You can hardly fault the Toronto Raptors for selecting Marcus Camby as #2 overall in the 1996 NBA Draft. But lurking lower, mid-round was a future two-time-MVP (and probably Hall-of-Famer) raised in Victoria, British Columbia.
“For so long, Steve [Nash] was Canadian basketball… its face, its heart, its soul,” recalled Canada Basketball President Wayne Parrish upon his retirement. Imagine what that sentiment would be if that career had included a professional run on his home soil?
The what-could-have-beens run deep for every National Basketball Association squad, but when you look at the fresh-faced prospects they each have passed over on an annual basis, it can get a bit depressing. The first utter lottery mis-step in Toronto Raptors’ history, to their credit, did not happen until their fifth attempt in 1999, and they traded him away (Jonathan Bender to the Indiana Pacers.) That’s a run of good luck compared to most franchises. Unfortunately their second lottery bust happened seven picks later in that exact same draft (they took Montenegro born Aleksandar Radojevic at #12, who was out of the league after only three appearances).
Oh, to do it all over again. Sadly the team can’t… but we can! Join us as we embark on… Re-Drafting All 23 First Round Picks In Toronto Raptors History
23. 1995 – Michael Finley
Original Pick: Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire was a strong pick for the Raptors that year and played his best seasons right out of the gate during his two and a half years with the new Toronto franchise. But in a draft where only Kevin Garnett (creating a new trend of finding stars right out of high school) became a bona-fide super-star from the #5 draft position with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the player still on the board when the Raptors’ #7 pick came along most worthy of selection would have actually been the Phoenix Suns’ #21 choice, Michael Finley. After one-and-a-half so-so seasons, Finley found his groove when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, and would score more than 18 points a game for seven straight seasons from 1997-98 to 2003-04 as their starting shooting guard. Meanwhile, the Raptors searched for years for a solid scorer to play alongside Vince Carter. Finley, at 6’ 7” and 215 LB, would have complimented “Vinsanity” as another player who could create off the dribble but unlike Carter, also owned a well-earned reputation for hard nosed defense.
22. 1996 – Kobe Bryant
Original Pick: Marcus Camby
It was conventional wisdom to take the best big man available in a draft as early as possible and Marcus Camby was certainly that. He went on to a solid 17 year career as a 6’ 11” center, including leading the league in blocks per game in 1997-98, averaging 3.7, in his second and as it would turn out, final season with Toronto. Camby would go on to lead the league three more times in his career and currently ranks fourteenth all time in the stat. His problem was on the other end of the ball, however, as his 14.8 points per game in his rookie season of 1996-97 would end up being his career high.
So who should have been drafted in his stead? Although, as we mentioned in our intro, Steve Nash was available, the obvious answer has to be Kobe Bryant, the all-time great taken 13th directly out of high school by the Los Angeles Lakers. Nash probably would have played better alongside Vince Carter as a distributor and a floor spacer, but, as we all know by now, the Black Mamba was a singular talent. And he managed to play alongside another scorer with a big ego, Shaquille O’Neal, and get three titles out of it, so why not the same with “Air Canada”?
21. 1997 – Tracy McGrady
Original Pick: Tracy McGrady
Its hard to ask Raptors fans to relive the pain of Tracy McGrady signing his off-season free agent contract with the Orlando Magic in 2000, amidst controversy of feeling stifled in fellow star Vince Carter’s shadow, and then promptly emerging as one of the top scorers in the NBA, going on to seven straight All-Star appearances. But the pair was so exciting to watch and even the controversy itself, it can be argued, put Toronto on the map, so perhaps it would be worth doing all over again.
It seemed destined to be a pair for the ages after McGrady was selected ninth overall in the 1997 draft and Carter arrived one year later on a draft-day trade of Antawn Jamison (the Raptors first-round pick, more on that below). They even brought the Raptors their first winning record and play-off appearance in 99-00 but were swept out of the first round by the #3 seed New York Knicks. The next year, Carter and company came within a game of the NBA Finals, without T-Mac. Hard not to imagine what it would have been like if McGrady had stuck around.
20. 1998 – Dirk Nowitzki
Original Pick: Antawn Jamison
The 1998 draft yielded three all-time great scorers in Vince Carter at #5, Dirk Nowitzki at #9, and Paul Pierce at #10, all of whom could have been available to the Toronto Raptors at their #4 slot. But, as noted above, they instead drafted Antawn Jamison before promptly trading him to acquire the future “Air Canada.” You can’t really lose with any of the three who all went on to have prolific and long NBA careers, but unlike Carter, Nowitzki and Pierce get a slight edge in that both wound up summiting the mountain to gaining championship rings with the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics respectively.
