Sports Illustrated continued their Top 100 players list today with the players ranked from 30th to 11th, and there were two Raptors(and one former Raptor) in the mix in today’s group. These rankings are always interesting to get a look at where players are considered relative to each other going into the season, and there’ll be plenty of cause for conversation from this year’s list, as always.
DeMar DeRozan, 30
DeRozan (23.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.2 APG) made an earnest effort to reformat his game last season that, in the end, didn’t mean much. Encouraging as it was for DeRozan to venture beyond the arc in the regular season, he bailed on the notion of even attempting a three-pointer in the playoffs—after missing 13 straight. The free-flowing style of the Raptor offense encouraged DeRozan to move the ball until it didn’t; once the system clammed up in the second round, so, too, did DeRozan’s passing. There is more to DeRozan than how he performed against LeBron James and the Cavs. That said, the end of that series (also the end of DeRozan’s Raptors career) was especially vivid: a Game 3 benching followed by a Game 4 ejection, giving way to a sweep, a trade, and the end of an era.
He’s not a Raptor anymore, but it’s still interesting to look at what they have to say about DeMar as he heads to Texas. This is a much higher ranking than years past, reflecting his improvements last season, and it’s good to see him getting recognition for the efforts he made to be a more complete player.
Kyle Lowry, 23
Kudos to Lowry (16.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.9 APG), the sole remaining survivor in Toronto’s triumvirate of blame. With Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan both gone following another humiliating loss to LeBron James, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize what the coach and his star guards accomplished together: five straight seasons with 48+ wins, the five winningest seasons in franchise history, five playoff appearances, four playoff series victories, and a trip to the East finals. During Lowry’s six-year tenure in Toronto, the Raptors have won 297 games, the most of any Eastern Conference team. Now, at age 32, Lowry will plunge forward with a rookie coach and a rehabilitated Kawhi Leonard in search of his first trip to the Finals.
With consideration for the changes he made in his game last year in order for the team to overhaul their offense, this ranking still shows a healthy respect for the player that Lowry still showed himself to be, and the positive impact he still has as a player. With major changes around him again this year, Lowry will have to evolve his game again, but he’s shown himself more than capable of doing so in the past.
Kawhi Leonard, 12
Leonard (16.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.3 APG) ranked fourth on last year’s SI.com Top 100 because he possesses so many of the qualities this list aims to celebrate and appreciate: he boasts a complete and refined game, his presence makes his team better on both ends, his scoring game is multi-dimensional and efficient, he’s a premier perimeter defender, he’s a proven playoff performer, he’s painstakingly worked to eliminate his weaknesses, and his game would easily mesh with any cast of teammates. Leonard is a perennial MVP candidate, he’s the best player in Raptors history even though he hasn’t played a game yet, and he would be the best teammate LeBron James has ever had if he joins the Lakers next summer. In short, he was a 20+ points per game scorer and very nearly a 50/40/90 shooter in the same year he won 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. That is the definition of immense value on the hardwood.
Ranking Kawhi at 12th is a hedge against the possibility that he can’t find his form again, and that’s understandable given that he missed almost the entirety of last season due to injury. However, all indicators are that he’s coming into this season healthy and motivated, and if he can maintain that over the course of the season, it should be a lock for him to make this ranking look too low at this time next season.
This will be the end of the Raptors appearing on this list, but over the rest of the week the top 10 will be revealed and it’ll be interesting to see where the remaining players end up as that comes down.