Holy shit, I did it!
220 players, something like 30,000 words, and a lot of swears. It’s almost a let down that we’re wrapping up Ranking Every Raptor with the most boring group of players — the guys you already know everything about, who played more than 30 games with the team, and who mattered. Every Raptors fan and blogger alike has thought about their top-10 list; fewer have pitted the Raptors tenures of Justin Dentmon and Marcus Banks against one another.
Aside from the order, and one guy that Eric Koreen has a problem with, there will be no surprises here. Only memories of the guys who’ve most enriched the Raptors franchise with their contributions over the years.
Thanks for being part of the ride. Here are the Top 10 Raptors of all-time.
10. Tracy McGrady, SF (1997-2000); 192 GP / 53 starts / 24.7 minutes / 11.1 points / 5.5 rebounds / 2.5 assists / 1.0 steals / 1.4 blocks
Yes, a young and immature McGrady’s ambition to be The Guy somewhere overruled his desire to stick around and be Vince Carter’s overqualified right hand man. He left after just three years to go home; it sucked. Given what the 2000s NBA landscape evolved into post Shaq & Kobe — a league of relative parity and unpredictability, it’s easy to let your imagination roll downhill; there’s a chance McGrady’s departure cost the Raptors a legit shot at a title.
It’s okay to hold a grudge over that. Shit, the hardest I’ve ever booed at a sporting event was T-Mac’s first game back in Toronto with the Magic. If you want to downgrade his status because the real heft of his career regrettably came elsewhere, I get it.
But Toronto’s all-time roster isn’t exactly loaded with top-end talent. McGrady had that oozing from his pores, even as a Butch Carter-despising teen. And it’s not like he never put that potential to use while with the Raptors. He was the second-best player on the first playoff bound Raptors squad, putting up 15-6-3 along with two blocks a night as a 20-year-old small forward. It’s because he was so good in Year 3 that his departure stung so deeply.
T-Mac was also part of the night the Raptors became cool, a feather in his cap of which the significance can’t be overstated. For five years Toronto had been a joke team with a joke mascot that played in a joke baseball stadium. Purple was lame until T-Mac and Vince made dunk porn wearing it on February 11, 2000. In any normal year, McGrady would have had a claim to the dunk crown. Instead, he had to settle for being the one who threw that really good bounce pass between his teammate’s legs.
Maybe it wasn’t so crazy for T-Mac to want his own team.
9. Donyell Marshall, PF (2003-2005); 131 GP / 68 starts / 13.8 points / 8.7 rebounds / 1.3 assists / 1.0 steals / 1.1 blocks / 41.0 3FG%
Bring it the fuck on, haters. Shower me with your misguided anger.
@WoodleySean My only comment on the (very entertaining) Raptor rankings is that Donyell ahead of Amir is an egregious travesty. An egregesty.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) September 29, 2018
Amir was great. He was durable, a plus-minus titan, and a beloved member of the community who helped shepherd the franchise through one of, if not the darkest era of its history.
But what’s better? A full day at a music festival where you’re never too high or low, and sometimes a little thirsty? Or a late-starting show at a small club with exactly one 30-minute opener? You’ll take the full day outing once in a while if the mood is right, but you’re almost always opting for concentrated euphoria. Donyell Marshall was that.
Raptors fans got to spend less than two full seasons with Marshall, one of the original stretch bigs. Only one of those years would even be classified as a Peak Donyell season. Amir would have never limited his contributions to such a brief period.
But here’s what Marshall accomplished in 66 games with Toronto after being picked up from Chicago a month into the 2003-04 season:
- 9.8 Win Shares: Led the team, despite Vince Carter playing seven more games and Morris Peterson playing all 82; 11th-best single-season WS figure in team history.
- 3.7 Value Over Replacement Player: 7th-best single season mark in Raps history, one of just five players to post a 3.5+ VORP season along with Kyle Lowry (4), Carter (3), Doug Christie (1) and Chris Bosh (1).
- HE HIT 12 THREES IN A GAME
Leave the ludicrous numbers out of it for a sec and think back to how defeating it was to watch that 2003-04, Kevin O’Neill-coached team. Former Raps GM Glen Grunwald told me last year that the team’s offense was so inept in the first month of the season that the NBA’s head office called him up to ask why the team couldn’t score any points.
Marshall managed to be a source of light and joy at a time the Raptors had never been more decrepit. He’s number nine. Deal with it, bitch.
