Barring a catastrophic and almost mathematical impossibility, the Toronto Raptors will officially land a 2021 Top-10 draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft on June 22 following their disappointing season in Tampa.
It will mark the club’s first such pick since selecting Jakob Poeltl ninth overall in 2016 and the first time their own draft choice has landed in the top 10 since Terrence Ross was welcomed into the organization as the eighth pick of the 2012 Draft.
While neither Poeltl nor Ross would necessarily be considered huge busts, they were hardly home run selections that altered the state of the franchise. All told, the Raptors have made 13 top 10 picks in their history to date, achieving a wide range of results in the process.
Before we get set to welcome our newest lottery pick into the fold, let’s look back at Toronto’s admittedly checkered history of selecting in the top 10, ranked from worst to best.
Ranking all Top 10 NBA Draft picks in Toronto Raptors history.
No. 13: Rafael Araujo (No. 8, 2004)
A name that still brings a shudder to Raptor fans, Rafael Araujo came out of BYU as a physically punishing big, albeit one without a particularly high ceiling. Still, he couldn’t even meet those modest projections, becoming instead a slow, foul-prone, non-athletic dead weight. We will likely never know what the late Rob Babcock, then the GM, was thinking with this pick.
The one slight saving grace of the Araujo pick was that the club was able to convince the Utah Jazz that, at just 25 and after two woeful seasons in Toronto, ‘Hoffa’ still actually had some upside. They offloaded him to Utah for three decent seasons of Kris Humphries and the soon-to-be-waived Robert Whaley. Hey, it was something!
That Andre Iguodala was taken one pick later doesn’t make the Araujo pick any less painful. Later in that same draft, Al Jefferson (No. 15), Josh Smith (17), Jameer Nelson (20), and Trevor Ariza (43) all entered the league.
No. 12: Jonathan Bender (No. 5, 1999)
One of two high school players ever drafted by the Raptors (we’ll get to the other one later), Bender wasn’t long for Toronto. Just 32 days after being selected fifth overall out of Picayune Memorial High School, the 18-year-old was traded to Indiana for Antonio Davis. Sadly, knee issues and struggles in the pros limited him to an underwhelming 262 career NBA games.
A pick originally acquired in the Chauncey Billups trade, the Bender selection ultimately landed Toronto a cornerstone piece of the Vince Carter era playoff years. Davis would spend four-plus seasons with the Raps and remains one of just seven players to make the All-Star Game as a member of the franchise.
Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, or Jason Terry would’ve been nice, but Davis also worked out pretty well as a trade option. Even if Toronto had kept Bender, he wouldn’t have been their worst lottery pick of the draft – that distinction belongs to taking Aleksander Radojevic with the 12th pick in 1999. These were dark times.
No. 11: Charlie Villanueva (No. 7, 2005)
The Raptors shocked some on draft night in 2005 when they used their seventh overall pick on Villanueva, a player projected more as a mid-to-late-first rounder. For a season, however, the selection looked savvy, with Villanueva making the 2005-06 All-Rookie team while setting single-game rookie franchise records for points (48) and rebounds (18).
But that would represent a career-high point for the UConn product. Charlie V was traded to Milwaukee for T.J. Ford the following summer, but would struggle to build on a promising rookie campaign. He would hang around for 11 seasons in the NBA but never got close to star-level production again.
As with Bender, Villanueva worked out better for Toronto as a trade asset than a draft prospect. He was traded straight up for Ford, helping the club land an explosive, 23-year-old point guard who played an integral role in helping the 2006-07 Raptors to a surprising triumph in the Atlantic division.
Nine picks later, the club also whiffed, bringing in Joey Graham, an athletic wing that never quite panned out. Although the 2005 draft was rather barren beyond top point guard prospects Deron Williams and Chris Paul, they still would’ve been better off with Danny Granger, taken one pick after Graham.
Second-rounders like Ersan Ilyasova, Monta Ellis, and Lou Williams would have helped, too.