Raptors’ VanVleet beats Lakers’ Ball in SI player rankings

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) reacts during a break in play. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Turns out betting on yourself can get you further than an overzealous dad — at least in the 2018-19 edition of Sports Illustrated’s NBA player rankings.

Toronto Raptors backup point guard Fred VanVleet ranked 94th, six spots ahead of highly-touted Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball who was selected second overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

It’s no exaggeration to say that VanVleet (8.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.2 APG) was an impact stats god last year. The 24-year-old Raptors guard, who finished third in 2018 Sixth Man of the Year voting, was off the charts in virtually every lineup configuration.

When he played with his fellow young reserves, who led the NBA among bench groups in net rating, Toronto was +17.1. When he joined a veteran-heavy and starters-dominated group as a floor-spacing third guard, Toronto was +24.9.

Remarkably, VanVleet ranked No. 28 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and in the top 100 by both Win Shares and WARP. All this for an undersized, undrafted player who has yet to record a single start in two seasons.

Ben Golliver, Rob Mahoney – Sports Illustrated

VanVleet went undrafted in 2016, but was given the opportunity to impress at Las Vegas Summer League and has steadily moved up the charts since. He led arguably the best bench unit in the league last season that affectionately came to be known as the Bench Mob, which earned him third place in Sixth Man of the Year voting behind Lou Williams and Will Barton.

Ball was limited to only 52 games last season due to injury.

Also making appearances for the Raptors were the starting frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, who ranked 78th and 63rd respectively. Ibaka had a down year by all accounts, tallying his lowest block total for a season since his rookie year.

Valanciunas on the other hand enhanced his reputation considerably from the 2016-17 season. Despite putting up very similar season averages, his game took several strides forward courtesy of being asked to be more of a playmaker out of the high post, improving on the defensive end, and even adding a three-point shot.

Valanciunas, 26, proved to be a skilled battering ram in the 2018 playoffs, notching six double-doubles in 10 games, outplaying Washington’s Marcin Gortat in the first round, and pounding the Cavaliers for 21 points and 21 rebounds in Game 1 of the second round.

Yes, the Raptors eventually went down in ugly fashion, but Valanciunas was hardly their weakest link. With excellent durability, well-honed post moves and greater comfort in his refashioned role, Valanciunas has managed to stave off stylistic extinction and trade rumors alike. – BG

Ben Golliver, Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated

The Lithuanian notably finished ahead of Washington’s Dwight Howard, Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins and Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic.

Canadians Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray finished 74th and 55th, respectively.

You can read the rankings from 100-51 here.

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