Sports Illustrated unveiled their ranking of the top 100 players entering the (fast-approaching) 2016-17 season.
While any sort of subjective, unscientific list like that is sure to draw criticism, one local NBAer in particular is upset with his ranking. As he should be.
That’s because DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors‘ all-star guard and a member of the U.S. Olympic team that just won gold in Rio, was ranked No. 46.
It seems, well, pretty low for someone who was the best player for his team during the Conference Finals and one of just eight players to average more than 23 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game (the other seven? Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Damian Lillard, and James Harden). For context, DeRozan’s 46th place ranking put him behind the likes of Nic Batum, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Gobert, and Khris Middleton.
And DeRozan, rightfully, wasn’t pleased.
I had to look it up, but FOH stands for “F*** outta here,” as in, “Get the f*** outta here.” DeRozan followed that up with:
That slogan, or hashtag, or whatever you want to call it, has been DeRozan’s de facto mantra for years now, clearly a part of his motivation to continue to get better season after season. Which he’s done, a fact that both stats and your eyes will support. He’s drastically improved his ball-handling, has gone from a borderline liability to a reliable defender, and has seen his mid-range game flourish to the point that he’s one of the NBA’s elite from fifteen feet out and a matchup nightmare for defenders from the high post.
There’s no question that he stunk up the joint with his poor shooting performance in the first round of the playoffs last season, the lingering memories of which likely contributed to his spot on the ranking. But he turned it around and got better as the Raptors advanced. He went from 31 per cent from the floor in Round 1, to 38 per cent in Round 2, to a very solid 50 per cent shooting in the third round against the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging a team-high 21.9 ppg during the playoffs and, according to Basketball Reference, finished with the highest game score (an algorithm that determines a player’s impact on the game) of any Raptor.
Of course DeRozan is far from a perfect player. He still has a ways to go to become a steady three-point shooter (though it may just never be a big part of his game), and his shot selection can frustrate at times (though they’re shots his coaches are asking him to take).
Perhaps the thing I like most about the progression of DeRozan’s game over the seven years since the Raptors drafted him ninth overall — and particularly over the last three as he’s worked his way to all-star calibre — is that he’s tailored it to his strengths. The 27-year-old, who signed a five-year, $139-million extension with Toronto this summer, is far from the prototypical shooting guard. It’s been the biggest source of criticism from those who (clearly) don’t regularly watch him play. He doesn’t shoot threes as consistently as a cookie-cutter two-guard should, and plays with his back to the basket too much, the critics often say. But by illuminating what DeRozan doesn’t do, it unfairly obscures one of the most unique skill-sets in the league, particularly at his position.
Don’t get me wrong: DeRozan is not a top 10 player in the league (… but he did finish in the top 10 in scoring last season at 23.5 points per game, tied with Westbrook). He’s not a top 20 player, either. But fresh off a year in which he was an all-star, Olympic gold medallist, and the go-to scorer on a Conference finalist, I think it’s safe to stay DeRozan’s spot on that list seems criminally low.
While you may take umbrage with the ranking (or maybe you agree with it), Raptors fans should take solace that motivation and spite can be one hell of a driving force for athletes. Just ask Michael Jordan.
One Raptor who won’t be tweeting their displeasure over SI‘s rankings? Kyle Lowry, who was ranked the 14th-best player in the NBA this coming season. DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas were the only other Raptors to crack the list, listed at 73 and 61, respectively.
DeRozan won’t have to wait long to “prove em” — Raptors training camp tips off Sept. 27 while pre-season action begins Oct. 1 in Vancouver against the new-look Golden State Warriors.