8. Antonio Davis, PF/C (1999-2003 & 2006); 310 GP / 307 starts / 12.9 points / 9.2 rebounds / 1.7 assists / 1.3 blocks / 42.6 FG% / 1 All-Star Selection
Oh man did Antonio Davis ever benefit from a favourable back drop.
Prior to his move to Toronto, Antonio wasn’t even the best Davis in his own front court. A bruising, undersized, nineties-ass big man over six seasons in Indy, Davis was brought to Toronto in a draft-day deal for Jonathan Bender to add some more beef next to Charles Oakley. Instead he wasn’t just a rebound-grabbing elbow tosser on the Raptors. On a team with considerably less talent than the Reggie Miller Pacers, AD’s rep took a leap, even making a Jamaal Magloire-ian All-Star appearance in 2001.
Davis’ closest flirtation with actual stardom came with Vince injured and the Raptors coming off a stretch of 14 losses in 15 games with the playoffs but a distant pipe dream.
Powered in large part by Davis, the Raptors followed up that dry spell by winning 12 of their last 14 to sneak into the playoffs at 42-40, where they’d fall to the Pistons in a hard-fought, Vince-less five games. AD’s 18.6 points and 8.3 boards led the team over that unlikely 14-game run; he added a 30-point, eight-board performance on 14-of-19 in Game 3 against Detroit to postpone the Raptors elimination.
He may have the least sexy overall career of anyone in the top-10. But he was our unsexy Vince co-star.
P.S. Fun fact: Davis is the only player in Raps history to have been traded for Jalen Rose two different times. He went to the Bulls in the Rose / Marshall trade in 2003. Two and a half years later, one week after Wayne Embry took over for the fired Rob Babcock, the Raptors salary dumped Rose and a first-rounder to the Knicks for Davis, who was waived eight games later.
And you thought Babcock and Colangelo were the only Raps GMs to do bad trades in the aughts.
Revision: Admittedly, my takes in this final part of the rankings were less founded in research and more off the cuff and from the heart. It has come to my attention, thanks to the ever-talented Eric Koreen of The Athletic, that the Davis for Rose trade was good, actually. It cleared a bunch of cap space that allowed the Raptors to sign Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa in the summer of 2006. Eric added that the trade was such an expert circumvention of the Raptors’ cap situation that it helped lure Bryan Colangelo into taking the GM job (Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, who’s to say). The first-rounder traded didn’t amount to much — Renaldo Balkman — and the trade set the Raptors up for success in a way Rob Babcock could have never conceived. My apologies to Wayne Embry, and to Eric, who is still wrong about Amir vs. Donyell, but is otherwise a very nice person.
7. Damon Stoudamire, PG (1995-1998); 200 GP / 200 starts / 19.6 points / 4.1 rebounds / 8.8 assists / 1.5 steals / 36.0 3FG%
Toronto’s first few years were unstable, loss-heavy and wrought with uncertainty about the future. Now imagine what they would have looked like had they not absolutely nailed their first ever draft pick.
Toronto and Vancouver were set up to fail, in a way. After the league’s owners got all pee-pantsed about the expansion Magic drafting Shaq and Penny first-overall in back-to-back years, the league set to work making sure no new team would ever see such good fortune without enduring years or toil and possible relocation first. In ‘95, Vancouver and Toronto got slapped with the sixth and seventh picks in a draft that saw Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett go in the top-5. The Grizzlies took Bryant “Big Country” Reeves — nice guy, fun nickname, was enormous, but not an awesome player. Toronto ended up with Damon Stoudamire.
Stoudamire was ingredient the early Grizzlies never got to cook with — a thrilling, young star with a franchise cornerstone feel whose individual exploits could cover the team’s stench like an artisanal candle.
Damon’s falling out with the team after Isiah Thomas’ departure, like with many ex-Raptors, chilled fans’ feelings about him, but he was as vital a player in team history as anyone not named Vince. Swap Damon and Reeves, and we might be getting hyped for the rookie season of Memphis Raptors forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
6. Jonas Valanciunas, C (2012-2018); 440 GP / 434 starts / 11.7 points / 8.5 rebounds / 0.7 assists / 1.0 blocks / 55.8 FG% / 1 Hassan Whiteside buried / Shoots threes now!
You could look at JV’s appearance this high in one of two ways: as a sad indictment of the generally talentless nature of the Raptors’ history, or as a well-earned spot by what has become one of the best draft picks in team history. His efficiency isn’t just good by Toronto standards — he’s been one of the best per-possession scorers in the NBA since coming over form Lithuania, limited only by his inability to subsist without ample defensive help. Guess what he has this year?
