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Runnin' Fives: Toronto Raptors

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bosh.jpgWelcome to the newest edition of the CelticsBlog NBA page's newest feature, Runnin' Fives.  Over the course of the next few months, we'll be picking a five-man all-time team for each of the Association's thirty currently active franchises.  The rules are simple: The goal is to put together the best possible standard five-man line-up (two guards, two forwards, one center, with some room for finagling if need be) for each team based on the performance of the players while with said team.  For instance, it's hard to imagine Michael Jordan making the Washington squad or Karl Malone or Gary Payton challenging for spots in Los Angeles (or Mark Blount making any team, anywhere).  We'll be progressing from youngest franchise to oldest at the rate of one to two teams per week, pursuant to the workings of the NBA's news cycle and availability of sources as we'll be checking in with bloggers, beat writers, fans and anybody else we can get a hold of for insight on their teams.  And of course, we're alwayslooking for your input, and we invite all readers to submit their own line-ups, honorable mentions, dishonorable mentions and everything in between in the comments section below.  We eagerly look forward to hearing from you!

We kicked off Runnin' Fives on Saturday with the Charlotte Bobcats, whose all-time team is a virtual lock to get pounded by that of every other franchise in the league.  We journey back from the Bobcats to the NBA's previous expansion in 1995, which featured the introduction of two new franchises to the scene.  Today, we cross the northern border to take a look at the one of those two that has won a playoff game (and a series, too, but that's just icing on the cake in this contest of former expansion teams).  Let's run fives with the Toronto Raptors:

tor.gifPoint Guard: Damon Stoudamire - Zarar from The Arsenalist says it best: "It's between him and Alvin Williams, who played with more heart, more passion and just about more everything else. But that doesn't mean he was the better player."  Yes, Williams was the one with the team through its best years, but it's hard to blame original Raptor Stoudamire for the team's success or lack thereof during the formative years.  All this guy did was put up 19 and 20 points and 9.3 and 8.8 assists per game in his first two seasons, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1995-96 as well.  Stoudamire wasn't the most efficient of scorers (his true shooting hovered at just over 50 percent for parts of his tenure), but you might take a few bad shots too if you had to run with the likes of Sharone Wright, Oliver Miller, Tracy Murray, Willie Andrson and Tony Massenburg as Mighty Mouse did in that inaugural season.  Though the guy certainly never matured into one of the class characters of the league, the lefty point guard was without doubt the Raps' most dynamic player prior to Vince Carter's entrance in 1999, and he produced at a level that merits his presence here.   That the team was abominable - just like any expansion team -- wasn't his fault.

Honorable mention: Alvin Williams - While Zarar puts him in the discussion, Adam from RaptorsHQ gives Williams the nod altogether at the one: "He, along with Morris Peterson, is probably the favourite Raptor in club history and was the rudder that guided the club through its best years."  Williams is the Raps' all-time assists leader with 1,791 assists, and we would be remiss not to give him a mention here, especially given our love for guys that play valuable roles on successful teams.  But Adam also concedes that Stoudamire was the more talented of the two - and warns us to look out for the fast-charging Jose Calderon once he has been with the team and produced at a high level for a few more years.

Read More..All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out! 

Shooting Guard: Vince Carter - No contest.  Undoubtedly, when they roll the credits on the movie for this team, the subtitle for Carter will read something to the effect of "Vince went on to gain renown as a world-class loafer and one of the so-called stars in the league that fans would be least likely to want on their respective teams."  But much as my present distaste for VC should make it unpleasant for me to name him to an all-time team of any sort, it's a surprisingly nice feeling to get to think back to his early days in the league when the concerns about his general nonchalance and whiny nature (at least outside of Toronto) seemd far lower, and fans around the nation simply got to enjoy his spectacular play. 

