With the 2022 NBA approaching on June 23rd, we want to take a look back at the Raptors draft history; giving a bit of an accounting of the state of the Raptors, what we thought of the pick in the moment and in retrospect. Each day we will examine the Raptors significant pick(s) and additions in each draft, and frame it in the context of what was going on during that year. You can find all the pieces in this draft history project here.
The State of The Raptors
While Basketball was treated as a third rate sport in Canada until very recently, back in the 90s, it was even worse. Yea we got Bulls games, NBA on NBC, but you wouldn’t get random games on random night; had to be Jordan or nothing.
Fans weren’t as knowledgeable about the sport as we are now. There was no such thing as advanced stats; everything was eye test and gut feelings, and a lot of those gut feelings were wrong. Decisions seemed to be made ad-hoc, and the game was a slow, bruising, grinding style of play that would be unwatchable today (but a lot of us old heads still yearn for).
So for those of us who knew, BJ Armstrong was a three-time NBA champion and one-time all-star, and getting him in the expansion draft was huge (we got the 1st pick in the expansion draft, and the Grizzlies got the higher pick in the NBA draft). We had a key foundational vet, who came from a winning program with a winning pedigree; we just needed to add a big or wing in the draft, and then we had something to build on. Maybe.
While the Raptors thought they had their starting point guard after taking Armstrong first overall in the expansion draft, that quickly went downhill as Armstrong refused (after saying he was happy to be here playing for Isiah Thomas) to play for the Raptors. On draft night, Thomas traded him in principle to the Warriors (after drafting Damon Stoudamire) for Victor Alexander, forward Carlos Rogers and the draft rights to center Michael McDonald, and forwards Martin Lewis and Dwayne Whitfield; the trade would close on September 18th after the lockout settled.
Note that even in 1995, Isiah Thomas was looking for tall, athletic, switchy, positionless players 🤔.
While the Raptors have generally drafted well through the years (multiple Rookies of the Year, multiple All Stars, multiple useful players, a few (bad) misses — a couple of them were really really really bad…we’ll get to them another day), from a positional need, this might have been one of the only few drafts where taking the best player left on the board was the best move.
Heading into the draft, the roster left a lot to be desired:
B. J. Armstrong (he had not been traded yet heading into the draft, but the writing was on the wall)
Doug Smith (not that Doug Smith, but honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was)
B. J. Tyler
Like I said, the best player available would have been a welcome addition.
|Pick||Player||Drafted By||College Team||VORP|
|5||Kevin Garnett||MIN||High School||96.9|
|6||Bryant Reeves||VAN||Oklahoma State||-4.3|
|8||Shawn Respert||POR||Michigan State||-0.2|
The Raptors would have happily drafted almost everyone who came ahead of Stoudamire given the chance. In fact, Isiah Thomas seemingly talked Kevin McHale into taking Garnett, saying “If you don’t I will.” Could have been mind games (he really wanted Stoudamire from the drop and ran misinformation campaign) or it could have been a rookie GM mistake, but there was real interest in Garnett. Had Minnesota not taken him, the rumours that Bryant Reeves (LAUGH MY FUCKING ASS OFF — that needed to be spelt out fully as it was a bad choice in the moment, and even worse in retrospect) was always the Grizzlies pick meant that Garnett dropping to seventh would have given Thomas a tough decision.
Now before you get too judgey on this, the 90s was about bigs who could take up space in the post, get bucketss with their backs to the basket, and grab rebounds. While elite wings were always a sought-after rare commodity, going with a big was like going with IBM; you don’t lose your job — neither of these axioms are the case anymore. Still, Reeves was just huge, and in college, that mattered more than it does in the NBA.
By no means was Stoudamire an unknown/unexpected high lottery pick; he was an All-American, finalist for College Player of the Year (lost to Ed O’Bannon), shared Pac-10 Player of the Year (with Ed O’Bannon), and got to the final four in his junior year, but with Ed O’Bannon on the board, and the crowd at the Skydome chanting his name, Thomas took Stoudamire to a lot of boos from a stunned audience (myself included).
In the Moment
I may have also been one of the people booing the pick. We had just witnessed UCLA win a national championship, anchored by O’Bannon, but Stoudamire was a nice player who could manage the offense and had 3-point range. So while O’Bannon would have been my pick, I was happy to just have a local team to root for.
In retrospect, drafting Ed O’Bannon would have been disastrous for the Raptors trajectory. They still would have ended up trading B.J. Armstrong anyways, and with a huge hole at point, the brutal offense they trotted out every night would have been even worse. As for O’Bannon, the attributes (size, athleticism) that made him a great college player, were table stakes in the league and the rest of his game didn’t translate to the NBA level; he was out of the league two years later.
Stoudamire, though, was a revelation. Back at Arizona, as a junior, he took them to the final four running in the backcourt with Khalid Reeves (who was one of my all-time favourite college players). His playmaking was elite, his shot selection was never forced and in the flow of the offense. He wasn’t pass first, but rarely made bad decisions. Back then, lots of players stayed till their senior year, and would come into the league much more polished and ready for the NBA. Teams were much less likely to roll the dice on juniors (unless they were special like Rasheed and Stackhouse), as teams wanted players to come in and be productive from the jump. Stoudamire was just that, a polished rookie who came in and contributed.
So while it sucked B.J. complained his way out, having a young player with potential was a great consolation prize. In fact, having a vet like B.J. on the team would have taken time away from Stoudamire, getting him less reps in big situations. Stoudamire was easily a better player that year (and every year after), so getting a fan favourite like Carlos Rogers to fill out the rotation was a blessing in disguise.
What It Meant for the Raptors
From the very first game, we all saw the potential: he dropped 10 pts (4-14 from the field, 0 3PTS), 10 dimes, and 3 steals in a win over the Nets (Fuck Brooklyn!).
While the shots weren’t dropping, it was obvious he was handed the keys to the team, and he acted like he belonged. The lefty, standing at 5″10, was flanked by giants, but stood the tallest. We had a lot to cheer for.
Stoudamire would steadily improve game by game, only turning in 3 single digit scoring games the rest of year ultimately taking Rookie of the Year (the first of many for the Raptors) honours over a bunch of future NBA Champions and Hall of Famers.
His athleticism, that silky lefty jumper, and ability to get into the paint and finish at the rack were tremendous.
The Raptors were setup with a young star, a capable front office (say what you want about the Isiah Thomas, but he’s always drafted well, and made much more right decisions than wrong ones during his tenure in Toronto), and a supportive fan base. Ownership was a bit of an issue, we won’t cover that here, but Thomas basically was ousted after a failed takeover bid; feeling loyalty to Isiah Thomas (who at the time was a minority owner trying to enact the shot-gun clause but couldn’t get the cash together to cut the cheque and take control) and allowing youthful inexperience ask for a trade out of Toronto (Raptors traded Stoudamire to Portland for Kenny Andersen, Gary Trent Sr., Alvin Williams, and three picks. Kenny Anderson, the bitch, refused to report to Toronto, so we then traded him to Boston, along with Popeye Jones and Zan Tabak, for Chauncey Billup, Dee Brown, Roy Rogers and John Thomas. Billups, the No. 3 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft).
Stoudamire’s two-and-a-half year tenure in Toronto were his best years in the league from a statistical and individual contribution perspective. He had more success in Portland, but marginally.
So while it didn’t end with Mighty Mouse (Stoudamire had a Mighty Mouse tattoo on his arm and took on the nickname cause it was so perfectly fitting for a player of his stature) having a long career in Toronto, his RoY campaign put the Raptors on the map, and the rest is history.