Since we all have lots of time on our hands and are thinking non-stop about how much we miss the NBA, and the Raptors now have 25 seasons (uh, mostly) under their belts, what better time than to hand out some quarter-century hardware!
We’ll use the end-of-season awards as our basis, except where those awards recognize what the player did in that particular season, these awards will recognize what was done in a Raptors uniform — not in any one season, but cumulatively as a Raptor. (With the exception of Rookie of the Year, since you’re only a rookie one year!)
Because of this, I’m valuing contributions over time pretty highly, which means one-season wonders (you know who I’m talking about) won’t walk away with all the awards.
Today in Part 1, we’ll cover the seven major awards, and in Part 2 we’ll do the All-Raptors team honours.
For the awards, we’ll list a ballot of 3-5 contenders, with some relevant stats/info, and then give some reasoning behind the selections. From there we’ll pick a winner and offer justifications as necessary... and then we can let the debate begin.
- Damon Stoudamire (19 points, 9.3 assists, 1.4 steals; 1996 Rookie of the Year)
- Vince Carter (18 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3 assists; 1999 Rookie of the Year
- Chris Bosh (11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, All-Rookie First Team)
- Andrea Bargnani (11.6 points, 37% 3PT, All-Rookie First Team)
- Charlie Villanueva (13 points, 6.4 rebounds, All-Rookie First Team)
Who had the single best rookie season in franchise history? You’d think there’d be more competition, seeing as how the Raptors had plenty of high draft picks over the years. But really it’s two-horse race. And, honestly I thought Carter would be the runaway clear choice here... but Mighty Mouse puts up a good statistical fight!
Winner: Vince Carter
I gotta give it to Vince. Stoudamire was great, and probably better than anyone expected. But the impact Vince Carter had in that 1999 season, it was electric. And the team was pretty good; Vince’s team won 23 games to Stoudamire’s 21, and did it in 32 fewer games in the lockout-shortened season.
Most Improved Player
- Pascal Siakam (4.2 points, 3.4 rebounds in debut season; improved to 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds in year 4)
- Tracy McGrady (7 points, 4.2 rebounds in debut; improved to 15.4 and 6.3 in year 3)
- Chris Bosh (11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds in debut; improved to 24.0 and 10.8 in year 7)
- DeMar DeRozan (8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds. 0.7 assists in debut; improved to 27.3, 5.2 and 3.9 in year 8)
- Fred VanVleet (2.9 points, 0.9 assists in debut; improved to 17.6 and 6.6 in year 4)
This award goes to the player who improved the most in his time in a Raptors uniform; who took a leap from where he was when he joined the team to where he was by the time he left. This isn’t a one-year improvement, it could be a multi-year improvement. Like did anyone think year 1 DeRozan, who showed flashes, would turn into a multiple-time All-Star? Year 1 Bosh, the same? And take a gander at undrafted Fred VanVleet!
Winner: Pascal Siakam
Boy, I really wanted to give this to DeMar DeRozan. He became so much better than any of us foresaw in his rookie year, and worked so damn hard. But the things he didn’t improve remain glaring. Every aspect of Siakam’s game is better now than it was last year, or the year before, or the year before that; I just don’t think I can say the same about DeMar. And all of Siakam’s improvements have come at such a fast pace, he has to be the choice. (Plus, you know, he actually won this darn award last year!)
Best Sixth Man
- Lou Williams (15.5 points, 34% 3PT; 80/80 games off the bench)
- Fred VanVleet (10.3 points, 4 assists, 39% 3PT; 149/225 games off the bench)
- Terrence Ross (9.4 points, 42% FG; 231/363 games off the bench)
- Patrick Patterson (7.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 37% 3PT; 254/273 games off the bench)
- Tracy McGrady (11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists; 139/192 games off the bench)
This one is damn tricky. Who had the best Raptors career as a bench player? It’s has to be a guy who played at least half of his games off the bench, remember.
Because the Raptors have had so much roster turnover in their 25 years, and have been, uh, kinda bad, for most of those years... most bench players who were any good quickly became starters. Initially I thought Morris Peterson would be a good choice here, but he actually started 67% of his games as a Raptor! Jose Calderon started 61%. Amir Johnson, 63%!
Lou Williams, of course, won this award in 2015. But it was his only Raptors season. McGrady is probably the best player on the list, but he didn’t really provide real value in his role until year three, and then he was gone (remember this award is cumulative). T-Ross gave us many fan-favorite highlights, but could be maddeningly inconsistent. VanVleet is a tricky one, since he’s now a full-time starter and that boosts his stats accordingly. So...
Winner: Patrick Patterson
I don’t feel great about this choice. Patterson’s injury-plagued final season may not have been great, and he could be frustratingly passive at times. But he was probably the most consistent player, over the longest period of time, during a time when the team won consistently.