In his second and third seasons in the league (which coincidentally remain two of the three best seasons in Raps history), Carter not only went for 25.7 and 27.6 points per game, but he did it with respective true shooting figures of 54.3 and 55.1 percent, shooting better than 40 percent from deep in both seasons.  Between his sensational dunks, seemingly impossible outside shots and his overall top-notch, highlight-reel scoring performances, Carter became a major phenomenon in this league for several years right around the turn of the century.  In 2000-01, the season in which the Raps gained their only playoff series victory, Carter went for 27.3 points, 6.5 boards and 4.7 assists while shooting 41 percent from deep in the postseason.  In the Raps' three second-round victories, he posted scoring efforts of 35, 50 and 39 points, the last two of which came with shooting accuracy better than 50 percent.  The AltRaps Blog's Scott Phillips isn't kidding when he says, "VC brought more attention to the franchise than anybody before or since."

The Arsenalist calls this pick "too obvious."  Sam from Raptors Talk and Adam say VC "put the Raps on the map."  The lynch pin for the club's best seasons.  An All-Star in each of the last five of his six full seasons as a Raptor.  A national phenomenon.  While Adam notes that this is frustrating for Raptors fans to admit after the bitter way their relationship ended with their star, it's hard to imagine many would dispute Sam's final comment on VC: "The best Raptor of all time, full stop."

There's no close second here.

Small Forward: Doug Christie -  So begins the dicey portion of the program, the first time the selection committee (that's a jury of one, for those scoring at home) truly knocks heads dead-on with the local panelists.  But we'll get to their pick shortly.  While we're having a bit of trouble recalling the proportions of playing time spent at the two and the three respectively, swingman Christie gets the nod here because of his consistent play over four and a half seasons of service in Toronto.  He came aboard during the abysmal inaugural season and provided a veteran presence through the team's first playoff appearance in 2000. 

Steadiness was the mark of Christie's play as he figured in double-digit scoring for each season with the team, averaging 14.5 points per game over the breadth of his tenure in Toronto.  Christie has always been a versatile player, and he provided defense, ball movement and stability during his time in town.  He is the team's all-time average steals leader with 2.1 per game (with three top-five finishes in the league during his tenure), and he sits at seventh in team history with 3.8 assists per game, the most for any non-point guard save for Vince Carter.  The man started each of the 282 games he played over his final four full seasons in town and logged more than 35 minutes nightly in three of those four years.  When Christie left town, he immediately made one of the NBA's top two All-Defense teams for four seasons running while playing for a title-contending Sacramento team that received far greater national visibility, which leads one to wonder whether the lack of attention to the Raps was primarily responsible for Christie not receiving some of those accolades earlier.  His role as a rock of consistency for the Raps throughout their infancy and into adolescence earns him the selection here.

Honorable mention: Tracy McGrady - McGrady was actually the all but unanimous consensus pick for the top spot, and Adam suggests T-Mac as possibly the most talented player ever to wear the purple and red in Toronto.  But while the talent was there, his star didn't fully rise until his first season in Orlando in 2000-01, when he broke out for 26.8 points per game.  In three seasons in Toronto, McGrady started a total of 53 games (34 of which came in his final campaign), and he figured in double-digit scoring just once at 15.4 points per game in 1999-2000.   Though as Sam points out, McGrady was a big factor in the playoffs in 2000 (and Christie wasn't as his role with the team had shrunk by then), Christie shouldn't be held to blame for the fact that he was a veteran playing on a young team going through growing pains for much of his time there.  Over the course of their respective stays in Toronto, Christie built up the more consistently effective body of work, and McGrady really did little to establish himself until the end.  While it's safe to say that the comparison between these two will go very differently when we get to their Orlando days in the next few weeks, we're not comfortable with giving the young T-Mac the spot here.  It simply took too long (and a change of scenery) for him to come into his own.

Good guy mention: Morris Peterson - Truthfully, we're not buying the idea of him having the ability to make this team (though he did get some consideration and a look at the three), but as multiple panelists noted, it's hard to take any look at Raps history and completely omit his presence in the process.  Take it away, Scott: "The team's iron man, 371 straight [games played]. Not an All-Star but still an important piece to this squad. His stats increased as his minutes did.  He performed community service perhaps more than any other Raptor in history, and his spirit and sportsmanship outshined many on a team that lacked in both areas."

