Kawhi Leonard is the Best Raptor of All Time

Alexander Petrosini, Staff Writer

While there are a few other players up for consideration, Leonard is really the only right answer. 

On June 13, 2019 the greatest season in Raptors history ended.  They had won their first championship in franchise history, led by superstar Kawhi Leonard.  With Leonard’s contract expiring, many wondered if he would return to the Raptors and go for another championship run. That offseason, Kawhi Leonard signed a four-year, $142 million contract with the Clippers and left the Raptors after just one season.  After Leonard left the Raptors, the following season ended in a loss in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.  Since then, the Raptors have been on a decline and haven’t been near the same level of success as the 2019 season.  

Vince Carter is referred to by many as the best Raptor of all time.  Carter single-handedly kept the Raptors in Toronto, and kept them a relevant franchise.  In seven seasons with the team, Carter made six all-star appearances, two all-NBA teams, and won the 1998-1999 rookie of the year.  In his best season on the team, he averaged 27.6 points per game and led the Raptors to the Eastern conference semifinals,where they would lose in seven to the Philadelphia 76ers.  Despite his accomplishments, Carter’s story on the Raptors is struggling to lead the team to success.  The Raptors made it to the playoffs only three times in his seven seasons with the team, and the best success the team had was making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals.  Twenty games into Carter’s seventh season with the Raptors, The Raptors traded Carter to the Nets in exchange for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning, and two first-round picks, in one of the worst trades in franchise history.   

Kyle Lowry is another consideration for the best Raptor of all time.  In nine seasons with the Toronto Raptors, Lowry made six all-star teams, one all-NBA team, and was Kawhi Leonard’s co-star in the Raptors lone championship in 2019.  He and Demar Derozan helped lead the Raptors to the conference finals where they would lose to Lebron James and the Cavaliers in six games.  While Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan led some of the best Raptors teams of the decade, they always ran into a brick wall in the playoffs.  That brick wall’s name was Lebron James.  In three playoff series against Lebron James, the Raptors went 2-12 and got swept two out of the three series they played in.   

Demar Derozan is the Raptors franchise leader in points, games played, and field goal attempts.  In nine seasons with the Toronto Raptors, he became the franchise leader in multiple categories and as mentioned earlier, his best success in the playoffs was the Eastern Conference finals.  Demar Derozan was the centerpiece in the trade for Kawhi Leonard that would ultimately bring the Raptors to their first championship in franchise history.  

Kawhi Leonard is the biggest reason the Raptors won their first and only championship, and they probably wouldn’t have won it without him. In 60 regular season games with the Raptors, Leonard averaged 26.6 points per game, 3.3 assist per game, and 7.3 rebounds per game.  Leonard helped lead the Raptors to a 58-24 record, and the Raptors were the second best team in the East.  In the Playoffs, Kawhi averaged 30.5 points per game, and helped lead the Raptors to an easy first round win against the Magic.  In game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Kawhi hit one of the best shots in NBA history to beat the 76ers.  In the Eastern Conference finals, Kawhi and the Raptors overcame a 2-0 series deficit as the Raptors went on to win four straight games and move on to the NBA Finals.  In the NBA Finals, the Raptors were going against the Warriors, who were in their fifth consecutive NBA finals, and had won back to back championships.  The Raptors got a game one win before the Warriors went on to tie the series 1-1.  Toronto would win the next two games  to take a 3-1 series lead.  After losing by one in game 5, the Raptors went on the road to face the Warriors.  The Raptors would win game 6 by the score of 114-110 and win the NBA Finals.  Kawhi Leonard was the finals MVP, averaging 28.5 points per game, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Kawhi Leonard’s playoff greatness, compared to former Raptors legends, is the reason he is the best Raptor of all time.