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Build-A-Raptor: Let’s talk about running, jumping, and defending

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As we continue on with our experiment, it’s all coming together for the greatest Raptor ever built.

Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks in game four 120-102 to even up the Eastern Conference NBA Final at two games each
Kyle Lowry is fully committed to the charge.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

There’s been a little bit of chaos since the last instalment of Build-A-Raptor. The Raptors drafted Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris; saw the departure of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol; re-signed Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher and saw the arrival of fresh faces in Aron Baynes, Alex Len and DeAndre’ Bembry. Will any of those moves affect our proto-Raptor?

While that remains to be seen, we’re definitely going to be mentioning a couple of the aforementioned players within the next two components that we’re breaking down.

Athleticism

There are a handful of Raptors who fit the bill as the ideal candidate for our mash-up athlete, but before we get to them, it’s only right to locate the two extremes of the core of athleticism: running and jumping.

We can’t talk about running without giving a shoutout to two of the quickest Raptors of all time, Leandro Barbosa and T.J. Ford. Both guys were incredibly fast, so in order to determine who was the fastest, let’s look at the ever reliable measurement SON (Strength Of Nickname). On one hand, you’ve got one of the best nicknames in basketball with “The Brazilian Blur”. On the other hand, T.J. Ford’s nickname, according to Basketball Reference, is “The Little Engine”, which seems made up, to be honest. The tie goes to Leandro.

Jumping is both a tougher and easier one to measure than running. The Raptors have had some incredible leapers in Jamario Moon and Fred Jones, but could any of those guys bring the lore like Toronto Legend, James Johnson? Johnson had one of the most electrifying dunks in Raptors history when he “cocked that joint back and banged it” on Andre Drummond and almost sparked a second full-scale brawl in Detroit.

That merciless dunk aside, what gives Johnson, who has, possibly an even better nickname than Barbosa in “Bloodsport”, the edge in the jumping category is the legend of his ability to roundhouse kick the rim. Johnson is listed at 6’7” and 240lbs — a standard NBA rim is 10 feet from the ground. You’ve got to have some serious hops and crazy flexibility to be able to roundhouse kick something just shy of half of your height above your head.

Alas, Barbosa and Ford were not leapers and Johnson wasn’t the most fleet of foot. This leaves us to search for one of the fastest Raptors who could also jump the highest. The prime candidate for this, of course, is the one, the only: Vince Carter.

Here are two videos that provide irrefutable evidence in the jumping category for Vince.

There are so many amazing moments in those two videos that truly illustrate Carter’s otherworldly leaping ability, but none of them fully showcase Vince’s speed. So is the jumping enough?

If you’ve been reading up to this point, you know that the answer to that question is “no”, so what gives Carter the edge over any of the guys mentioned above? For starters, Vince was more methodical in unleashing his speed. Often times, Carter’s speed wasn’t demonstrated in the most obviously measured ways, such as an end-to-end dash down the court on a fast break. Vince broke out his speed in his lightning quick first-step. Would you like some video evidence of both his speed and leaping ability in one neat package?

The ability to blow by his defender, cut to the middle of the lane, leap in the air to dunk over Ben Wallace only to have so much hang time that he sees the dunk isn’t there quite like he thought it would be and adjust around the former Defensive Player of the Year. That’s about as ridiculous as it gets when it comes to athleticism. For all of those glorious reasons, Vince gets the nod.

Honourable Mentions: Leandro Barbosa, T.J. Ford, James Johnson, Jamario Moon and Fred Jones.

Defense

As we mentioned last week, defense is one of the harder components to reach a definitive decision on due to the glut of excellent defenders the Raptors have recently employed. Moreover, there are a couple of guys from Raptors of yesteryear who were stout defenders as well. There are so many guys who could be slotted into this position that this could end up being a 3,000 word article, so for the sake of keeping things relatively short, we’re only going to feature two guys: Doug Christie and Kyle Lowry.

It feels right to start with Christie who is the leading candidate for best defender from the earlier generation of Raptors. Christie played five seasons for the Raptors and was the all time steals leader with 664 — until Lowry showed up. With three extra seasons under his belt, Kyle is only 164 steals (and counting) ahead of Christie, though Christie does still lead in steals per game, where he has an all time best rate of 2.1 per contest. Christie’s incredibly quick hands aside, he managed to put up those numbers against staunch competition. Routinely tasked with guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player is no small feat, but it’s even more impressive when it’s against all time greats like Jordan, Kobe, Pippen, Reggie Miller, and many more.

It’s not hands alone that make for a great defender. If you’re going to be considered the best, you’ve got to be able to bring footwork, positioning and defensive awareness. While Christie certainly had all of those things, was he the best? I present to you, Kyle Lowry.

No amount of lost video footage from the dark era of Raptors basketball could ever illustrate that Christie was a better, more savvy positional defender than Lowry. That awareness and level of savvy takes shape in the form of Lowry’s hallmark defensive calling card: the drawn charge. Lowry’s ability to draw the charge is more than just defensive prowess, it’s a stunning, nightly work of art — a true masterpiece. Moreover, his propensity for drawing chargers knows no bounds, as it doesn’t matter who Lowry is drawing the charge from. In the video above he gets knocked over by the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid, and LeBron James — all of whom could be described as human freight trains.

While Lowry is a caboose in his own right, there is so, so much more that makes up his genius on the defensive end. As mentioned, he’s the Raptors steals leader by a sizable margin and is also the leader or in the top three in the NBA year in and year out for charges drawn. His footwork is impeccable. His hands are active. What happens when you add all of that together? You’re left with what truly sets Lowry apart: his galaxy brain of defensive intelligence. This is best illustrated in-play by his ability to switch 1 through 5 in a scramble defense to end up guarding a big man in the post, where he is statistically one of the best perimeter players in the league. On top of that, he has the wherewithal to spark the offensive play straight out of a defensive stop. For those reasons, the edge has to go to Lowry.

Extremely Honourable Mention: Doug Christie and Marc Gasol. There’s a case to be made that Marc Gasol was a better defender as a Raptor than Doug Christie and we wouldn’t be mad if you made it.

Honourable Mention: Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Camby, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Keon Clark, Serge Ibaka, Amir Johnson and on and on and on.

Roundup

We’re through two thirds of our Raptor construction with the home stretch in sight. So far, our prototype has the handles of Muggsy Bogues, the shooting of Jason Kapono, the athleticism of Vince Carter and the defense of Kyle Lowry.

What will the basketball IQ and durability components hold for us next week? Stay tuned!