JV’s one of the more polarizing players Raptors fans have gotten to argue over incessantly. He’s either white Shaq, suppressed by a clueless Dwane Casey, or he’s a dinosaur on the edge of extinction in the modern NBA. Full credit to Jonas; prior to the 2017-18 season, he was probably closer to the latter.
Aided by a more conservative defensive scheme, Jonas was given the leeway to shine on offense more brightly than ever, albeit in condensed 22-minute nightly bursts. He fucked around and started shooting threes, and posted a career-best 62.8 True Shooting percentage. This year, he’s apparently going to do things like this:
Jonas Valanciunas is a post-modern big pic.twitter.com/VMDVe5xGld— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) September 29, 2018
JV’s also an outlier on the We The North era Raptors, in that he tends to actively get better in the post-season. I will never forgive him for hurting himself on an awkward landing in Game 3 against Miami in 2016, robbing us of one nice thing in a series that was the basketball equivalent of eating a bowlful of uncooked hops.
Were it not for Kawhi Leonard likely snagging a spot by December, Jonas might have cracked the top-5 with another strong season. It’s probably for the best that such hallowed ground be reserved for non-neck chain tattoo-havers.
5. Jose Calderon, PG (2005-2013); 525 GP / 323 starts / 10.0 points / 2.5 rebounds / 7.2 assists / 57.2 TS% / Should-have-been a two-time All-Star ... or at least once.
José has a lifetime appointment as caretaker of the graveyard of point guards who hoped to start for the Raptors. The land plot is adjacent to his ham farm, so it’s a convenient gig. TJ Ford, Jarrett Jack, Jerryd Bayless and even a guy we’re about to rank all lost their grasp of the Raptors’ starting point guard job to Calderon at one time or another.
He’s a symbol of resilience that the long-time Raptors fans who’ve been repeatedly beaten down can relate to. He also represents what Bryan Colangelo sought to achieve by scouring the international market for guys who actually wanted to play in Toronto. Outside of DeMar DeRozan, there may be no more likable dude to have worn the uniform. And if you don’t still do this when you hit a three at pick-up you’re hitting threes at pick-up wrong:
These have been some disjointed thoughts on a legend.
4. Chris Bosh, PF (2003-2010); 509 GP / 497 starts / 20.2 points / 9.4 rebounds / 2.2 assists / 1.2 blocks / 49.2 FG% / 5 All-Star Selections
Bosh’s importance to the Raptors is, strangely, both overstated and underappreciated all at once. Playing in a depressing-ass version of the Eastern Conference — on in which Sam Mitchell was able to coach a team to 47 wins — Bosh’s legacy stats got a shiny coat of paint. For example, making five-straight all-star teams in the West would have been a tall ask, no matter how convincing his southern car salesmen schtick might have been.
When discussing Bosh you also have to reckon with the fact that despite being a crummy conference, he was never able to power the Raptors to win totals befitting a true superstar. Sure, Babcock and Colangelo tried their darndest to saddle Bosh with deadweight teammates, but for the 47-win, first round and out 2006-07 season to be Bosh’s most successful year as The Guy leaves you a little bit wanting. It wasn’t until Miami, with his game matured and his role decreased in scope that Bosh really cemented his Hall-of-Fame stature.
Working in his favour though, is that he’s probably the second or third most purely talented player the Raptors have ever employed. His quick ascent from scrawny, Vince-adjacent rookie into one of the most refined offensive players on earth — something between LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis — helped the Raptors leave the Vince era behind far more gracefully than they otherwise would have. He’ll be number two on the scoring list for a long time, barring Kyle Lowry sticking around for some post-prime, low-salary deal in an Andre Miller-like role. And it’s not like you can accuse Bosh of gross disloyalty the way you can with a Vince or Damon; he gave it a damned good shot for seven years, and opted to sign somewhere with bountiful opportunity and no Hedo Turkoglu in sight. Of all the star departures Toronto fans have endured, Bosh’s seems to be accompanied by the fewest sour grapes.
He was a damned good Raptor. Maybe even a great one. Just not quite one the absolute best.
3. DeMar DeRozan, SG (2009-2018); 675 GP / 663 starts / 19.7 points / 4.1 rebounds / 3.1 assists / 1.0 steals / 4 All-Star Selections / All-Time Leading Scorer / All-Time Games Played Leader
2. Vince Carter, SG/SF (1998-2004); 403 GP / 401 starts / 23.4 points / 5.2 rebounds / 3.9 assists / 21.8 PER / 5 All-Star Selections / Dunked his Arm / 25.7-6.4-5.0 playoff line
We’ve reached it: my most difficult ranking decision yet.
