Its a golden ear for Toronto Raptors basketball and guard play in particular, that’s for sure. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been running mates for five seasons now, and the team has gotten increasingly better each season as a result, culminating in a 56-26 record and an NBA Finals performance last year (though barring a miraculous finish, they will likely take a step back record wise when 2016-17 is all wrapped up).
Both men are All Stars for the second straight time this year, marking the only two seasons the team has had multiple selections. DeRozan signed a five year deal last summer, but Lowry will most likely opt out and hit the free agent market this off-season. Keeping them together, it seems, will be the Raptors highest priority. From its very inception, with the selection of Damon Stoudamire as the franchise’s first draft pick, Canada’s only lasting NBA team has seemingly relied on the men dishing and penetrating from the outside. Heck, even the country’s most famous and accomplished native, Steve Nash, ran the point.
With that in mind, please join us in… Ranking Every Starting Guard In Toronto Raptors History
16 16. Alvin Robertson
Alvin Robertson scored the first points in Toronto Raptors’ history when he nailed a 25-foot three ball on on his way to scoring 30 in a home win against the New Jersey Nets on November 3, 1995. Unfortunately, it all went down hill from there for the then 33 year old Robertson. He would never reach that milestone again, and would finish with a mediocre 9.3 points per game on the 21-61 expansion club. The four-time All-Star who had led the league in steals three times was still solid on defense but had clearly lost a step after clawing his way back from missing two full seasons with a back injury, and retired after the season.
Additionally, off the court troubles began just days prior to his franchise opening performance, when he was arrested and charged with assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend (Robertson, who had previous domestic violence charges, lamented in response to the news, “the things I’ve done in the past, I hoped it wouldn’t happen again in Canada”). In February of 2010, having already spent a year in prison for a previous charge, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and trafficking her in a prostitution ring. Finally, in November of 2015, he was in fact exonerated of all charges, and his lawyers asserted the story was actually made up by the alleged victim.
15 15. Jalen Rose
Jalen Rose had a strong NBA career going, playing for three different franchises before being traded to the Toronto Raptors mid-season in 2003-04. He had started slowly that year, averaging the lowest points per game since he had first become a starter in the league in 1999-00. He picked up his production a bit when he joined Toronto, and had a career reviving year in 2004-05, but we won’t count that since he was a small forward that season, the position that the former “Fab Five” point guard out of the University of Michigan played for most of his NBA tenure.
So focusing, on 2003-04, the Raptors had been averaging 78 points per game, worst in the game (and unheard of in today’s NBA), and “Rose has proven to be an excellent player in this league and will provide us with some valuable offensive tools,” commented Glen Grunwald, Raptors senior vice president and general manager. Coming over along with Donyell Marshall from the Chicago Bulls, they each supplemented Vince Carter with over 16 points per game respectively, but the team still finished dead last in scoring and an 8-8 club at the time of the trade finished the rest of the season at 25-41. Maybe we’ll look more kindly on Jalen when we do a piece on Raptors forwards.
14 14. Rafer Alston
Rafer Alston had two separate stints but didn’t start with the Raptors until his second go around, in 2004-05, when he had a career high 14.2 points per game and a second best 6.4 assists per game. A street ball legend known widely as “Skip To My Lou” thanks to the widely seen And1 Mix Tape series, Alston signed a six-year deal for $29 million prior to the season. New general manager Rob Babcock counted Alston as his first signing, but it would quickly serve as to why he became one of the most maligned names in Toronto history, with the point guard’s overall on-the-court performance being overshadowed by behavioral issues. Just over a month into the season, Coach Sam Mitchell briefly benched Alston after he had objected to a call by throwing a ball down the court, saying after the incident “we are supposed to be professionals.”
“Its tough right now for me,” Alston said before what was going to be an indefinite benching (though he ended up getting in the game as a sub). “I think it’s time. I’m tired of getting into it with my teammates and my coaches. I don’t know if I’m a good fit for this team and I don’t know if I’m a good fit for this league… I might not even play the rest of the season.” He did, but was suspended for two games in January for “conduct detrimental to the team” before being traded in the off-season in exchange for veteran guard Mike James, just one season into his ill-advised long term deal.
13 13. Alvin Williams
Alvin Williams arrived in a trade for the popular Damon Stoudamire, the undisputed star of the recent expansion franchise’s first few seasons, from the Portland Trailblazers in 1998. The second round draft pick developed from a bench contributing rookie into a guard who mostly started in six seasons with the club before succumbing to a right knee injury that effectively ended his career in 2004. He also returned to the team as an assistant coach in 2009 and was the Director of Player Development from 2010-2013.