Additionally, Nowitzki had the added asset of managing to play his whole career for one team while Pierce lasted fifteen seasons of consistently great play. Carter, instead, was traded mid-season in 2004 to the New Jersey Nets due to his production being in slow decline. It seems to be no small leap to make therefore that perhaps Tracy McGrady would have been more likely to stick around alongside Nowitzki and Pierce. Of the two, we’ll go with Nowitzki, simply because McGrady and Pierce were both small forward play-creation types, while perhaps Dirk would have been more of a compliment T-Mac with his outside shooting and inside rebounding.
19. 1999 – Jason Terry
Original Pick: Jonathan Bender
As mentioned in our intro, the bad news in 1999 was that the Toronto Raptors give in too late to the trend to draft players out of high school with the #5 pick of Jonathan Bender That said, Bender did yield Antonio Davis on a draft-day trade, and the veteran power forward would be a key contributor to the Raptors for their first three of only eight franchise playoff appearances.
But in the year that proved to have one too many scoring options in Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady to keep everyone happy, a ball distributor and three point shooting weapon like Jason Terry (who instead went #10 to the Atlanta Hawks) would have been a nice upgrade over Alvin Williams who managed only 2.3 assists per game and a sub-par .291 three point shooting average during their final season together.
18. 1999 – Manu Ginobili
Original Pick: Aleksandar Radojevic
Toronto had the right instinct, after passing on Dirk Nowitzki in ’98, to try to find a European gem with their second 1999 lottery pick but unfortunately in taking Aleksandar Radojevic at #12, they made a critical mis-step. Manu Ginobili became one of the best draft steals in history when he was taken #57 overall by the San Antonio Spurs, but would wind up with a career on par with anyone else taken that year (whose top performers would end up including Elton Brand, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom and Jason Terry, see above).
The Argentinian continued to play overseas in Europe before finally joining the Spurs in 2002. A spark-plug off the bench for most of his career, including winning the 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year, Ginobili could have provided a much-needed offensive punch to 2002-03 and 2003-04 Raptors teams that featured a fading Vince Carter and were towards the bottom of the league in scoring.
17. 2000 – Michael Redd
Original Pick: Morris Peterson
In one of the weakest drafts in NBA history, with only the #21 pick open to them, you can’t fault the Toronto Raptors selection of Morris Peterson, who would go on to be one of only a handful of regular starters to come out of the group. But Michael Redd, drafted #43 out of Ohio State University to the Milwaukee Bucks, had six straight 20 point per game seasons between 2003-04 and 2008-09, at a time when the Raptors struggled to find scoring compliments to first Vince Carter and then Chris Bosh.
Of course, if Kobe Bryant famously dropped 81 on Peterson, an average defender who had limited him to only 11 points the month prior, could you imagine what he would have done to Michael Redd, who really only came to play on the offensive side of the ball? So perhaps their draft selection is the only thing that kept Wilt Chamberlain’s record 100-point-game intact!
16. 2001 – Tony Parker
Original Pick: Michael Bradley
It is perhaps no surprise that we continue to dip into the well of respected franchises like the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs for draft picks the Toronto Raptors should have taken over the years. As the 28th pick in the 1st Round, Tony Parker averaged a career low 9.2 points per game as the starting point guard for the 2001-02 San Antonio Spurs, for whom he is now still playing with in his 16th season. By contrast, the Raptor’s #17 pick power forward Michael Bradley’s career high over a season was just 5 points per game. Tony Parker won four championships with the San Antonio Spurs; Bradley played in five seasons in his NBA career and totalled exactly three minutes in one playoff game during that time period. Pretty cut and dry.
15. 2002 – Carlos Boozer
Original Pick: Kareem Rush
Plain and simple, if the Raptors had taken Cleveland’s second-rounder Carlos Boozer instead of their first-rounder Kareem Rush (who they promptly dealt in a draft-day trade for fellow first-rounder Chris Jefferies, amongst others), then the next year they may have been prompted to select Dwayne Wade instead of Chris Bosh. But more on that in a minute. Boozer was a two-time All-Star out of Duke University who perhaps could have been even greater if he hadn’t battled injuries throughout his 13-year-career. And as to whether he would have cost the Raptors their great draft position the next season that landed them a top-five lottery selection? Boozer averaged a pedestrian and career-low 10 points per game in his rookie season before embarking on a ten year string of at least 15 per. In other words, he would have been just bad enough at the start to draw in another great player, and then become great enough in year two to capitalize on two strong drafts in a row.
