Raptors’ DeRozan responds strongly to ranking on SI’s Top 100 list

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan looks up in the second half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Monday, May 1, 2017, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 116-105. (Tony Dejak/AP)

You may recall this time last year when DeMar DeRozan took offense to his ranking on Sports Illustrated‘s annual “Top 100” list. Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Toronto Raptors‘ all-star guard, fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, was ranked in the middle of the pack at 46th.

His spot may be higher now, but— are you sitting down?— he’s not happy this time around, either:

DeRozan is ranked No. 36 heading into the 2017-18 season. For context, that’s slightly above other volume scorers like Carmelo Anthony (37), C.J. McCollum (39), and Isaiah Thomas (40, and that factors in the time he’s expected to miss at the start of the season).

He is ranked one spot behind Milwuakee’s Khris Middleton (35), and five spots behind Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge. You can view the rankings here.

Last season, DeRozan finished fifth in the NBA in scoring (27.3 ppg) while leading the Raptors to home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. He also posted career-highs in rebounding (5.2 per game) and registered his best field goal percentage since his rookie season (46.7%) while taking more than triple the amount of shots.

He was also reliable in crunch-time, something that has been undervalued in my opinion. He finished second only to McCollum in field goal percentage among the 12 players who scored at least 140 points in the clutch (defined as a five-point game in the fourth quarter).

DeRozan was named to the All-NBA third team last season.

Here’s what the folks at SI had to say about the three-time all-star to justify the ranking:

Every year we relitigate the case of DeMar DeRozan, perhaps the league’s most polarizing player. Our verdict comes down to this: DeRozan is a refined, impressive scorer whose limitations create real problems. His best skill—and his only one that is above average—is one we’ve seen repeatedly stifled in a postseason setting, leaving us with lasting concerns about the ceiling DeRozan imposes on his own team.

It’s true that he is arguably the most polarizing player around (even among the Raptors fan base). Fact is, you can make an argument that DeRozan’s ranking is too high, too low, or just right— and it would be fair from all sides.

Personally, this spot feels a tad low to me; I would have at least placed DeRozan inside the top 30.

I expect him to make strides offensively and continue to expand his game. With a greater team-wide emphasis placed on ball movement and manufacturing open threes this season, DeRozan is expected to be asked to take on a greater role as a playmaker which could see those long-dribbling isolation possessions whittled down. That’ll mean quicker decision-making when facing the many double (and sometimes triple) teams that will be coming his way this season to help open up the court for his teammates.

Whether or not he develops and utilizes a consistent three-point stroke is a bigger long-shot, but DeRozan is the rare backcourt breed in today’s NBA who has managed to establish himself as a potent scoring threat without extending his range.

Even without further improvement, DeRozan remains an all-NBA talent. He’s managed to be wildly productive despite the obvious limitations to his game. He’s honed his strengths— a lethal mid-range game based off some of the NBA’s best footwork, as well as an elite ability to get to the free-throw line— and built a unique and effective game as a result, establishing himself as one of the hardest players to contain on offence.

How much more he can bring to the table will play as much of a factor in the Raptors’ chances this season as the production of their (mostly) unproven bench unit.

Jonas Valanciunas was ranked No. 80 on SI’s list, while fellow big man Serge Ibaka finished 56th. The top 30 will be unveiled later this week, and given his absence on the list so far, you can be sure that’s where you’ll find fellow all-star Kyle Lowry ranked.