Mike James

The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the Raptorblog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.

Mike James’ Raptors résumé:

  • 79 games, 20.3 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.3 RPG, 0.9 SPG
  • One of five Raptors to average 20 PPG in a season
  • One of 21 NBA players to average 20 PPG with a True Shooting Percentage of at least .580 from the 2005-06 season until now

“I don’t care who critiques me or who tells me I’m not a point guard. You know what, I’m sorry I’m not the league’s quote-unquote typical point guard. I’m sorry that I know how to put the ball in the hole at a very high rate. And I’m also sorry that I can still get over 10 assists while doing it.”

Mike James said the above passage to assembled Toronto media on April 2, 2006 after the Raptors lost to the Hornets 120-113 to give the Raptors a 26-47 record. James had 15 points and 10 assists in the game, but he also shot five-for-25 from the field. That shooting performance puts him in a pretty elite club since 1986-87, the earliest season for which Basketball-Reference.com has complete game data.  Since that season, James is one of just eight players to take 25 or more field goal attempts in a game while making no more than five of them. That list includes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Isiah Thomas.

If you showed Mike James that list, he’d probably nod his head in recognition — acknowledging that he belongs on a list with those all-time greats. Players with James’ mentality believe that great scorers can’t let a game like that discourage them from going out and gunning away the next time they step on the court. Two games later, he jacked up 26 shots and made half of them, initiating a streak of four straight games scoring 30 points or more.

Because he averaged 20 points per game on a terrible Raptors team that only won 27 games, many Raptors fans look at him now as the poster boy for mediocre players putting up big scoring numbers on bad teams. Since he never averaged more than 11.8 points per game in any of his eight other NBA seasons, those fans would certainly seem to have a point.

What’s missing in that analysis is the fact that James was actually a really efficient scorer that season. He scored those 20.3 points per game with a .469 FG%, a .442 3PT% and an .837 FT% — and he never topped any of those shooting percentages in any other season. Quite simply, the reason why Mike James is the only player in these rankings who played just one season with the Raptors is that he really was ridiculously good in that season.

If I ever get to interview Bryan Colangelo, I’d like to ask him how he knew that Mike James would not only be unable to repeat his high level of performance after that season, but how he determined that he wasn’t even worth the four-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Timberwolves. Minnesota GM Kevin McHale was hoodwinked (as he often was) into believing that James would continue to be a player who, in McHale’s words, “brings the ability to score, shoot from the perimeter and run our offense.”

In actuality, James played just one season in Minnesota — where he averaged just 25.2 minutes, 10.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. In the following off-season, James was traded with Justin Reed to Houston for Juwan Howard, and James’ decline continued over the remaining three years of his NBA career.

But for one semi-glorious season, Mike James was almost the All-Star-level player he truly believed he was. In the first full, gloomy season after Vince Carter was traded to the Nets, Mike James’ boundless confidence and suddenly elite scoring ability put a smile on my face more than a few times. Well, that and his endless quotability

“The money that I make — the multi-year deal or whatever you guys want to call it — just give me what I deserve. Don’t underpay me. I’m tired of being called an underachiever. I’m tired of being underpaid. And I’ve been underpaid since I’ve been in this game. Now it’s time for me to get what I deserve. The money don’t motivate me. The money don’t motivate me at all. But the thing is, maybe I do want to wake up one morning and say, ‘Baby, let’s go to the Bahamas. Today.’ That costs money. So what if I want to do that? Why shouldn’t I have the ability to do that if for six, seven, eight months I give you my heart on the basketball court?”

I’d like to think that Mike James is chillin’ somewhere in the Bahamas right now, enjoying those millions he earned from that one impressive season in Toronto. Whatever you thought about him as a Raptor, nobody can question that for that one season, he gave us his heart every time he stepped on that Air Canada Centre court.

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