14. 2003 – Dwyane Wade
Original Pick: Chris Bosh
Yes, Chris Bosh was the greatest basketball player not named Vince Carter in Toronto Raptor’s history. Yes, he abandoned the team to sign with the in-division rival Miami Heat to play alongside none other than Dwyane Wade himself. So how can we suggest with confidence that the team should have selected Wade, the fifth player over Bosh, the fourth player, after similarly prolific careers, in a historic draft that also saw LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony go one and three respectively?
Here’s a hint: we already said his name. Yes, Bosh was part of the “Big Three” that drew LeBron to Miami, but James does not vacation annually with… Chris Bosh. His deep friendship with Dwayne Wade drew back to the NBA pre-draft camp in 2003 in Chicago, where “I was in there waiting on the doctors to come in to see me for about an hour,” Wade recalled. “He walked right in and they seen him. We kind of kicked it off from there. It’s just something that happened – there’s no way to really explain it.” So could we imagine Bosh leaving someplace like Miami and joining James at a later point in bringing their talents to… Toronto? Probably not, but its worth the dream.
13. 2004 – Andre Iguodala
Original Pick: Rafael Araújo
Andre Iguodala almost actually was a Raptor. Drafted #9, just one slot after the team selected Rafael Araújo out of Brigham Young University, Iguodala remains “one that got away” for Toronto basketball fans. Araújo, a rugged 6’ 10” center, ended up proving not to be a very smart player and to be too slow for the NBA, and lasted just three seasons. Iguodala would go on to be the 2004 draft class’ leader in career games played, and, perhaps most significantly, NBA Finals MVP awards won. Additionally, he has one of the best defensive reputations in the game but also managed to average over 18 points per game during a four year period with the Philadelphia 76ers from 2006-07 to 2009-10.
“I was disappointed in myself [for making that pick],” Raptors infamous General Manager Rob Babcock said of his first draft with the team, only weeks after he was hired. “Because my philosophy was to go with the most talented player, not the need… And my rankings, who I wanted, was Andre Iguodala and that’s who I was ready to take. The needs all said big man. Strong physical big man. Protect Chris Bosh, protect Vince Carter. That was a mistake. That wasn’t the right pick.”
12. 2005 – David Lee
Original Pick: Charlie Villanueva
The seventh pick in the 2005 draft, power forward Charlie Villanueva had one of his best seasons right-off-the-bat with Toronto, averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in a career high 29.1 minutes per game, ultimately finishing second to Chris Paul in Rookie of the Year voting. Another first round power forward selection, David Lee, picked 30th overall by the New York Knicks, was nowhere to be found in the end-of-season award voting. However, looking long term, Lee was clearly a superior choice, as he was an eventual two-time All-Star during his six-year career peak with the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors from 2008-09 to 2013-14. Perhaps the transition from losing Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat might have been a little bit stomach able if fellow 20 point/10 rebound capable big man Lee was around.
11. 2005 – Danny Granger
Original Pick: Joey Graham
For their second first rounder of 2005, much like the close call of Andre Iguodala the year before, General Manager Rob Babcock missed out on greatness by one pick when he drafted small forward Joey Graham at #16 pick just before Danny Granger went off the board to Indiana at #17. The added insult to injury? Granger was considered the most polished prospect available to the team when they picked Charlie Villanueva as the seventh overall selection; by the time they picked again many considered them very lucky to have him fall into their laps so low. Graham would play six unremarkable seasons coming off the bench while Granger would go on to be a back-to-back top ten scorer in the NBA in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Those years’ Raptors teams would have been at least fun to watch in this alternate universe, with Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and Granger putting up massive amounts of points, even if there was little defense ever being played.
10. 2006 – Rudy Gay
Original Pick: Andrea Bargnani
Take your pick of NBA stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, and Rajon Rondo that were all drafted after one of the biggest #1 overall draft busts in NBA history, Andrea Bargnani. Since the two things the Raptors had in the late 2000s were a strong inside presence with Chris Bosh and an effective ball-distributor in José Calderón, we’ll go with Gay as that slasher and long-armed defender they seemed to be constantly missing after Carter left.
