Rasho Nesterovic

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.

Rasho Nesterovic’s Raptors résumé:

When Rasho Nesterovic was acquired by the Raptors in a June 2006 trade that sent Matt Bonner, Eric Williams and a 2009 second round pick to San Antonio, it’s likely that there were a lot of casual Raptors fans wondering what the hell Bryan Colangelo was doing. Bonner was a fan favorite and Nesterovic might have appeared to be a giant stiff who neither scored nor rebounded particularly well. Luckily, Colangelo knew that Rasho brought something the Raptors desperately needed: solid post defense.

The 2006-07 Raptors had nine new players so it wouldn’t be fair to give Rasho all the credit for the Raptors improving from 29th in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in 2005-06 to 12th in 2006-07. But when you consider that he started 73 games and played over 1,600 minutes at the most important defensive position (center), there should be little question that his presence had a lot to do with this shocking turnaround and with the Raptors winning their only division title.

Most of you know that Rasho was a great defender, but I think his offensive ability was a little underrated. No, he didn’t score much, but he knew that wasn’t his role. He went from playing next to Kevin Garnett, to playing next to Tim Duncan, to playing next to Chris Bosh — there weren’t usually a lot of shot opportunities for the big Slovenian. But he had a sneaky-good mid-range jumper and a soft touch around the basket, as evidenced by the fact that he made over 50 percent of his 5,000-plus career field goal attempts.

Here was the thing most people overlooked about Rasho — he could score in the double-digits if you needed him to. There was a freaky nine-game stretch from Dec. 15 to Dec. 30, 2006 where he scored 10 or more points in eight out of nine games for the Raptors. What was the motivation behind this sudden surge? Chris Bosh was injured and out of the lineup for all those games. Bosh returned to the lineup on Jan. 3 and Rasho only scored in double figures in 10 of his remaining 51 games that season.

The bottom line with Rasho Nesterovic is that he was a winner. Yeah, it’s a hoary cliché but I think Rasho legitimately deserves that label — his 2008-09 season with the Indiana Pacers broke a streak of 10 consecutive seasons on teams that finished .500 or better. Maybe not all Raptors fans recognized what he brought to the team, but I guarantee you his teammates and Sam Mitchell appreciated his defensive prowess and the fact that he made his “shats”.

Rasho announced his retirement from basketball last month and stated his desire to work with children because “they get you, you get them and most importantly things are more relaxed with them.” I always “got you”, big man.