He unquestionably out-performed his draft slot, but injury issues plagued him early, cutting into his overall numbers with the club, and he was even traded away to the Boston Celtics in 2000 before it was rescinded on medical grounds. He peaked for them from there however, barely missing a game from that season on, and gained a well deserved reputation for playing through pain. The team got worse and worse after losing Tracy McGrady to the Orlando Magic though, and Williams was a below average defender who never reached 14 points or 6 assists a game, even in his peak.
12 12. T.J. Ford
A NCAA hero who had led his Texas Longhorns to a Final Four run in 2003, the school’s first in 56 years, T.J. Ford was rumored to be the Toronto Raptors’ draft choice in that year’s NBA draft. They instead took Chris Bosh at #4 of course, after Ford endured 40 minutes of paralysis in a spring pickup game between members of the UT basketball and football teams (including a freshman Vince Young.) Ford fell to #8 with the Milwaukee Bucks and earned Second-Team All-Rookie status, not bad but not a star in the making. On February 24, 2004, Ford went up for a shot in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and came down hard, and once again could not move and was carried off on a stretcher.
He ended up taking a year off to have back surgery but worked his way back, and ended was shipped to Toronto prior to the 2006-07 season. He had his best two years there, averaging 13.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, though eventually. Playing alongside Chris Bosh, Ford helped the Raptors gain 20 games in the standings, and they made it back to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. “That’s when I was really in the zone,” Ford recalled. “When I figured out what I was as an athlete.” Disaster struck again in 2007-08, as he fell in a game against Atlanta and was once again carried off in a stretcher. He eventually ceded his starting spot to José Calderón and was traded to Indiana in the off-season.
11 11. Morris Peterson
Only DeMar DeRozan has played more games in a Raptor uniform than Morris Peterson, drafted 21st overall by the club in the 2000 NBA Draft and still connected to the team today. Peterson is best remembered for two of them in particular however, one very good and one very bad. On March 30, 2007, he made a heads up play when Washington Wizard forward Michael Ruffin tossed the ball in the air, thinking the clock had run out, but Peterson grabbed it and threw a Hail Mary into the hoop to send the game to overtime. The Raptors would eventually win the contest on their way to tying the team record in wins and making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons (see T.J. Ford, above).
One year prior however, had spelled a different story, as Peterson tried to guard Kobe Bryant on a January 22 game and failed… to the total of 81 points, the second most in NBA history. What most people don’t remember though was that Peterson had held the Black Mamba to 11 points just the contest before, one of the best efforts against him anyone can hope for. Now, the man who scored in double digits in four of his seven seasons with the club (though we discount him in this list perhaps a bit for playing small forward some of that time) is behind the microphone for the team, joining the TSN television staff as an analyst in 2015.
10 10. Jarrett Jack
He wasn’t much on the defensive end, but Jarrett Jack’s 11.4 points per game and 5.0 assists in just 27.4 minutes per game in the 2009-10 season tell only part of his brief but heavy offensive impact on the Toronto Raptors. Before Jack arrived via free agency from the Indiana Pacers, the team averaged 99 points per game, good for 15th in the NBA. The very next season they were pouring in 104.1, good for 5th, and the first full year following his departure, 2011-12, they had fallen back to 90.7, 28th out of 30 clubs. 6’ 3” and a compact 200 pounds, Jack was a point guard/shooting guard hybrid who could get to the basket in a way the Raptors badly needed. He also had a built in chemistry with former college teammate Chris Bosh, and it showed, as the franchise player had the best offensive season of his prolific career.
The Raptors started 2010-11 stumbling to a 4-9 record, with Bosh having joined LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in Miami, and Jack was included as part of a deal that notably netted Peja Stojakovic from the New Orleans Hornets. The move was in part a salary dump for the rebuilding club, but also to free up the starter’s role for Jack’s primary competition, José Calderón. Still rumbling, Jack is currently recovering from a torn ACL that required surgery but is expected to work out for teams soon in what would be his 12th NBA season, should he return.
9 9. Anthony Parker
A former first round pick for the New Jersey Nets in 1997, Anthony Parker soon found himself without a NBA contract after three unremarkable seasons. Famed WNBA player (and then University of Tennessee and Team USA star) Candace Parker’s older brother decided to take his talents abroad, and signed with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, with whom he would take home three Euroleague championships and twice win the Most Valuable Player Award.
He returned to the NBA a more worldly person and with renowned confidence, including putting an explanation point on his time overseas when he hit a game winning shot to lead Maccabi to a pre-season exhibition victory at the Air Canada Centre in 2005. Less than a year later the Raptors signed the man who had denied them, and Parker was a hit from the start as the starting shooting guard and third scoring option, along with providing above-average defense, on a team that tied the franchise record for wins in a season (see T.J. Ford and Morris Peterson, above.) Parker was also second in scoring on a team that made it back to the playoffs the following season, before seeing a reduced impact on his final season before signing with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2009. He would stay with the Cavs for two more years after LeBron’s retirement before retiring in 2012.
