A constant debate among basketball fans is over which player is the greatest of all time; the greatest of their era, or the greatest of their team’s history? In the Toronto Raptors’ short 25 years of existence, there have been many great players who have come and gone through the organization, but who is in fact the best?
An interesting caveat to these discussions is the weight of a player’s peak versus the weight of the players entire body of work throughout their career. For example: who should be ranked higher all-time: Derrick Rose – the youngest MVP in NBA history, or Kyle Lowry – who was much more consistent later in his career after initially struggling to find his place in the NBA.
For the purpose of this article I will examine which player had the best individual season or the highest peak. Often, us fans can have our judgment clouded by our own personal biases and we fail to view the entire picture. While opinions can change or be influenced by outside factors, numbers rarely lie. Thus, I will strictly be examining a player’s impact through the use of both traditional stats, and advanced stats that go beyond the traditional box score to assess a player’s impact. The three advanced statistics I will be using are Win Shares, True Shooting Percentage, and Box Plus Minus.
The concept of Win Shares was originally created by the father of sports statistics, Bill James, as a way to measure player impact in Baseball. It has since been adapted to be used in the NBA, and is a measurement of a player’s impact on winning games. As a disclaimer, this statistic correlates with overall team success, but it used as a means to understand which players are the most impactful towards their team’s success. While this statistic was originally used to measure a player’s impact during a full season, it has also been modified to show their impact in any given game as well through the concept of WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes). This simply interpolates the statistics to adjust for a single game impact.
The concept of Win Shares could of course be problematic with the measurement of a player’s impact on a team with a lackluster supporting cast. Basketball is a team sport, and as much as media narratives or marketing campaigns can tell us otherwise, one player cannot fully control the outcome of a given game. This is where Box Plus Minus applies, which takes into account both a player’s box score performance, and the team’s performance while said player is on the court. This statistic is created by combining both a player’s offensive and defensive impact as compared to league average.
The final advanced stat that I will be utilizing is True Shooting Percentage (TS%). True Shooting Percentage is a metric that aims to quantify a player’s scoring efficiency by combining their 2-point, 3-point, and free throw percentages, and adjusting for the rate of each. This metric is based on the player’s points per possession and more accurately reflects a player’s scoring efficiency than simply using field goal percentage.
When it came to deciding which of the 236 players would make the cut, I simplified the choice by singling out the players who made an All-Star appearance in that given season. While All-Star selections are an arbitrary and flawed measurement of player skill/success it serves to simplify analysis and can aid with an understanding of the public perception of the top players in that given season.
In Toronto Raptors history, there have been seven players selected to the All-Star Game, those being: Antonio Davis, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and most recently, Pascal Siakam. Each player will have one entry to assess their peak season and its overall impact. Without further ado let’s get started.
Jose Calderon 2007-2008:
Before I start examining the All-Star seasons, I have to mention the excellence that was Jose Calderon’s 2007-2008 season. While researching this piece I was reminded of how surprisingly dominant Jose Calderon was at his peak. Jose was unbelievably efficient as a shooter and distributor, averaging 11.2 points and 8.3 assists per game on nearly 61% True Shooting.
This season was historic as Jose became one of only nine players in NBA history to average 50/40/90 splits for an entire season. Remarkably, he was able to command the offense to become the 9th most efficient offense in the league, while being on a team that suffered from a particular dearth of talent beyond Chris Bosh.
His impact is probably most visibly displayed through his Win Shares for that season, where his mark of 10.2 is the 5th highest in franchise history – a figure made even more remarkable due to the fact he started just 56 of a possible 82 games. This impact is also seen through his WS/48 where his score of .197 is magnified by the fact that the Raptors finished that season 41-41.
While his figure of 4.5 BPM is still impressive, it is rather pedestrian compared to some other players on this list, but it showcases what Jose was. While not putting up the same gaudy stats as other point guards of his era, Jose was an ultra efficient distributor who could elevate his teammates and run an efficient offense.
Unfortunately, Jose Calderon played in an era that didn’t allow him to fully play to his strengths. His combination of court vision and shooting was perfectly suited to a modern spread pick and roll offense which came into effect long after his prime. In today’s NBA following the 3-point revolution, he likely would have made an All-Star team, possibly playing a role similar to what Trae Young is doing for the Atlanta Hawks.
