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.

Amir Johnson’s Raptors résumé:

  • Last NBA player to be drafted out of high school (Pistons selected him with 56th pick in 2005 draft)
  • Led Raptors with a 17.7 Player Efficiency Rating in 2010-2011 season

The 2009 Toronto Raptors off-season was filled with the usual Bryan Colangelo roster overhaul, highlighted by the big-money acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu, among a flurry of other moves. Two years later, due to the failings of others, but mostly due to his own dedication, Amir Johnson has proven to be the best pick-up of that whirlwind summer in Toronto.

When the Raptors traded Carlos Delfino’s rights and Roko Ukic to the Bucks for Johnson and Sonny Weems, Toronto hoops junkies couldn’t help but salivate over the possibilities Amir presented them with. Other than Croatian-Canadians who still swear Roko Ukic could have been the second coming of Steve Nash, the acquisition of Amir Johnson was met with reasonable excitement. And so far, Amir has not disappointed.

The optimism surrounding Amir had nothing to do with his NBA statistics or professional resume to that point. It was all about his potential, a word that has become synonymous with the latest Raptors rebuild.

Amir has shown that immense potential in flashes and stretches of brilliance over his two-year run with the Raptors, and while some point to the fact that he’s played six NBA seasons without truly making a name for himself or learning how to avoid foul trouble, others still see an exciting 24-year-old who remains more than capable of breaking out.

As a 22-year-old, he shouldered the load admirably when Chris Bosh went down with injuries in the midst of a playoff race. As a 23-year-old, he battled through his own nagging pains and injuries all season, yet still managed to suit up for 72 games, usually as the hardest working Raptor on the court.

This past season was the first time in Johnson’s young career that he averaged more than 18 minutes per game (25.7), and he delivered by putting up career numbers pretty much across the board. If his game, maturity and role within the organization continue to progress over time, then there is reason to believe Amir’s modest numbers of nine points, six rebounds and a block could eventually become, say, 12-15 points, 8-10 rebounds and a couple of blocks.

Of course, nothing is that simple. With an emerging stud in Ed Davis, the elephant in the room named Andrea and an assumed future cornerstone in Jonas Valanciunas, Amir will be hard-pressed to find extended minutes in Toronto’s front-court going forward. He’ll obviously have to work through his foul issues and improve his overall defence, and if he can accomplish those two things, then there’s no doubt in my mind that Amir can simply out-work anyone ahead of him on the team’s depth chart.

Take last off-season for example, when he was handed a rather large extension in what most believed was a reward for less than stellar numbers. Instead of settling with his just good enough to get paid game, Amir went to work on improving his free throw shooting and overall offensive range. The result was a stunning improvement in his shooting that saw him extend his range to just in front of the three-point line and up his free throw average from 64 to 79 per cent, while still maintaining his almost automatic finishing touch around the rim.

His steady progression and accomplishments in two years as a Raptor, his youthful energy, his blue-collar work ethic on the court and his sky-high potential already make him a fan-favourite among the rabid Raptors’ fan-base and a worthy candidate for these depressing Ultimate Raptors Rankings.

But throw in a down-to-earth attitude and a “regular guy” approachability on the streets of Toronto, and Amir has nearly reached the level of cult-following icon. Just ask RaptorBlog editor Scott Carefoot, who’s so gaga for Amir that he couldn’t write this post on account that he wouldn’t be able to stay objective.

In hindsight, I wasn’t exactly critical of Amir in this post either, but that’s OK. It’s not like anyone is declaring him a future All Star – realistically, that’s not happening. But he can be a continuing piece of the evolving Raptors puzzle, who tops out as a 15-and-10 guy while simply out-hustling everyone around him.

After some of the stiffs that have both come through the Air Canada Centre over the last 16 years and have made their way in to these rankings, isn’t that hustle and likability almost enough, as it is, to put Amir Johnson in the Ultimate Raptors Rankings?

He’s no. 24 after two years in a Raptors uniform – if we were to do this again in five years, how high could Amir go?

Though perhaps the better and more common question being asked today is, “how much more depressing will the next 23 Wednesdays be?”

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