8 8. Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson was traded mid-season into his first year with the Toronto Raptors, but the veteran impressed with his ball distribution, averaging 9.2 assists per game, the most of any player in team history besides Damon Stoudamire. It was certainly no surprise, as he signed with the team having already climbed to fifth on the NBA’s all-time assist list (he is now fourth, just behind Steve Nash by a single dish.) Unfortunately, the 35-year-old Jackson was a bit slow footed on defense (advance metrics say it was his worst stretch of his career), and the team decided that Alvin Williams would make a better point guard to steer the team into the post-season. The club was right. Sitting at 28-26 at the time of the deal, they finished 19-9.
To add insult to injury, point guard Chris Childs, a minor bench player who had been returned to Toronto in the deal, exploded for 25 points in Game Four of the first round of the 2001 Playoffs to spark a 2-1 deficit comeback from the Raptors to oust Jackson’s new team, the New York Knicks, in five. Still, the brief clinic Raptors fans got in watching one of the best true offensive distributors in the history of the game gives a man with only a half season on the club a solid place on this list.
7 7. Doug Christie
Doug Christie’s best seasons came with the club he is most associated with, the Sacramento Kings teams of the early 2000s, the team that came so close to toppling the Los Angeles Lakers for an NBA Finals berth. Still, his four years as a starting shooting guard with the Toronto Raptors in the late '90s were marked with his typical solid offense, and the development of the man who would become one of the best defenders in the league in Sacramento. He filled the stat sheet each season from 1996-97 to 1999-2000 averaging 14.2 PPG, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.1 steals, appearing (and starting) in all but twelve of the teams games over four years, culminating in helping lead the Raptors to their first playoff appearance in his final effort with the club.
Of course, you can’t mention Doug Christie without bringing up Jackie Christie, the couple that famously traded hand signals signifying their love during his games (reporters even had a pool how many times they would do it and counted 62 once) and once even spoke to the team about a female reporter whom she claimed made him uncomfortable with her attention. Still, the duo did love Toronto and towards the end of Doug’s career, Jackie even admitted “my dream is for Doug to play there again one day.” The franchise didn’t come calling however, and one doesn’t have to cast too far of a line to wonder if she was part of the reason why (to be clear, pure speculation on our part!)
6 6. Mike James
The man traded to the Toronto Raptors for the much maligned Rafer Alston in 2005 was a veteran who had just turned 30 and had only ever been a starter for about a half a season in his four year NBA career. Mike James had found a scoring touch in 2004-05, averaging 11.8 points per game in just 25.1 minutes, but nobody could predict that he would go off like he did in 2005-06, to the tune of 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game, which both would end up his career highs by far during his 12 year tenure in the league. The Raptors team he guided was mediocre yes, finishing 27-55, but for a man who had to play with the Long Island Surf in the now-defunct United States Basketball League and overseas in Europe before any NBA franchise would take a chance on him, it was a remarkable season.
He signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the off-season, and managed to hang around in the NBA until he was 38, even walking away with an NBA Championship in his pocket (in 2003-04 with the Detroit Pistons.) Not bad for a Raptors one-hit wonder of sorts.
5 5. José Calderón
The Raptors twice traded away well regarded point guards (T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack, see above) in part to free up space for José Calderón to become the undisputed floor leader of the franchise. He played nearly eight full seasons with the team after breaking his teeth in the Euroleague, signing at the “old age” of 24 (by NBA standards) in 2005. He remains today the franchise record holder in assists with 3770, and Kyle Lowry would still likely need at least three more seasons to catch him. In fact, Calderón once wrestled the starting spot right out of the hands of the current Raptors star as well, even though Lowry was clearly more talented, and would be later credited as a mentor towards the latter’s development into the star he is today.
Indeed, while the team only made the playoffs twice in his tenure, Calderón clearly laid the groundwork to its current run of success. “Mentor, talker, his heart is in the right place, he's a coach on the floor, he sells what you are trying to teach and coach and he's seen everything,” former coach Dwayne Casey said. “I credit a lot of the player I am today to José,” DeMar DeRozan added. “He just always believed in me.” Calderón is currently bringing his mentorship to a Los Angeles Lakers franchise flooded with young, undeveloped talent, still going strong in his 12th NBA season.
