Everyone’s list is different and this one is no different. However, in my opinion, there are five players who have elevated the Toronto Raptors to an NBA playoff team throughout the Raptors history.
This list does not include Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady, who became an NBA All-Star after leaving the Toronto Raptors. This list also does not include Jermaine O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, who came to Toronto at the end of their careers.
Four of these five players spent a considerable amount of their careers with the Toronto Raptors. One of these four players is Chris Bosh.
Five Best Players in Toronto Raptors History
5 – Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh starred during The Chris Bosh era, the playoff era between the Vince Carter era and the golden We the North era.
Bosh was drafted fourth in the 2003 NBA Draft. This draft is considered one of the deepest classes in NBA history. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade were all part of the 2003 draft class.
Bosh was forced to play at the starting center position in his rookie season as Antonio Davis was traded to the Chicago Bulls. He was exposed at this position with his thin frame. However, he pushed through and had the most blocks for a rookie in Raptor’s history.
When Vince Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets, it became Chris Bosh’s team and the Chris Bosh era had begun.
This era was the successor of the Vince Carter era when Carter left to join the New Jersey Nets.
The Chris Bosh Era
The Chris Bosh era was the second playoff era in Toronto Raptors history. This era started with two non-playoff years. However, during this time Bosh improved from 11.5 points per game in his rookie year to 22.6 points per game and made his first-ever NBA All-Star Game for the Toronto Raptors. At that time, he was only the third Toronto Raptor to be in an NBA All-Star Game, succeeding both Antonio Davis and Vince Carter.
He led the Toronto Raptors to two playoff appearances. Their most notable one was against the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) and Vince Carter in the 2006-07 season. Chris Bosh did not play well in his first post-season averaging only 17 points per game and a 37.6 field goal percentage.
He did redeem himself a bit in the 2007-08 playoffs with 21.7 points per game and a 47.6 field goal percentage. However, the problem was they lost in five games to the Orlando Magic in the first round.
The Post-Playoff Era
There was optimism for both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 NBA Season as Bryan Colangelo was able to sign Jermaine O’Neal and Hedo Türkoğlu. Most notably, O’Neal was a sixth time NBA All-Star, a gem Bryan Colangelo could not pass on.
However, even with signings of six times NBA All-Star O’Neal and Türkoğlu, both only played for one year. Furthermore, O’Neal did not play most of his one season in Toronto because of injury.
The 2009-10 season would be the last of the Bosh era. On this season the Toronto Raptors were battling with the Chicago Bulls for the eighth and final NBA playoff spot. Unfortunately, for the Raptors the Chicago Bulls edged the Raptors as the eighth seed and faced the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bulls would lose in five games against the Cavaliers and the future looked bright for Chicago with 2010 NBA MVP Derrick Rose with the Bulls. For the Toronto Raptors though, they would lose their only NBA All-Star in Bosh and would take four seasons later to reach their goal of the NBA Playoffs.
Chris Bosh’s legacy in Toronto will not be remembered as fondly as the other four in this list. He was a perennial NBA All-Star in Toronto but was unable to repeat the successes of his predecessor Vince Carter and cement his legacy in Toronto.
4 – Vince Carter
Vince Carter has many nicknames as a Toronto Raptor. Most NBA fans including people in Toronto will call him “Vinsanity.” Another famous nickname in Toronto was “Air Canada Carter.” As mentioned by Nick Taylor-Vaisey of Macleans “Air Canada Carter” is a moniker by then Toronto Raptor broadcaster Chuck Swirsky. In Vince Carter’s era, the arena was sponsored by Air Canada and the arena was called the Air Canada Centre.
He was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 1999 NBA Draft in Vancouver. However, according to Brian Boake of Raptors News, the Warriors wanted to get Antawn Jamison, who was drafted by the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors and Warriors agreed to trade each other’s draft picks and the Toronto Raptors got Vince Carter.
Vince Carter as a Toronto Raptor
Carter is the first-ever NBA All-Star in Toronto Raptors history. His first NBA All-Star appearance was in Oakland, California at Oakland Arena. He is a seven-time NBA-All Star with five of them being awarded as a member of the Toronto Raptors. He is also famous for winning the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest, which inspired kids from all over the Greater Toronto Area.