There’s a stark duality at play in the Vince/DeMar comparison. One was fiercely loyal, unquestionably flawed, and the co-star of the most successful run the team has ever enjoyed; a self-made multi-time All-Star whose success wasn’t even remotely preordained. However, his weaknesses gave way to supreme post-season embarrassment. Eight points, all on free-throws, and the like.
The other was more obviously talented, unmatched in his popularity, and save for one day, was a post-season hero for a team that had never known one before. He dunked the team into international relevance. He was the antagonist in Like Mike for fuck’s sake. His loyalty waned, though, as he moped his way out of town, fetching next to nothing in the way of rebuilding supplies once he was gone. At the same time... he maybe saved the franchise from relocation. The 1997-98 season could have been a death blow.
In the end, Vince gets the edge because of his cultural and foundation-building significance. “The DeRozan Effect” is not a documentary anyone is going to make.
1. Kyle Lowry, PG (2012-2018); 432 GP / 416 starts / 17.8 points / 4.9 rebounds / 6.8 assists / 1.5 steals / 38.3 3FG% / 57.4 TS% / 4 All-Star Selections / All-time VORP leader (28.2) / Is Actually Good in the Playoffs / Is Over Everything
Whatever it is you’re looking for in the number one Raptor of all time, I can guarantee you Kyle Lowry checks each box.
You want winning? With apologies to the King, DeMar, Lowry has been the best player on the most successful batch of teams Raptors fans have ever gotten to pleasure to watch. He’s been the blood-pumping core of three-straight 50-win teams — the only such squads in Raps history — and while injuries have caused his performance to drag in a few playoff runs, Toronto likely doesn’t have four of its five playoff series wins without him. Lowry’s career has set a new bar for winning that all future Raptors will have to live up to.
What about numbers? Yup. He currently sits fourth in career points, with a chance to catch Vince by the end of his contract; his 1066 career made threes are 265 clear on number two Morris Peterson (and seeing as he consistently flirts with the top-three in threes made per season, that’s likely to move past 500 this year); a few hyper-aggressive games will see him pass Doug Christie for the all-time steals crown; only 800 assists separate him from Calderon in that department; shit, man, he’s even sixth in rebounds despite being barely six-feet tall. On a more advanced level, Lowry is an annual fixture in the top-10 of ESPN’s Box Plus/Minus, is an instant five to 10 point NET Rating boost to most lineups he gets dropped into, and has been one of the captains of the pull-up three revolution that has altered NBA defense in recent years.
22 players with at least 300 pull-up 3-point attempts over the last 2 seasons. pic.twitter.com/WEiuiyGXGb— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 17, 2018
His 2015-16 season and the injury shortened flamethrower he took to the league the following year may just represent the best stretch of play anyone in a Raps jersey has put together.
What about indelible moments? How do the half-court heave against Miami, his Game 7 explosion in that same series, the 35-5-5 on 14-of-20 he dropped in the Eastern Conference Finals-tying Game 4 against the Cavs, the step-back winner against Cleveland earlier that season, and about a thousand patented Kyle Lowry Fuck You fourth quarters work for you?
He has the longevity. He already sits eighth in games played, sixth in minutes. With two even sort of healthy season he’ll sit second in both categories behind DeRozan. He’ll likely reach five or six All-Star games before it’s all said and done, too. He’s signed here two different times as a unrestricted free agent — albeit the second time it might not have necessarily been his first choice.
Lowry’s career is also deeply entwined with the up-and-down nature of the fan condition. His trajectory has been anything but linear; he contains multitudes. His weight has fluctuated as regularly as his moods and his haircut. He’s had extremely public bouts against his own psyche; performative or not, Lowry’s late-night solo shooting session after Game 1 against Miami was a more vulnerable and uncertainty-wrought image than most superstars would ever project. Lowry was a late bloomer, only figuring his shit out as his 30s beckoned, not unlike most regular folks. Because his stardom was never guaranteed, even likely, Lowry doesn’t carry the same air of inevitability that most superstars do. Without immense stores of talent to back him up, he’s liable to fail at times, thus making him more human than, say, early Vince or T-Mac. Because nothing has ever come as easily to him, Lowry’s accomplishments with the team are made more endearing. He pulls the same fan-inducing strings that JYD and Pops Mensah-Bonsu do in a way no Raptors star ever has.
All of these qualities leave little doubt, or even room to persuasively argue otherwise, that Kyle Lowry is the greatest player in Raptors history.