Of course, Gay briefly played for the Raptors later in his career, providing more than 19 points per game coming over in a trade in 2012-13 and then quickly leaving again in another trade in 2013-14. “Rudy is a prince of a guy,” former Raptors coach Dwane Casey said at the time. “He’s an athletic, dynamic wing player. Gets to the basket at will. Can shoot the ball. Handle the ball.” The Raptors played .500 ball following acquiring Gay in a six player deal with the Memphis Grizzlies that included Calderón during a season in which they were 34-48 overall, but fell to 7-12 the next season before trading him to the Kings. Still, it would have been nice to see what Gay could have achieved over a longer career stretch alongside both Bosh and the Spanish point guard.
9. 2008 – DeAndre Jordan
Original Pick: Roy Hibbert
After a series of trades left them without a single pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors made a solid choice and took center Roy Hibbert 17th in the first round. In a strong draft with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love in the top five, we’ll turn to fellow center DeAndre Jordan, the 35th pick for the LA Clippers, as the best missed opportunity for Toronto. We can’t really fault the Raptors for passing however, as they were not alone on being wary of Jordan, an unquestionable talent, for character issues. In his single season at Texas A&M, his own coach, Mark Turgeron, who had inherited Jordan after he had been recruited by his predecessor Billie Gillespie (before he had skipped town to go to Kentucky), was quoted as saying DJ was “18 going on 12.”
Of course, now DeAndre Jordan ranks in the top-ten of service time amongst active players who have stayed their whole careers loyally for one team (a strong sign of both maturity on his part and appreciation of his character from the Clippers) and was named First Team All-NBA last season. His fellow 2008 draftee center Roy Hibbert on the other hand, has been reduced to reserve duty on his third team, the Charlotte Hornets.
8. 2009 – DeMar DeRozan
Original Pick: DeMar DeRozan
As the Toronto Raptors battle for the best record in the Eastern Conference this season, fans can be assured that the front office got one draft pick exactly right… star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, the #9 overall selection out of the University of Souther California. In a class highlighted by Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, and James Harden, who were all off the board by pick #8, DeRozan, after a slow start (he was a league average player in his first four years with the club), has risen to meet their star status in recent seasons. He is likely to make his third All-Star team in four years this February, while averaging a career-high 28.2 points per game as of this writing. Perhaps because he specializes in a mid-range shot in an era when stars like the aforementioned Curry and Harden live off the three-pointer, DeRozan has flown under-the-radar in his rise to stardom. Indeed, when SI.com ranked him 46th in a poll of pre-season players, DeRozan responded “I guarantee you a lot of them players that were ranked ahead of me know they are not better than me,” he said. At this point, we have to believe he’s right.
7. 2010 – Hassan Whiteside
Original Pick: Ed Davis
Up until this season, we probably would have said Toronto did right by drafting power forward Ed Davis 13th overall in the relatively weak 2010 NBA Draft (featuring only mid-tier stars like DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, and John Wall.) Davis has been a remarkably steady contributor off the bench, averaging between four and nine points and between 4 and 8 rebounds per game in each of his six seasons with four different franchises, including with the Portland Trailblazers currently.
By comparison, Hassan Whiteside, the #33 pick out of Marshall University, the freshman compared to former Raptors pick Marcus Camby after blocking the fifth most shots in a single season in NCAA history, scored a total of just 29 points over two NBA seasons with the Sacramento Kings. After bouncing around the D-League and playing in China and Lebanon for two years, the young center came to Miami and claimed the starting job and never let go, improving each season, including leading the league in blocks per game in 2015-16 and, as of the writing of this article, currently leading the league in rebounds per game.
6. 2011 – Kawhi Leonard
Original Pick: Jonas Valanciunas
Jonas Valanciunas has been the Raptors’ starting center from practically the moment he broke into the league in 2012 after being drafted fifth overall out of Lithuania. He has been a very consistent player for the club, averaging around 11 or 12 points and nine or 10 rebounds each season for a team that has continued to improve as it climbs the ranks of the Eastern Conference. In other words, not a half bad first round selection.
But. Let’s be honest. He’s no Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard. And for a team who’s weakest performances come from the forward position, its hard not to imagine what either of those guys would be like sharing the court with Kyle Lowry distributing the ball and DeRozan cutting to the hoop. While they are nearly identical in size, scoring average, and their slow and steady growth into becoming two of the best players in the league, Leonard ranks just ahead in our book for his First Team All-NBA defense (Butler is “merely” second team) and his quiet demeanor which would provide nice balance the loud Toronto backcourt (known for their consistently entertaining post-game interviews).
