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A Look Back at the 96 Draft – Raptors Take Marcus Camby With the 2nd pick

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Cover Photo: Unknown author, DM for credit

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

All things considered, the Raptors inaugural season was a smash success: between the Raptors and the Grizzlies, the country learned the game; Toronto finished with a 21-61 record finishing ahead of Philly and the Grizzlies (who magically won 15 games somehow…that team was brutal); they beat the Bulls 109-108 at home (and if there was another half second on the clock Jordan would have hit the game winner — shot got off after the buzzer but banked in).

From a roster perspective, notable moves included:

Signed Tracy Murray as a FA
– A scoring guard who had the best season of his career in Toronto; he got buckets and a couple boards but very little else.

Traded Victor Alexander and Willie Anderson to the New York Knicks for Doug Christie, Herb Williams and cash.
– Anderson was a veteran SG/SF who could get buckets and little else. Christie became a very important piece for the Raptors over the next few years with as the 90s equivalent of a 3-and-D wing. He also had the best seasons of his career in Toronto.

Traded Tony Massenburg, Ed Pinckney, a 1996 2nd round draft pick (Ryan Minor was later selected) and a 1997 2nd round draft pick (James Collins was later selected) to the Philadelphia 76ers for Sharone Wright. Philadelphia had the option to swap 1st round draft picks with Toronto in either 1996 or 1997 but did not do so; Philadelphia received a second-round draft pick in 1997 instead.
– Wright was a young big man who took up a lot of space in the paint and smashed a lot of burgers between quarters. Super soft and disappointing.

Fired Brendan Malone a day after the season finished
– Isiah Thomas didn’t like how Malone was grinding Stoudamire into the ground, playing him almost 41 minutes a night! Stoudamire missed 12 games with knee issues; you have to protect the franchise player. Assistant coach, Darryl Walker (an old teammate of Thomas…a lot of Thomas’s coaching and front office moves were 100 percent nepotism) was given the bump to head coach.

Raptors Win the Lottery!
– Yea, the Raptors actually won the Draft Lottery, but…

The Draft

PickPlayerDrafted ByCollege TeamVORP
1Allen IversonPHIGeorgetown49.6
2Marcus CambyTORUMass31.3
3Shareef Abdur-RahimVANCalifornia21.9
4Stephon MarburyMILGeorgia Tech30.7
5Ray AllenMINUConn57.6
6Antoine WalkerBOSKentucky18.0
7Lorenzen WrightLACMemphis-3.0
8Kerry KittlesNJNVillanova18.0
9Samaki WalkerDALLouisville-1.1
10Erick DampierINDMississippi State4.1

…because of the expansion agreement, they were given the 2nd pick…Philly got the first pick, and this draft was all about some kid from Georgetown named Allen Iverson. Let that sink in for a minute….could have had AI. Imagine? We all knew Iverson was going first overall, so the Raptors’ pick was going to be the first domino to drop.

Marcus Camby won both the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award during the 1995–96 season. He led UMass to the number-one ranking in the country and took the team to the Final Four, losing to an absolutely stacked Kentucky team led by Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, and Ron Mercer. That should have been the finals game, as both these two teams were one and two all year. Shame.

Camby was an absolute menace, blocking 105 shots in his freshman season; that’s like three or four a game. Elite stuff. His offensive game was limited, but he solidified the defense, which led to a lot of fast breaks for the Minutemen.

So while the Raptors were able to improve their team through their first year, glaring holes at the five needed to be addressed, and Camby was the best available player in the draft that could fill the void.

In The Moment

The Raptors were desperate for a center, having gone through Sharone Wright, Oliver Miller, Acie Earl, Zan Tabak, all of whom were differing degrees of crap. While I agreed with the sentiment, I just was never a fan of Camby. He never played with that “fuck you” in him, and having spent a lot of time watching the likes of Iverson, Ray Allen, Kerry Kittles, and the recent rise of Shareef Abdur-Raheem, those guys had it. They were all over the floor making things happen, playing with infectious intensity.

Not to say Camby wasn’t good. He was a great college player, where the rebounding and rim protection came easy. He had no personality though; as a 20 year old, I was looking for a connection, someone likeable whose jersey I could wear with pride. That wasn’t Camby.

I’ve always been a Big East guy, so I watched a lot of those games. Allen Iverson obviously would have been everyone’s choice if he was available, but Ray Allen would have been my pick after picking up both a first-team All-American and the Big East Player of the Year awards.

What It Meant for the Raptors

Two consecutive hits in a row for Thomas; Camby came as advertised, immediately shoring up the front court, providing shot blocking and rebounding. He was happy defending the rim, helping on the weak side, rotating, getting into passing lanes, blocking shots only a handful of guys had any business blocking

The surprise came in the way of scoring; while Camby was built like Kevin Durant, and had to bang in the post with massive men, to his credit he held up. He didn’t need the offense to flow through him, which worked for the Raptors as he became a lob, dribble-penetrate-hand-off threat. Think of him like a Rudy Gobert type player.

He closed out his rookie year making the NBA All-Rookie First Team, averaging 14.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. The following season, he would go on to lead the league in blocks with 3.7 per game.

As was the case with Stoudamire, Camby’s tenure in Toronto was short, lasting two seasons. The trade was the first “block buster” one in franchise history with a shift in strategy to bringing in established vets to mentor, lead, and protect the young core. Camby was shipped to the Knicks for Charles Oakley and Sean Marks, firing off a series of trades and draft picks that would see the Raptors make the playoffs and capture the imagination of the country with the Vinsanity era.

In an incredible twist, after the Raptors traded Camby to the Knicks, and on the eve of the Raptors first ever playoff round (also against the Knickst) then Head Coach, Butch Carter, filed a defamation suit against Camby after Camby called him “a liar.”

“He is a liar,” Camby said. “… I don’t really like him. No one likes him and no one wants to play for him. That’s the kind of guy he is.

“I don’t trust him … I think a lot of guys don’t trust him.

“He’s just been ratting out people and doing things his way. From what I hear, a lot of people are mad at him.”

Can’t make this stuff up.

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