4 4. DeMar DeRozan
He may end higher on this list, but the Toronto Raptors leader in career games with the franchise took four full seasons to elevate his play to his current near perennial All-Star standard, so we have to judge him for his overall performance as such. Only 27 though, he seems to finally be in the prime of his career, and its quite a thing to behold. As of this writing, DeMar DeRozan is sixth in the NBA in scoring and was recently elected to start in the All-Star game for the first time. Perhaps even more impressively, DeRozan has done it all while ducking the NBA’s current trend, shooting only .254 from three point range and taking less than 2 three-balls per game. “I don't care what anybody else does to be successful and I don't pay mind to what anybody says,” he says. “Never did, never will. I've always played the way that's comfortable to me, the way that works for me first to help the team.”
DeRozan has become increasingly more efficient on offense, elevating his field goal percentage in each of the last two seasons despite also taking more shots. If he continues to be a least an average defender, and stays committed to leading Toronto to its first title, DeRozan, who signed a whopping 5 year, $139 million contract prior to this season, should end up #1 the next time we make this list.
3 3. Damon Stoudamire
There are many who might reject the idea that we ranked Damon Stoudamire above DeRozan on this list, but we would argue that time has distanced us from just how great the Raptors’ first star was right out of the gate with the team. To begin with, Stoudamire was a warrior, averaging more than a whopping 40 minutes per game in each of his three seasons with the club despite barely reaching 5’ 10”, earning him the nickname “Mighty Mouse.” The seventh overall selection in the 1995 draft out of the University of Arizona, Stoudamire immediately led the team in scoring and assists in 1995-96 to the tune of 19 points and 9.3 dishes per game on his way to the Rookie of the Year Award. He followed that with his best season, scoring over 20 points for the only time in his career, and was in the midst of a 19.4/8.1 swag line when the disgruntled point guard was traded to the the Portland Trailblazers in early 1998.
The greatest single memory of Stoudamire’s time with Toronto was probably an inaugural season victory (for franchise and player) over Michael Jordan’s legendary 72-10 Chicago Bulls squad (the greatest won/loss record in NBA history until the Golden State Warriors eclipsed it last year). “For that moment, for that moment, that was like our championship for that first season,” Stoudamire recalls.
2 2. Vince Carter
We should start by saying that its always a bit hard to know whether to list the 6’ 6” Vince Carter as a shooting guard or small forward. We can probably easily write off the first two years of his NBA career when he started alongside Doug Christie, who was clearly manning the shooting guard position on his own, but after that it gets a bit murky with Carter alongside similarly multi-position type players like Alvin Williams, Jalen Rose, and, of course, Tracy McGrady. Of course, about the time Carter can be seen as a guard and thus eligible for this list coincides with when he began gaining perennial All-Star status from 1999-00 through his mid-season trade in 2004-05. Now the oldest active player in the NBA, its hard to believe that the same man was once known as “Air Canada” and was taking flight for some of the most dynamic drives in the history of the league, including winning the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest.
Carter’s impact on Canadian basketball goes well beyond his scoring and leading the Raptors to their first playoff appearance and, until last season, only playoff series win; the country is now second only to the United States in homegrown NBA basketball players. “Every fast break, Vince Carter would give us a windmill," Canadian-born Tristan Thompson of the reigning NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers recalled. An undisputed offensive talent who was never as bad on defense as people thought will soon own another moniker: Hall-of-Famer.
1 1. Kyle Lowry
Yeah, we're surprised too, Kyle. Has it come to this? Has Kyle Lowry actually eclipsed the seemingly impossible “better than Vince” status for the Toronto Raptors? Its hard to believe those words are being written about a man who came to the club an average-at-best 26-year-old six year veteran, and pumped in a pedestrian 11.6 points and dished 6.4 assists per game in his first season with the club in 2012-13. But Lowry’s Raptors career has been marked by two huge leaps. In 2013-14, he received a full season as a starter for the first time in his career, pouring in a career high 17.6 and dishing a (still) career high 7.4 assists per game. “In one year, I think he grew up,” said Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri at the time.
Then, in 2015-16, Lowry made his second straight All-Star game (he made his third straight this year) and elevated his shooting efficiency, which had dropped off in the middle of his career, to pour in over 20 points for the first time. This year, he is averaging a career high 23 points per game and leading the league in minutes per game at 37.7 as of this writing, and has utilized his intensity to develop into a solid defender as well. “I’ve always been second fiddle, man, to everything,” Lowry says. “Everything. But I never believed that I was lesser than this person, that person, anybody. I always thought I was on the same level.” Only making $12 million year, a fraction of teammate DeMar DeRozan, it is expected that Lowry will opt out of his final year of his contract and hit the market.
In our mind, if he keeps at his current pace, that’s all that keeps him from holding on to his spot on this list the next time we revisit this.
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