Joey Graham

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.

Joey Graham’s Raptors résumé:

  • 13th in franchise history for minutes played (4,772)
  • Third-highest free throw percentage (82.7 percent) among Raptors with at least 4,000 minutes played

What I remember most about Joey Graham is that he had a fan club consisting of people who were convinced he could be a quality NBA starter if Sam Mitchell or Jay Triano would just give him “a fair shot”. I understand why some people were infatuated with him — he’s a hard worker, he’s built like he was chiseled from granite, and he occasionally showed flashes that he could be a good basketball player instead of someone who just looked good in a basketball uniform.

There were a few things that Joey did well for the Raptors — he rebounds well for a small forward, he’s a strong finisher at the rim, he’s a solid free throw shooter and he’s a great overall athlete as proven at his draft combine where he boosted his stock with the most impressive scores in his class. The problem is that he never really converted those abilities into NBA-level skills such as shooting, passing or defending.

The biggest stigma that was attached to Joey as a Raptor was that he was drafted with one of the picks acquired in the disastrous Vince Carter trade with the Nets. When the Raptors traded the other pick to the Knicks along with Jalen Rose in February 2006, Joey remained the only piece on the Raptors from that Carter trade. It didn’t help some fans’ view of him that he was picked before Danny Granger, David Lee and Monta Ellis in the 2005 draft.

Joey Graham is supposedly a smart guy — he has a degree in aviation management — but that was rarely apparent on the court. “Basketball IQ” is a bit of a clichéd term, but Joey didn’t often exhibit it. Case in point…

Oh, Joey. I said that a lot during his four seasons in a Raptors uniform. I never really got mad at him because he’s a good guy and he tries really hard — he’s just not particularly good at basketball.

When he signed with the Nuggets in 2009 for the league minimum, it didn’t cause much of a stir among Raptors fans. Even the diehard Joey fans had to admit that we had probably witnessed his ceiling by that point, and you didn’t need to have Graham’s vertical leap to touch it.

Nevertheless, Graham spent four seasons with the Raptors in which he was generally well-liked — if not beloved — by fans so he makes these rankings based on his longevity and the fact that there always seemed to be Raptors fans who believed that he could have had a better career if he was ever given consistent playing time in the starting lineup.

Graham is entering the last guaranteed year of his contract with the Cavaliers and when you consider that he only averaged 15 minutes per game last season on a 19-win team, it’s possible that his NBA career could be over if the 2011-12 season is wiped out by the lockout. Thanks to his pilot license, his days of flight will likely continue in some form.