Since their historic introduction to the league in 1995 as the first Canadian team in the history of the NBA (along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, who relocated to Memphis in 2001), the Toronto Raptors have seen their ups-and-downs as a franchise. The fluctuation of talent and commitment on their roster has had a direct influence on each season. When the Raptors have good, hard-working players on their team, they shine. When they lack those qualities from enough players on their roster, they fall. The top five players in the history of the Toronto Raptors all had significant impacts on their respective Raptors teams.
Toronto Raptors: Top Five Players in Franchise History
These players were not chosen based on the success of their careers. The rankings reflect the impact that each player had on the Raptors franchise as a whole. We will look at the players’ stats with the Raptors and various other aspects e.g. amount of time spent with the team, leadership, and team success during their tenure as a Raptor. We will disregard anything both before and after their time in Toronto. For that reason, players who had illustrious careers with other teams, like Tracy McGrady, Charles Oakley, and Hakeem Olajuwon have been left off of this list.
Jóse Calderón was a fixture at the point guard position for many years in Toronto. After a few seasons playing professionally for Spain, Calderón signed with the Raptors prior to the 2005-06 season. He was never a prolific scorer. No, Calderón shined more as a passer throughout his career, averaging nearly as many assists (4.5) as points per game (5.5) in his rookie season. Calderón did start scoring more in an increased role after then-starter T.J. Ford sustained an injury and eventually the Raptors traded him. At that point, he was the team’s clear leader, being touted by staff and teammates alike as an incredible teammate.
Although he was traded in 2013 as part of the Rudy Gay deal, Calderón remains to be one of the Raptors’ most respected players of all time, having had a hugely positive impact on the team during his time in Toronto. He left the Raptors as their all-time leader in assists, third in games played, and in the top ten for both steals and points.
5. Jonas Valanciunas
A number of all-time Raptors could have taken this spot. Kawhi Leonard and Tracy McGrady certainly make better cases when it comes to talent. Oakley, Hakeem, and Chauncey Billups all had better careers than Jonas Valanciunas will likely ever have.
JV stands above those guys in a very clear way. All of those better players spent no more than a few years with the Raptors. Valanciunas, on the other hand, was in Toronto for seven years. Homegrown, the Raptors drafted him with their 2011 lottery pick, where he made an almost immediate impact. His first year wasn’t stellar, but in the few years after that, the Lithuanian big man established himself as a constant double-double threat with 11.9 points and 8.4 boards per game in his tenure.
Despite seeing his fair share of ups and downs throughout his time in Toronto, especially as one of the victims of Toronto’s so-called “GoDaddy Curse”, Valanciunas continued to fight to stay relevant. When fans deemed him a bad rim protector, JV worked on his defense. He was accused of not fitting in with the modern NBA because of his inability to shoot like a modern big man. JV responded by shooting three-pointers at a 40% rate. Every single time he was met with a challenge, JV improved his game and moved forward. That determination and perseverance was a big part of who Jonas was as a Raptor, and a big part of what got him on this list.
Departure from Toronto
JV was traded to Memphis as part of a package that brought the Raptors Marc Gasol, but not before establishing himself as the greatest Raptors center in the history of the franchise. Second in both all-time rebounds and field goal percentage, he played the sixth most games of any Raptor. A key member of the most successful Raptors team ever, he also remains in the top-ten in points scored as a Raptor, and third in blocks.
4. Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh arrived in Toronto at what some would call the worst possible time. He made an immediate impact in his rookie season but struggled at times due to his being forced into playing center as a lifelong power forward. Despite that, he was able to make the NBA All-Rookie First Team in a loaded rookie class. At the same time, the Raptors’ franchise player, Vince Carter, was in the midst of disputes with the front office. Those same disputes later led to Carter requesting — and being granted — a trade, which forced Bosh into being the team’s star player as a 20-year-old kid. He excelled.
Bosh’s minutes and his numbers skyrocketed along with his new role as Toronto’s number one option on offense. Averaging 37.2 minutes per game, Bosh put up 16.8 points and 8.9 boards per game in his sophomore NBA campaign, effectively putting the league on notice — with Chris Bosh at the helm, the Toronto Raptors were a force to be reckoned with.
Bosh showed inspired play in the seasons following Vince’s departure, including five consecutive All-Star campaigns. Despite that, the Raptors couldn’t crack the playoffs more than twice. They lost both series rather swiftly. Vince and his New Jersey Nets dispatched them in five, and they struggled to last six games against the Orlando Magic the following year.
Departure from Toronto
By the time the 2010 offseason rolled around, Bosh had been in Toronto for seven seasons. He had little to show for it, causing executives to believe he wanted out. Although Raptors execs made great strides in hopes of keeping Bosh, making all sorts of moves in hopes of convincing him that the future was bright, he joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to play for the Miami Heat, forming Miami’s infamous big three.