Power Forward: Chris Bosh - Not one but two 'gimme' picks on this squad (and for those who think I'm crazy on the Christie-McGrady issue, perhaps three) make my job easier.  As Sam reminds us, we're talking here who about a guy here who is the current franchise player.  He is a man who has been in the league five years and averaged 22-plus points and 9.2, 10.7 and 8.7 rebounds per game in each of the last three years.  This guy has redefined consistency in Toronto, having made the All-Star team three years in a row and used his excellent face-up game, quickness and length to turn himself in a legitimate 20-10 threat every single time he gets on the floor. 

At 18.9 points and 9.0 boards per game for his career, Bosh ranks third and second respectively in those categories in Raptors history.  He has already become one of the league's top young players and one of the finest at his position, and the praise abounds from our resident Raptors folk.  Zarar gives him 'third top talent' status behind VC and T-Mac, and Adam provides us the gem of the Bosh commentary:   "Besides Vince Carter, Chris Bosh is probably the second name most people would associate the Raptors.  He doesn't have the flair VC did, but he also doesn't have the same nonchalant off-season work ethic either (much to Raptors fans' delight)."

The only question about CB4 in this spot is whether he lives up to Sam's assessment that he is currently one of the league's top ten players, which we're not so sure about on this end.  But that one is for all you faithful readers.  Does Bosh crack the top ten playing today?  Either way, if that's the big question mark with this guy, there is certainly no shame about having him in this lineup.

Center: Antonio Davis - This was The Man as far as patrolling the low post on those early Toronto playoff teams was concerned.  Basketball-Reference lists the man at 6-foot-9 and just 215 pounds, which makes his status as the Raptors' top rebounder of all-time even more impressive.  Though Davis played plenty of power forward in his career (in fact, Scott had the positions for Davis and Bosh flipped on his ballot), he spent plenty of time in the pivot as well for a team that was short on options in the middle. 

But that's not to say that he didn't merit this spot of his own accord.  Davis' playoff contributions alone likely earn him the selection.  Both Sam and Scott credit Davis for "putting the team on his back" down the stretch or in the postseason in 2001 and 2002, and Scott even gives him the nod over Carter as team MVP for the second round series against Philadelphia in 2001.  Playing with a nagging shoulder injury, Davis toughed his way to 16 points and 11 boards per game in the 2001 playoffs and followed it up with 17 points and 10.6 boards per game the next spring.  Davis' grit in the paint as well as his tenacity on the boards and defense to go with his timely scoring touch made a huge difference in helping turn the Raptors into an Eastern Conference playoff team by the time it had been in existence for half a decade.

The regular seasons weren't too shabby either.  Davis averaged 12.9 points, 9.2 boards (again, best in team history) and 1.3 blocks (fifth) per game in his four and a half seasons in town, and he made the All-Star team in 2001 at the age of 32.  This guy came to compete hard every night, played a game bigger than his frame and was a big part of the most successful era in the team's short history.  Adam calls him a shoo-in, and that claim will meet no arguments in this space.

With Mighty Mouse, VC, DC, CB4 and Mr. Davis runnin' for the Raps, we know at least this much: The Dinos will be opening up as huh-yuuuuge favorites against the all-time 'Cats.

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Thanks again go out to Zarar at The Arsenalist, Sam at Raptors Talk, Adam at Raptors HQ, and Scott Phillips of the AltRaps Blog.  All four of our panelists were thorough and passionate, and they were no doubt responsible for exponentially increasing my understanding of Raptors history.  Each is involved with a solid Raps-dedicated site of his own, and we highly recommend taking a look at those sites when you get the chance.

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Previously on Runnin' Fives: Charlotte Bobcats

Stay tuned for our look at the Memphis Grizzlies in the days to come! 

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