If Kawhi Leonard is looking for bulletin board material to motivate him for next season, he can look no further than Sports Illustrated.
The publication released its player rankings from 30-11 Wednesday, and placed him 12th — an eight-spot drop from last season — one behind Oklahoma City’s Paul George and ahead of Golden State’s Draymond Green.
Previously a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard featured in nine regular season games last year, averaging just 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting a career-low 31.4 per cent from three-point range. Leonard finished third in MVP voting for the 2016-17 season.
Leonard is solely responsible for months of poor communication, for his ill-fated “Spur for life” press conference, and for the distracting “Uncle Dennis” chatter.
He’s solely responsible for leaving his teammates up in the air about his availability in the run-up to the playoffs and for staying away from the Spurs during the postseason.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis would never behave like Leonard did because they understand and accept that being an A-list superstar requires comporting oneself like a chief executive.
– Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated
Toronto Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry fell four places on the list, from 19th a season ago to 23rd this year. He ranks one spot ahead of Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, but slots in well behind Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Portland’s Damian Lillard.
The 32-year-old point guard played five fewer minutes per game than during the 2016-17 season, and clearly benefitted from an offence that demanded less out of him physically. Lowry was particularly impressive in the post-season, averaging 17.2 points, 8.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, two steals and shooting 43.6 per cent from beyond the arc.
While Lowry remains a strong outside shooter and a dynamic all-around offensive player, his age might be starting to show on the other end. He led the league with 37 drawn charges in 2017-18, but his impact stats weren’t quite as impressive as in recent years.
This much is clear: No one benefits more from Leonard’s arrival than Lowry, who gets to move to a shotgun role alongside an MVP-level champion at the exact moment his own window as an elite point guard was starting to close.
– Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated
DeMar DeRozan, who has long been irked with his placement lower down the rankings, moved up from 36th a season ago to 30th.
The four-time all-star played an integral role in helping the Raptors transition from the old isolation-heavy ways to a more democratic offence, averaging a career-high 5.2 assists while averaging three fewer shot attempts per game.
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.
– Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated
Things unraveled quite quickly for the 29-year-old in the post-season, though, where after a solid start against the Wizards, he didn’t even see the fourth quarter of the final two games of Toronto’s playoff run.
In the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers, DeRozan was benched in Game 3 as Lowry and the bench mounted a comeback that tied the game, before getting ejected in Game 4 for a Flagrant 2 foul on Jordan Clarkson in transition. He finished those two games a minus-52 to mark a most unceremonious end to his Toronto tenure.