Carter led the Toronto Raptors to three playoff appearances. The most notable post-season with Carter was the 2001 post-season. In this post-season they defeated the New York Knicks 3-2, avenging the loss of the 2000 post-season.
Then in the second round, Carter was a shot away from sending the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals. The shot missed and the Raptors lost agonizingly by one point in Game 7 against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Carter had a great playoff series including scoring 50 points in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. He would only make it to the playoffs once more in the 2002 NBA Playoffs. They lost narrowly against the Detroit Pistons and lost the series 3-2.
While Carter did not achieve the post-season success, he helped grow the Toronto Raptors franchise. Many NBA players like Tristan Thompson talked about how Vince Carter advanced the game of basketball in Canada.
Legacy of Vince Carter as a Toronto Raptor
Many NBA Canadian players attribute their love of basketball to Vince Carter. While he played a big role in shaping the Toronto Raptors franchise, he only made the second round once as a Toronto Raptor. That is different from the current #WetheNorth era where the team is expected to be in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
It also makes one think of how many more Greater Toronto Area players will come from the #WetheNorth era.
3 – Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard played only one season as a Toronto Raptor, but it was the most rewarding season for both Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.
There was a lot of pressure on the Toronto Raptors last season. Masai Ujiri decided to move on with two beloved figures of the Toronto Raptors. The first one was head coach of the year Dwane Casey who was fired. Then a few months later Toronto Raptor player DeMar DeRozan was traded for Leonard.
Leonard finished with 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. This was good enough to be an NBA Eastern Conference starter. However, they were questions as Leonard took 22 games off because of “load management.”
Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Run
Those questions were answered in the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors trailed in three of the four playoff series, but the team led by Leonard was still able to prevail. What was impressive with Leonard was the second round of the NBA Eastern Conference against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Raptors had trouble shooting the ball, but Leonard willed them through in most of the games. This includes the iconic Leonard shot that can be seen in several languages.
This shot gave the Toronto Raptors the series win and allowed them to progress to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
In the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Leonard again delivered. In-game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Leonard had a series-high 36 points and the Toronto Raptors won in double OT against the Milwaukee Bucks. Leonard also helped the Toronto Raptors win their first-ever NBA Championship. He won 11 of the 12 NBA Playoffs Finals MVP votes and won the NBA Playoffs Finals MVP as a Toronto Raptor.
Even though Leonard played only one season as a Toronto Raptor he established himself as one of the greatest Toronto Raptors in history. If he stayed for more than one year, he might have a stake in being the best player in Raptor’s history.
Ironically, the second-best player in Toronto Raptors history is DeMar DeRozan, the guy the Raptors traded for to get Kawhi Leonard.
2 – DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan was drafted ninth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. DeRozan’s draft class is one of the best in the NBA. World-renowned NBA All-Stars Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, and James Harden were in that draft.
DeRozan averaged 8.6 points per game in his first year as a Toronto Raptor. This was also Chris Bosh’s last year as a Raptor before moving over to the Miami Heat. To that DeRozan tweeted out the following statement:
“Don’t worry, I got us.”
DeMar DeRozan as a Toronto Raptor
This statement would hold as he drastically improved his second season scoring average to 17.2 points per game and his free throw percentage reached above 80 percent.
Perennial NBA All-Star in Toronto
He also appeared in his first-ever NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans in 2014. He averaged 22.7 points per game and at that point had the most assists, rebounds, and free throw percentage in his career.
The Toronto Raptors won their second Atlantic Division banner that year but ended up losing in seven games against the Brooklyn Nets.
The 2015-16 season was a memorable season for the Toronto Raptors and the city of Toronto. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry represented Toronto in the first-ever NBA All-Star Game in Canada.
2016 NBA Eastern Conference Finals
The Raptors finished second in the Eastern Conference and made it to their first-ever Eastern Conference Finals. They defeated both the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat in seven games before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan had 32 points in both wins against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors, however, ended up losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers four games to two.
