With 542 games played with the franchise, Morris Peterson is the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leader in games played. That’s not a terribly low number, as MoPete spent seven solid seasons in the NBA’s north, but it’s far below the number of games you’d expect most franchise’s leader to have played with said team.
The Raptors are new, of course, which explains some of this. They’ve been around for just 19 seasons, fewer than all but one other team. But the roster has also been a revolving door, as have several other positions – consider that Dwane Casey will become the franchise’s second-longest tenured coach just 17 games into the 2014-15 season and that the team’s seven general managers have averaged fewer than three seasons apiece.
Things are constantly changing, and it’s made it such that the franchise’s record book has some seriously low-hanging fruit. It also means that DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, each having played five seasons with the team now, are major players in the history of the franchise.
DeRozan is the easier case, because his impact on the franchise is more obvious and tangible. A lottery pick in 2009, DeRozan slowly improved his game to the point where he became just the franchise’s fourth All-Star this season. He already holds the Raptors record for most single-season free throws made and attempted, just had the third highest scoring output in team history, and already ranks third on the franchise leaderboard in free throws and attempts and fifth in field goals made and attempted, total points and points per game.
He’s been, without question, one of the top-five scorers in team history. With three years remaining on his contract – one that general manager Masai Ujiri is probably not wed to but one that also no longer seems like an egregious overpay – there’s a really good chance that DeRozan will eventually be the Raptor in the eyes of many (well, okay, not like, The Raptor).
Amir Johnson’s case has taken longer to build, but rest assured he belongs among the franchise’s all-time studs.
It’s funny how it wasn’t really until this year, it seems, that the fanbase as a whole became appreciative of what Johnson brings to the table. It’s possible that doing the “little things” that help the bottom line but don’t show up on the box score only reveal themselves as obvious when a team is winning, or simply that it took the repeated pointing from a handful of people for everyone else to begin to take notice. In any case, it’s ironic that an up-and-down, banged-up year for Johnson was the one in which his impact became fully apparent.
His modest averages – he put up a career-best 10.4 points this year, with 6.6 rebounds (a shade below his career-high) – mask the fact that he’s a key contributor. Advanced stats aren’t for everyone, but they confirm that Johnson is that dude for the Raptors’ bottom line – ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, while hardly perfect, ranked Johnson as the 14th-most valuable player in the league this season on a per-possession basis (30th on defense and 65th on offense, where being well-above-average on both ends is a rarity) and 23rd in total value. Meanwhile, a 14-year look at the RAPM statistics shows that Johnson has been the league’s ninth most valuable player on a per-possession basis (minimum 40,000 possessions played), dating all the way back to 2001 (again, he’s the rare value on both ends: 79th on offense and 13th on defense).
But it doesn’t take a math major to appreciate what Johnson does, because his longevity and consistency are already enough to make him a Raptors record book stalwart. To wit, he set the franchise record for single-season field goal percentage this year, topping his own previous record, and he owns the best mark in franchise history from the floor (57.2 percent). Even accounting for threes (eFG%) and free throws (TS%), he’s the most efficient scorer the team has ever had. And again, he’s done this for a minute, so he already ranks third in franchise history in offensive rebounds and total rebounds, fifth in win shares (and win shares per 48 minutes), second in block and, of course, third in personal fouls, a record that will be his by Christmas.
That is, assuming he sticks around. Johnson has one year remaining on his contract at $7 million, and the deterioration of his health and potential peak of his value have some speculating he could be leveraged as a trade asset in the offseason. I’d be more sad to see him go than is probably healthy, but que sera, sera.
Regardless of what happens this offseason, both of these players are now embedded in Raptor lore. Of course, the headline asked if they crack the all-time Raptors team, and the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Like I said, it’s a low bar – only 48 players have ever played 100 games as a Raptor and just 20 have played two full seasons’ worth of games. Tenure counts, so it doesn’t really matter that the team had Jalen Rose or Marcus Camby for a minute. For my money, here are the 15 names that would get the nod on my all-time Raptor team, having put almost no research into this beyond memory at 3 a.m. (I also took some liberties with positions):
Uhh, anyone else forget how slick a passer Oak was? Anyway, like I said, I’m putting this together at 3 a.m., and there are only 20 players with an appropriate tenure to choose from, but you’re free to argue your own 10 or 15 in the comments. Regardless, DeRozan and Johnson would be damn tough to leave off.