5. 2012 – Draymond Green
Original Pick: Terrence Ross
This one’s a little unfair, because every team that drafted in the 2012 first round not named the New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis) or Portland Trailblazers (Damian Lillard) would probably admit to kicking themselves that they passed on Draymond Green, until Golden State finally scooped him up at #35. Heck, even the Warriors themselves had already passed him over twice at that point taking Harrison Barnes with the seventh pick and Festus Ezili at 30, both just role players today. Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert even admits that “I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat that we didn’t take him.”
The only person who seemed to believe in Green was his college coach, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who had even called Gilbert the night before to rave about his former player. The Raptors, for their part, ended up with Terrence Ross as the eigth pick, a small forward out of the University of Washington who continues with the team today as a solid contributor off the bench in what is now his 5th season. But Ross is not coming off a season in which he was First Team All-NBA Defensive Player and Second Team All-NBA overall and he’s not currently the leader of the team with the best record in the league. That would have been a nice asset to have.
4. 2014 – Nikola Jokic
Original Pick: Bruno Cabocio
You can never over-value size, and at 6’10” and 250 LB (and this after losing a lot of weight since he first arrived in Denver), Serbian born Nikola Jokic, now in his second season with the Denver Nuggets, takes up a lot of room in the paint. While it took him a year to start playing in the NBA after being selected #41 in the 2014 draft, Jokic, averaging 14 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game as of this writing, stands as the early bet to go down as the steal of the proceedings when its all said and done.
Unfortunately, 21 slots earlier the Toronto Raptors chose the wrong international prospect out of Brazil, Bruno Cabocio, who has failed to be more than a garbage time player in his three seasons thus far with the team.
3. 2015 – Larry Nance, Jr.
Original Pick: Delon Wright
Point Guard Delon Wright, the 20th overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft out of the University Utah, is regarded highly enough by Toronto Raptor management to have had his third year 2017-18 option picked up even while he sits out after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He is expected to return any day now.
There’s no denying however, that the 27th pick of the same draft, Larry Nance Jr., out of the University of Wyoming, seems to have been the more successful choice so far. Nance is an important role player as a young power forward with the Los Angeles Lakers, and has trended strongly upward in this, his second season, in both his offensive and defensive advanced metrics. The Raptors do already have a glut of young up-and-coming big men, but with Kyle Lowry holding down the point guard starting role, it seems likely Nance could have had a bigger shot to impact the team in the immediate future.
2. 2016 – Jakob Poeltl
Original Pick: Jakob Poeltl
Early returns on the Toronto Raptors #9 pick, Jakob Poeltl, a seven-foot center out of the University of Utah, seem to put him at just about the ninth best performer from his class so far. He is 14th in his class in minutes and 8th in rebounds per game as of this writing, and in advanced stats like box score plus/minus and win share he is ninth and tied for sixth respectively.
And while a 2.0 point/2.7 rebound per game stat line is nothing to get excited about, Poeltl has a proven track record of developing his game. He was considered a potential lottery player after his freshman year with Utah but decided to stay another season to improve his skill. “I think he knew what was right for him, and he tackled every single thing that was considered a weakness a year ago and made improvements and really enhanced his opportunity,” his former Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “He just kept approaching his weaknesses: his free-throw shooting, his strength, his moves, his defense not fouling. He stayed in the moment and kept trying to improve all of those things.”
1. 2016 – Pascal Siakam
Original Pick: Pascal Siakam
The Toronto Raptors are poised to make a run at once again achieving the best record in team history (after setting the new high mark last season) and have as good a shot at making the NBA Finals for the first time as the franchise has ever previously had. If they successfully climb either or both of those mountains, look no further than perhaps the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft, #27 pick Pascal Siakam, to give credit where credit is due.
From the end of the first round Siakam, a 6’ 9” power forward from the University of New Mexico, has risen to be 12th in his draft class in scoring average, fourth in rebounds per game, and ninth in minutes, as of this writing. Advance stats tell an even brighter story, placing Siakam second behind fellow late steal Malcolm Brogdon (drafted #36 by the Milwaukee Bucks) in win share and tied with him for first in value over replacement. Despite all this, Siakam was effectively phased out of a deep Raptors frontline rotation that also features other young players like Lucas Nogueira, Jared Sullinger, and Jonas Valanciunas for a few games earlier this month, but he has recently returned to significant playing time.
One could argue that this is as deep a Raptors team as we’ve seen and that’s a big part of their success, so for now, we’ll give them an enthusiastic two thumbs up on their recent draft acumen.
But only time will tell…
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