The Toronto Raptors carry the proud banner as the only NBA team in Canada. Winning their first NBA championship in 2019 was a massive feather in their cap and although they struggled in 2021, there’s still a promising core.
Being in a different country, however, Toronto isn’t a destination that most free agents consider. In fact, after winning the NBA title with the Raptors in June of 2019, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard still chose to leave the country to play for his hometown Los Angeles Clippers.
Throughout its history, the Raptors have built mainly through the draft. They have managed to get their hands on some high-profile names and some steals, as well. Before we get on the list of best draft picks in franchise history, let’s begin with an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Antawn Jamison
The only time Antawn Jamison ever wore Raptors gear was when he put on his Raptors draft hat in the 1998 NBA draft. And he only wore it for a mere five seconds.
So why is Jamison counted as an honorable selection? Well, after picking the North Carolina standout at No. 4, the Raptors immediately traded Jamison in exchange for his college teammate Vince Carter. If the Raptors picked Carter, then for sure he would be on this list. But technically, Toronto selected Jamison, which then netted them the high-flying shooting guard.
As we all know, Carter is responsible for putting the Raptors on the map mainly because of his emergence as a star. His insane dunks and highlight plays made him a staple on every top 10 play imaginable. More importantly, Carter led the Raptors to their first-ever playoff appearance.
While things may not have ended the right way for Carter and the Raptors, his impact on basketball in Toronto is too huge to be ignored.
5. Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire became Toronto’s first-ever draft pick in 1995. In his rookie season, the No. 7 overall pick did not waste any time establishing himself as the first face of the franchise. Stoudamire won Rookie of the Year in 1995-96, averaging 19.0 points and 9.3 assists. In his sophomore campaign, he averaged 20.2 points and 8.8 assists. However, in just their second season as an expansion team, the Raptors finished near the bottom of the league standings once again.
By his third year, turmoil began to brew in Toronto. Stoudamire did not like the way the front office was handling its business and made it known that he wasn’t re-signing with the team the following season. With that, the Raptors dealt their first-ever draft pick to the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of the 1997-98 season.
While he only played two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto, Stoudamire still became the first semblance of a star for a newly-minted franchise trying to establish itself in the league. Likewise, he did put up solid numbers and played an exciting brand of basketball to get Canadians hooked into the NBA.
4. Tracy McGrady
The Raptors selected Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter’s cousin, in the 1997 NBA draft. Entering the league as a 17-year old kid, McGrady struggled through his rookie season and played scarce minutes under head coach Darrell Walker.
In his sophomore year, McGrady saw his playing time and his role increase. By his third season, McGrady played 31 minutes a game and averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.9 blocks, while splitting time as a starter and a reserve. He, along with Carter, helped the Raptors secure their first playoff berth in franchise history.
Unfortunately, the 1999-00 season marked his final campaign with the Canadian-based franchise. McGrady felt like he needed to get out of the shadow of his cousin to breakout as a true star in the NBA. He signed with the Orlando Magic in the succeeding off-season And while he did establish himself as a superstar, winning two scoring titles and getting seven All-Star nods in the process, McGrady did not find much team success.
McGrady has gone on record saying he wished he stayed in Toronto and built something special with Carter. As we saw, their respective primes coincided with each other. One can only imagine what could have been had T-Mac stuck it out with Vinsanity and the Raptors. But that’s a “what if” for another day.
3. Chris Bosh
The Raptors selected Chris Bosh with the fourth overall pick in the star-studded 2003 NBA draft.
Bosh may have experienced better team success with the Miami Heat. But it is with the Raptors where he had the best individual seasons in his career. He made five straight All-Star appearances with Toronto and made the All-NBA second team in 2007. Moreover, Bosh still holds the franchise record for total rebounds (4,776).
In seven seasons with the Raps, Bosh averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. Arguably his best season with the franchise came in his last, where he averaged 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Certainly, Bosh established himself as a force on the offensive end as the main man in Toronto. However, the lefty big man set his lead role aside to play with his buddies in Miami. The move proved to be career-changing for Bosh, as, despite sacrificing a lot of his game, he won two NBA titles in the process.
2. Pascal Siakam
Current Raptors president Masai Ujiri is known for finding hidden gems in the draft. One of his most recent findings is Cameroonian project Pascal Siakam. The Raptors picked Siakam with the 27th overall pick in the 2016 draft. While the lanky 6-foot-9 forward struggled in his rookie campaign, he eventually worked his way up and is now arguably one of the best players on the roster.
Siakam broke out in the 2018-19 season when he won the Most Improved Player award with averages of 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. Spicy P also became a key piece for the Raptors in their run to their first-ever championship in 19′.
With Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard having left for the Clips a couple of years back, Siakam has taken the reigns as one of the key faces of the franchise. As the first option, the 24-year old’s numbers rose to 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists and is leading the Raptors to the second best record in the East in 2020. That’s despite Leonard’s departure. His outstanding play earned him his first All-Star nod last season. Although he struggled in this past campaign as Toronto missed out on the playoffs, Siakam still showed a lot of promise at times.
We’ll still have to wait and see how his Raptors career unfolds. The Cameroonian is still steadily improving. But being the only player on this list with a Raptors title under his belt, Siakam deserves his recognition as one of the best draft selections in franchise history.
1. DeMar Derozan
Despite being on a different team now, DeMar Derozan still holds a special place in the hearts of Raptors fans. Toronto, likewise, is still a very special city for Derozan.
Selected with the ninth overall pick in 2010, Derozan came in as a very raw shooting guard with tons of potential. In every season he played with Toronto, it seemed like he always improved on a certain aspect of his game. He soon established himself as one of the best scoring guards in the league, showing proficiency mostly on his mid-range game.
In nine seasons with Toronto, the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. He turned in four All-Star seasons with the Raptors and made two All-NBA teams in 2016-17 and 2017-18. To this day, Derozan still holds the franchise record for most games played (675), points (13,296) and field goals made (4,716).
Though playoff failures clouded his Raptors career, what separates Derozan from the rest of the pack is his loyalty to the franchise and to the city. No other star in franchise history expressed his love and desire to stay in Toronto than Derozan did. With this, he remains one of the most beloved players in Raptors history.