Best Defensive Player
- Kyle Lowry (1.5 steals per game; 22.2 defensive win shares)
- Antonio Davis (9.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 11.1 defensive win shares)
- Kawhi Leonard (1.8 steals, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 defensive win shares)
- Doug Christie (2.1 steals, 9.7 defensive win shares)
- Chris Bosh (9.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 19.1 defensive win shares)
This might be the toughest one in this whole exercise, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol; Leonard is undoubtedly the single best defender to ever put on a Raptors uniform, and Gasol might be the smartest defensive player the team’s ever had. But Leonard only played 60 games, and Gasol, only 62 to date. Is that really enough to put them in contention? Didn’t Chris Bosh, Doug Christie, and Antonio Davis do more over more time, with more consistency? How about Jonas Valanciunas? For as much as his coaches didn’t trust him, defensive stats show him consistently being a positive presence (and a terrific defensive rebounder). I very nearly put him on this ballot and left Kawhi off... but that just didn’t seem right.
Winner: Antonio Davis
Davis was the defensive anchor for the first “good” Raptors teams ever, and his efforts carried the team whenever Vince Carter was hurt. He was a beast on the boards. I trusted this team on D whenever he was on the floor. That said... I wouldn’t argue with any of the other choices!
- Butch Carter (73-92 record)
- Lenny Wilkens (113-133)
- Sam Mitchell (156-189; 2007 Coach of the Year)
- Dwane Casey (320-238; 2018 Coach of the Year)
- Nick Nurse (100-39)
The Raptors don’t exactly have a history of great coaches, I think that’s fair to say. Wilkens is the biggest “name” coach the team has ever had, but he was past his prime when he got here and had a rep of just rolling out the ball and letting his players play. Carter led the team to its first playoff series, Mitchell notched a Coach of the Year award and Casey led the franchise during its cultural turnaround from also-ran to winner. All Nurse did, of course, was lead the team to the NBA title in his first season, and to a ridiculously fun follow-up season.
Winner: Nick Nurse
I love Dwane Casey, and part of me really wants to give this to him. He really was such an important part of changing the culture of the team, that I don’t want his contributions to go unrecognized. But Nurse has gone through so any ups and downs already in his two seasons, and handled them all so well, and kept winning despite the challenges... he may not have the longevity, but I don’t think you can argue with the results.
- Isiah Thomas (high: Drafting Stoudamire; low: uh, whatever the hell happened at the end)
- Glen Grunwald (high: trading for Vince Carter; low: signing Hakeem Olajuwon)
- Bryan Colangelo (high: trading for Kyle Lowry; low: where to start...)
- Masai Ujiri (high: trading for Kawhi Leonard; low: signing DeMarre Carroll)
There’s a clear winner here, but each of these execs had some wins and losses, some homers, some doubles, and some “ground into inning-ending double-play” moments. Someone had to draft Doman Stoudamire and trade for Vince Carter! And someone had to draft (and re-sign!!) Andrea Bargnani, and someone had to sign DeMarre Carroll to a four-year contract then attach a draft pick to dump him.
Winner: Masai Ujiri
It’s a no-brainer. Heck, it was probably a no-brainer even before he chose Nick Nurse to replace Casey, and traded for Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol and the team won the title. And after 2018-19, Mister “Believe in this city, believe in yourselves” has to be a unanimous selection.
Most Valuable Player
- Vince Carter (23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists; 47.7 win shares; 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA)
- Chris Bosh (20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks; 61.8 win shares; 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA)
- DeMar DeRozan (19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists; 54.0 win shares; 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA)
- Kyle Lowry (17.6 points, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals; 69.8 win shares; 6x All-Star, 1x All-NBA)
- Kawhi Leonard (26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals; 9.5 win shares; 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA, 1x All-Defense, 2019 NBA Finals MVP)
Yep, this is basically your “greatest Raptor ever” debate. I think there are absolutely cases to be made for Vince Carter, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and while Leonard and Bosh may not have quite the same resumes, they remain contenders. Carter has the “put the Raptors on the map” award; DeRozan has the “I am Toronto” award; and Lowry has the “winningest player” and “won an NBA title” awards.
Bosh gave us light and hope and reason to cheer during some dark times, and made five straight All-Star teams. Leonard is perhaps the best all-around player to play in a Raptors uniform, had what is the best single Raptors season ever, and led the team to a title while winning Finals MVP.
Winner: Kyle Lowry
I thought this after last season, but his play this season cemented it. He’s won the most, he does it on both ends, he’s a leader and he’s super fun to watch too. If you think it’s Carter or DeRozan, I’m OK with that... but I think you’re wrong.
We’ll have our three All-Raptors teams, two All-Raptors Rookie teams and two All-Raptors Defense teams in the coming days. Meanwhile... what are your picks for the all-time award winners? Sound off in the comments!