- Antonio Davis 2000-2001:
Davis’ 2000-2001 season is an outlier on this list. With the exception of Pascal Siakam, every other player on this list is a multiple time All-Star. This was Antonio Davis’ only all-star selection and he was named as a replacement for the injured Raptors legend Alonzo Mourning.
While his statistics were not what is typically considered All-Star caliber, Antonio Davis was still able to average a double double. He was not an efficient offensive player as is indicated by his 50.8 TS%. He was however a strong defensive player and maximized his below-average 6’9 frame, helping the Raptors achieve an above-average defense, despite fielding many below average defensive players.
His true impact came during The Playoffs, where he helped lead the Raptors to their first playoff series victory by improving on his season average with 15.8 points per game, 2.1 points higher than his regular season average and 12 rebounds per game while shooting 49% from the field against a dominant Knicks defence.
Ultimately the impact of his tenure with the Raptors was not that of a star but of a very strong role player who was able to help drive, up to that point, the greatest season in franchise history.
- Pascal Siakam 2019-20:
This entry could perhaps finish higher on the list following the publishing of this article. This is the lone entry where the season remains unfinished. Initially, I considered using Siakam’s 2018-19 season as his entry but with the significant improvements Siakam has made to his game; virtually replacing Kawhi Leonard’s production, his current output could not be denied. Due to the fact that this season is ongoing, I have utilized the advanced stats WS and BPM from his season last year, as those metrics are used to reflect an entire season.
During last season’s playoff run, Siakam showed flashes of what he was to become, serving as an outstanding second option to Kawhi Leonard, even having an outside shot at winning Finals MVP. Throughout The Playoffs, Siakam averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, while still providing elite defense.
Siakam has been sensational since filling the vacuum left by Kawhi Leonard, and has even generated discussions within the MVP conversation. He increased his scoring by nearly 7 points per game, and has served as a linchpin of the leagues 2nd best defense. He has played a key role in the Raptors surprising success; putting the dinos on pace to win as many games as last season despite losing arguably the best player in the world.
Siakam can be characterised by his elite two-way impact, being one of the few players who are able to make a significant impact on both sides of the ball. The most exciting part for Raptors fans is that this may just be the start of Siakam’s dominance. Not even 26 years old yet, Siakam could still significantly improve his game, having a chance to fully establish himself in MVP conversations, and go down as the greatest Raptor of all-time.
#5 DeMar DeRozan 2016-2017:
DeRozan played a key role in transforming the Raptors franchise from a perpetual lottery team to a consistent winner. His mark of 9.9 WS during the 2016-2017 season ranks 9th in franchise history. He was able to lead the Raptors to 51 wins and the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference.
This likely is the most controversial entry on the list. DeMar DeRozan is many fans’ favourite Toronto Raptor, and embodied the city of Toronto for nearly a decade. His style of play resonated with fans and gradually changed from one of the most electric slashers in the league to a devastating mid-range scorer.
However, that same style of play that resonated with fans also limited his impact and efficiency. DeRozan was a scorer through and through, however his TS% of 55.2 was coincidentally exactly the league average in 2017. Despite putting up 27.3 points per game he was only as efficient with his possessions as an average player. This lack of efficiency placed a significant ceiling on his game. The more he had the ball, the mediocre the Raptors would become.
Similarly to the late great Kobe Bryant, DeRozan was an excellent tough-shot-maker, but his reliance and propensity to isolate into a midrange killed his efficiency. DeRozan was however excellent at drawing contact, and averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game in 2016-17. He was able to mitigate his lack of a 3-point shot by attacking the basket with reckless abandon, and baiting defenders into falling for his pumpfakes.
Unfortunately, due to his limited game DeRozan often became less effective in The Playoffs – second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017, where DeRozan played below his averages leading to a series loss in a sweep.
DeRozan was and still is a great inside the arch scorer, but the lack of polish in other areas of his game combined with his struggles on the defensive side prevent him from being higher on this list.
Stay-tuned for Part 2 coming soon.