healthy. (In the “staying healthy” sense, consider a player like Morris Peterson, who had one of the longer Raptors playing streaks ever.) If you’re hurt all of the time and manage to play through it at a high level, does that enhance your durability?
And even more important perhaps than physical health: are you mentally durable enough to push through the challenges and rigour of the big moments? Is simply not missing games enough? Not to mention Kawhi again, but he represents an interesting midpoint on this discussion. He needed to be load managed throughout his one year in Toronto but is obviously impossibly mentally durable.
While it’s going to be difficult to not give a bunch of these component categories to Kyle Lowry, there’s going to have to be an air-tight case from another player for Basketball IQ not to be crowned king of this component. Say what you will about Lowry, but the man is a basketball genius, period.
A high shooting percentage is not going to be the only factor that will be measured here. Both shot mechanics and shot awareness will play a part in determining which shooter we’re going to go with and, like the defense component above, this is going to be a really tricky one to determine.
Right now, most would point to Matt Thomas as the best shooter in Toronto. Is he the best they’ve ever had? Other names — like Anthony Parker, Jose Calderon and his near-50/40/90 year, and, sure, Carter back in the day — also float to the surface.
In The Mix
With the seven categories outlined and defined, it’s now a matter of whittling down the 238 Raptors in history to find the best components to build the best Raptors player ever. If we could put, say, Lowry’s brain in Joey Graham’s body, give him Carter’s hops, and the mental toughness of Kawhi, well, surely we have something there.
Thankfully, Raptors HQ’s Sean Woodley compiled a handy guide Ranking Every Raptor each year for the past three years, so at the very least, we’ll have an area that neatly wraps all of the names in one space. So hop in the comments, reply to the twitter thread and let us know who fits where and I’ll be back next week for the first round of breakdowns.