DeMar DeRozan averaged a career-high 27.3 points per game and a free-throw percentage of 85 percent in the 2016-17 season and was an NBA All-Star starter for the first time in his career. He would follow that with 23 points per game 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game in 2017-18. He would, however, have a hard time beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
DeMar DeRozan’s Legacy as a Toronto Raptor
Two things need to be noted about DeMar DeRozan. One is getting swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018. This was despite finishing first in the Eastern Conference with 59 wins and 23 losses in 2018. DeRozan did not play particularly well in the last playoff series against the Cavaliers and was promptly traded along with Jakob Pöltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
However, this does not take away what DeRozan did for Toronto. The other factor is that the Raptors have not lost in the first round since being swept by the Washington Wizards in the 2015 NBA playoffs. Making it to the second round was expected, which Chris Bosh never did and Vince Carter only did once as a Toronto Raptor.
A lot of that credit goes to DeRozan and Kyle Lowry who led the team through thick and thin. DeRozan and Lowry have been the most loyal players in Toronto Raptors history. This leads up to who is ranked number one in Raptors history, Kyle Lowry.
1 – Kyle Lowry
Before the DeRozan trade happened, DeRozan would likely be listed as the best Raptors player in history. However, DeRozan was traded, and Kyle Lowry played a pivotal role in the Raptors winning an NBA Championship.
Unlike other players on this list, Lowry did not become an NBA All-Star until later in his career. When he got to Toronto, he just wanted to get a starting role with the Toronto Raptors, a role filled by Jose Calderon at the time. He came to Toronto in 2012 via trade with the Houston Rockets. The Raptors traded Gary Forbes along with a first-round pick of the Toronto Raptors to get Kyle Lowry.
Kyle Lowry Arrives in Toronto
Kyle Lowry said he felt like he was heading into exile as he said on Clutch Points the following:
“When I ended up getting traded to Toronto, it almost felt like I was getting sent into exile,” Lowry wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “I didn’t know anything about Toronto. At the time I didn’t care to know. I just thought this was going to be a pit stop until an opportunity somewhere else.”
Fans were also disappointed that off-season as then-general manager Bryan Colangelo was unable to bring Steve Nash to Toronto. However, in hindsight, that off-season was one of the best-off seasons in Raptor’s history.
Lowry started on the bench as a back-up point guard in the 2012-13 season. However, later that year he would take over as starting point guard. This was because Jose Calderon was traded to the Detroit Pistons in January 2013.
Kyle Lowry as an NBA All-Star
In the 2013-14 season, he dramatically improved his production as he averaged 17.9 points per game. He also averaged 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
A year later Kyle Lowry was the fifth NBA All-Star in the Toronto Raptors franchise and only the third Raptor to start an NBA All-Star Game. He would also play in the next four NBA All-Star Games including being a starter for the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. It was Lowry’s second NBA All-Star appearance and he was again a starter for the Eastern Conference.
His best seasons were the 2015-16 and the 2016-17 season where he averaged over 20 points in each of those two seasons with six to seven assists. Kyle Lowry had some notable games where he played well in the playoffs. Two of them against the Cleveland Cavaliers where he scored 20 and 35 points in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.
NBA Finals Championship Run
Most notably, he played well in the Toronto Raptors Championship run. He had 22 points when they were down to the Orlando Magic 1-0 in the Eastern Conference first round.
Lowry also performed well on the biggest stage. In the NBA Finals, he scored 23 points, nine assists, and four rebounds in game three. He had 18 points in game five, but his best game was game six.
In-game six, he had 26 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. He set the tone early in the game scoring a lot of his points in the first quarter. He led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA Championship at Golden State against the Golden State Warriors.
Therefore, Lowry will forever be the best Toronto Raptors player in history. The way he, along with DeRozan, built the team from the ground-up to a perennial playoff team is remarkable.
Influence of the Five Best Toronto Raptors Players of All-Time
It is important to note that without DeRozan, Lowry, and Leonard the Toronto Raptors would not have won the NBA Championship. That is why they are the three best Toronto Raptor players of all-time. They deserve their numbers to be retired or at least honored at Scotiabank Arena.
Vince Carter’s influence is seen with the many NBA Canadian players playing in the NBA today. This includes players like Tristan Thompson and Jamal Murray. Lastly, Chris Bosh was a perennial NBA All-Star for the Toronto Raptors. He also brought the Toronto Raptors their first-ever Atlantic Division banner in 2006-07.
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