On Wednesday, April 29th, SLAM Magazine published a Tweet, asking followers to choose who belongs to the Toronto Raptors Mount Rushmore.
A franchise that endured many years of mediocrity before winning the NBA Championship in 2019, only a few candidates are worthy of Rushmore status.
Narrowing down a list of eight Raptor players to four is no easy task. Especially with conflicting parameters of success.
When selecting four players to represent the Raptors on Mount Rushmore, team success and impact outweighed longevity.
Let’s see who made it:
Lowry is the no-doubter of the Raptors Mount Rushmore. He is the greatest Raptor in franchise history and belongs in the upper echelon of Raptors players.
Lowry started with the Houston Rockets before the Raptors trade. At first, Lowry backed up then Raptors starting point guard Jose Calderon. Eventually, this changed in the 2013-14 season, when Lowry and Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan became the emotional leaders of the team. Lowry shifted away from the underperforming player who clashed with coaches to a perennial All-Star.
— NBA (@NBA) June 14, 2019
Lowry qualified for the All-Star game six consecutive times with the Raptors. His best season came in 2016-17, where he registered a career-high 22.4 points per game, on a 41.2 three-point percentage and 62.3 true shooting percentage. Lowry’s high basketball IQ propels the Raptors’ pick and roll offense, and he uses his physicality to drive the basket with force. Defensively, Lowry continues to be one of the top players in the NBA to consistently take charges.
On the intangible aspect, Lowry is the ultimate leader. The ferocious intensity he brings to every possession was evident in the Raptors championship run, including a double-double 26 points and 10 assists in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Even at 33 years old and no Kawhi Leonard, Lowry showed no signs of slowing down in the 2019-20 season, averaging 19.7 PPG, on 58.9 true shooting.
The Raptors point guard is the franchise leader in assists and triple-doubles, making him the easy choice for a place on Mount Rushmore.
Kawhi Leonard getting on the Raptors Mount Rushmore demonstrates the importance of team success and impact rather than longevity. Sure, Kawhi only spent one season in Toronto. But it remains one of the most successful one-year tenures, as Leonard brought the Raptors to championship greatness.
Leonard arrived in Toronto with tons of questions. His health was a massive question mark, after only playing nine games in the 2017-18 season. While “load management” became a part of NBA vocabulary after Kawhi only played 60 games in the 2018-19 season for the Raptors, it was all to prepare for the playoffs. According to Leonard, the NBA season was just “82 practices.”
Despite missing 22 games, Leonard qualified for the NBA All-Star Game. He led the Raptors in points per game with 26.6 and in defensive rating with 105.2. While the Toronto offense revolved around Leonard in isolation, it translated to success in the playoffs, where the team needed a superstar to win critical games.
Take Game 4 of the Philadelphia 76ers series, down 2-1, where Leonard scored 39 points, including a clutch three-pointer down the stretch. There’s Game 7 against the Sixers, which ended in Leonard securing the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA Playoff history. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, where Leonard played 52 minutes and scored 36 points in a double-overtime victory.
It culminated with the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, with Kawhi averaging 28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG (43.4 FG%/35.7 3FG%), earning a second career NBA Finals MVP.
Sure, Leonard only spent one season with the Raptors. But his impact on the team is undeniable, from helping the Raptors win important playoff games to making the players possess the championship mindset.
While the 2019-20 season saw the remnants of the Raptors championship DNA still intact, Kawhi was the major contributing factor for this team winning the championship.
In terms of franchise impact, Vince Carter is Mount Rushmore worthy. He put the Raptors on the map in the NBA, thanks to his epic “Vinsanity” Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000.
On This Date: 19 years ago, Vince Carter put on a show in one of the greatest Slam Dunk Contest performances ever 🔥 pic.twitter.com/A7kPmjjBdu
— ESPN (@espn) February 12, 2019
On the court, Carter helped the Raptors achieve the franchise’s first playoff appearance. Despite not making the buzzer-beater in Game 7 against the Sixers in 2001, Carter’s playoff performance was special, averaging 27.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 4.7 APG on 52.3 true shooting.
His offensive numbers with Toronto were some of the best of his career, including most points in a season (2,107), second in points scored in a game (51), and third in all-time franchise points (9,420).
Carter was also an underrated defender. He posted over 2,000 total rebounds and is fourth in Raptors franchise history in blocks (415). His footwork and energy in the paint allowed Carter to be physical against basketball’s premier offensive talent. In that same 2000-01 season, Carter posted a 100.5 defensive rating, showcasing his all-round game.
While Carter’s departure was a sore spot for Raptors fandom, his legacy is linked to the rise of professional basketball in Toronto.
In the nine seasons with the Raptors, there was no greater ambassador for Toronto basketball than DeMar DeRozan. He loved and embraced the city and steadily improved his game on the court, as the Raptors became a consistent playoff team.
When he first arrived with the Raptors, DeRozan averaged 17.2 PPG. By the time he got traded to the San Antonio Spurs in the Kawhi Leonard deal, DeRozan was a four-time All-Star and averaged 20-plus points for five seasons. Not only did he develop a successful mid-range jump shot but he improved his ability to shoot from three. In the 2015-16 season, DeRozan shot 33.8 percent from three, averaging 23.5 PPG.
— NBA (@NBA) January 2, 2018
DeRozan is the Raptors franchise leader in games played (675), minutes played (22,986), points scored (13,296) and points scored in a game (52). Despite getting traded one year before the Raptors won the championship, DeRozan was a beloved figure in Toronto and is still connected with many of the current Raptor players, most notably Kyle Lowry.