For the first time in the franchise’s 24-year history, the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions after defeating the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard showed the poise that is expected from a former Finals MVP, as he led his new team to the coveted Promised Land of basketball.
The 6-foot-7 forward was the anchor of this Raptors team that previously experienced nothing but heartache in the playoffs. With him at the helm, Toronto held off every opponent at bay en route to capturing the elusive title.
With only one season in Toronto so far, can Leonard be considered one of the five greatest players in Raptors history?
Check out the list below:
5. Kawhi Leonard
Career Averages with Raptors: 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 49.6 percent FG shooting, 37.1 percent three-point FG shooting, 84.8 percent free-throw shooting
Games Played: 60
Winning a title in your first year on the team doesn’t automatically make you an all-time great in a franchise. But if you’re the best player on the team that won its first NBA championship, then you certainly qualify.
Leonard was virtually unstoppable in the playoffs as he led the Raptors to heights they had never experienced before. He averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals in the playoffs. His iconic game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is forever etched in the minds of Raptors fans. Despite boasting a stacked Philadelphia 76ers lineup, featuring three All-Stars and one almost-All-Star, the Raptors won the series with Leonard at the forefront.
In the Finals, Leonard was even better as he submitted 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks an outing. He showcased an all-around game reminiscent of the game’s most complete players.
He deserves his spot on this list even though he has only played one season in a Raptors uniform. The only question is how much higher he can go if he decides to stay next season and beyond.
4. Kyle Lowry
Career Averages with Raptors: 17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals 37.8 percent three-point FG shooting, 81.7 percent free-throw shooting
Games Played: 497
After many years of subpar performances in the playoffs, Lowry validated himself this past season by winning a title, playing a pivotal role in the Raptors’ run. His strong first half showing in Game 6 of the Finals proved to be the catalyst that gave his team the boost it needed to finish off the Warriors.
In his first six seasons in Toronto, there were plenty of highs in the regular season, but the postseason was another matter. In many of those playoff mishaps, Lowry would get the blame for his inconsistency.
Not this time.
Lowry is a five-time All-Star and was selected to the All-NBA Third Team in 2015-16. He was named Player of the week four times and Player of the Month twice. The Villanova University product is the franchise leader in three-pointers made (1,223) and attempted (3,234), and steals (746). He is second only to Jose Calderon in assists (3,506) but will overtake him next season.
3. Chris Bosh
Career Averages with Raptors: 20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, 49.4 percent FG shooting
Games Played: 509
Bosh was one of the best players in the stacked 2003 NBA Draft. He played seven seasons of All-Star basketball in Toronto, taking over as the face of the franchise after Vince Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets.
During those seven years, Bosh was a 2003-04 All-Rookie First Team member, a five-time All-Star and a member of the All-NBA Second Team in 2006-07. Nine times he won Player of the Week honors and once won Player of the Month. He is the franchise leader in offensive (1,369), defensive (3,407) and total rebounds (4,776) as well as rebounds per game (9.4). He is also the franchise’s record holder in total blocks (600), second in scoring average (20.2) and second in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) with 21.3. He averaged a 20-10 in three of his seven seasons in Toronto.
Despite his individual successes, Bosh brought the Raptors to the playoffs just twice in his career, losing in the first round in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Management failed to surround him with the necessary pieces to make a deeper run in the postseason that ultimately led to his departure.
Nevertheless, the talented forward should go down as one of the greatest players in Raptors history.
Career Averages with Raptors: 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 82.7 percent free-throw shooting
Games Played: 675
The championship is the finest moment in team history but it came at the expense of DeRozan who was traded to the Spurs last summer in exchange for Leonard. The fan-favorite player was one of the most loyal Raptors ever but he was dealt to shake up the core of the team.
DeRozan is one of the top shooting guards in the league and was the team’s franchise player. His mid-range jumper is money in the bank no matter who’s guarding him.
Playing for nearly a decade in Toronto, the 6-foot-7 shooting guard was a four-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA member (Third Team in 2016-17 and Second Team in 2017-18). He also won 10 Player of the Week honors and was named Player of the Month three times. DeRozan holds numerous franchise records including games (675) and minutes played (22,986), field goals made (4,716), free throws made (3,539), points (13,296) and more.
At a time when the Raptors were growing as a title contender, the former ninth overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft was the one constant that elevated the team to another level. Though he had some forgettable moments in the playoffs, DeRozan’s contributions to the franchise cannot be ignored.
1. Vince Carter
Career Averages with Raptors: 23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks 38.3 percent three-point FG shooting
Games Played: 403
Air Canada. That’s what Carter used to be called when he was still a Raptor. His high-wire acts became the stuff of legend. For seven seasons, he electrified fans everywhere, generating a buzz around the league not seen since Michael Jordan retired.
He was a dunker without peer and he made sure that everyone knew who was king when he took home the Slam Dunk title in 2000, considered by many as the most exciting dunk contest ever.
Among his greatest performances was his head-to-head matchup with Allen Iverson in the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. That classic seven-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers culminated in a last-second shot attempt in Game 7. Though he missed what would have been the defining shot of his career, many more will remember Carter’s 50 points with nine three-pointers (9-of-13 overall shooting) in Game 3. That 50-point explosion was in response to Iverson’s 54 points in the previous game. The win gave Toronto an early 2-1 series lead.
Carter owns the highest points per game average in Raptors history with a 23.4-point clip (minimum 400 games or 10,000 points) and the highest PER at 21.8. He made All-Rookie First Team in 1998-99 and was in the All-NBA Second Team (2000-01) and Third Team once (1999-00). He won Rookie of the Month twice and the Rookie-of-the-Year Award in 1998-99. Vinsanity was named Player of the Week seven times and participated in the All-Star Game five straight seasons from 2000 to 2004.
Many are still hoping that Carter will retire with the Raptors next season. We shall have to wait and see how his free agency turns out.