Many tend to forget because of the team’s losing ways during Bosh’s tenure with Toronto, but he truly is one of the greatest Raptors of all time. The only man on this list to be in the top ten for points (second), rebounds (first), assists (eighth), blocks (first), steals (eighth), and games played (second) as a Raptor is Bosh himself. The only reason Bosh isn’t higher on this list is his inability to produce winning seasons with the Raptors.
3. Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry may not be more deserving of this spot than Chris Bosh in the eyes of many Raptors fans. However, the leadership that he has displayed during his time in Toronto has been nothing short of amazing. He takes charges without fear, despite being half the size of most of the guys bearing down on him. He leads by example, as he is one of the hardest workers and fight that rubs off so positively on the Raptors’ young players.
Lowry is the only player on this list who remains on the team to this day, and for good reason. He’s a crucial part of the Raptors and has been for the past several seasons. During Toronto’s record-breaking playoff run that continues to this day, Lowry has been the team’s floor general; their leader. He plays with such heart and passion that his teammates can’t help but play the same way. Disregard the intangibles that he brings to the table, and you can still see an impact. Lowry averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 boards, and 7.1 assists per game in his seven seasons with Toronto. Not to mention his five All-Star selections.
With his contract expiring and his age increasing, who knows how much longer Kyle Lowry will be a Toronto Raptor. Regardless, his heart, his leadership, and his love for the game have made him one of the Raptors’ all-time greats. Not to mention his place on the franchise leaderboards being fourth-most in games played, fourth-most in points scored, second in assists, first in steals, and sixth in rebounds. He remains the only point guard to do so.
2. DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan stands out as one of the only significant Raptors in franchise history who truly wanted to remain in Toronto for the duration of his career. Since being selected ninth in the 2009 NBA Draft, DeRozan spent the following nine years in Toronto as a Raptor. In those nine years, DeMar notched four All-Star selections and obliterated team records along the way. He’s played more games than any other Raptor by more than a hundred and comfortably leads the franchise in points. In addition, DeMar is the fifth in rebounds, and third in both assists and steals in Raptor history.
On top of his places on the franchise leaderboards, DeRozan was one of the leaders of easily the most successful multi-season run in Raptors’ history. Toronto played in only six playoff series and won just one in the 18 seasons prior to the DeRozan-Lowry era. However, with the DeRozan-Lowry combo, the Raptors played in nine series in the following five years, winning four of them.
Departure from Toronto
DeRozan was a fan favorite who gave Raptors fans countless highlight plays, from poster dunks to game-winners, to poster dunk game-winners. He just couldn’t get his team over the hump that was LeBron James in the playoffs. The Raptors never made it out of the East, and although many were to blame, they traded DeRozan. That move shocked the NBA community and stung Raptors fans. The return package of MVP-candidate Leonard and Danny Green is universally-agreed to have been worth having to say goodbye to DeMar, though.
Despite how his time with the Raptors ended, DeRozan will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Raptors ever. In fact, he would certainly be number one on this list, if not for the man who occupies the spot.
1. Vince Carter
The Raptors’ inaugural season ended with just an embarrassingly low 21 wins and 61 losses. The subsequent few seasons were similarly hard to watch, with the low-point being 1997-1998’s 16-66 season.
Then came the arrival of Vince Carter, via a draft night trade with the Golden State Warriors. It was a straight-up swap, the Raptors’ fourth pick (Antawn Jamison) for the Warriors’ fifth pick (Carter), in a trade similar to the 2018 NBA Draft’s swap of Trae Young and Luka Doncic. In his first season, Vince won the NBA Rookie of the Year award and led the Raptors to a nearly .500 season a year after the 16-win campaign. With the young Carter at the helm, the Raptors won their first-ever playoff series, a best-of-five against the New York Knicks, before dropping a hard-fought seven-game series to the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately for Raptors fans everywhere, the Toronto legend left the Raptors after a dispute with team executives in 2004.
Impact on the Fanbase
Carter’s stats with Toronto -23.4 points and 5.2 boards per game- in seven seasons are that of a franchise player. His place on the franchise leaderboard is elite as he is first in All-Star appearances, top 5 in steals and blocks, third in points, sixth in assists, and eighth in rebounds. When we look beyond that we can see the effect that Vince had on the Raptors through his nicknames alone.
As “Vinsanity” and “Air Canada”, Vince became a figurehead for Toronto basketball. He took a brand-new franchise, in the wake of a string of seasons that Raptors fans would rather forget, and turned them into a playoff contender. His iconic performance in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend put Toronto basketball on the map. His high-flying, flashy dunks got Canada excited about basketball in a way they never had been before. Without Vince Carter, the Raptors might not have the fanbase that they have today. Many claim it to be the best fanbase in the league. Vince is an incomparable player, and although Lowry and DeRozan both make cases to be the greatest Raptors of all time, nobody other than “Air Canada” himself deserves this spot.