To be clear, the ongoing ESPN NBA Rank is not over. The countdown currently stands at no. 26 with Al Horford. But now all of the Raptors have been accounted for and, surprisingly, in places we didn't expect.
35 - DeMar DeRozan - Last Year: 104
First, let's try to wrap our head around this one. DeRozan was projected by Sports Illustrated as the 61st best player in the league. ESPN had him ranked at number 104 last year! Second, let's reflect on how far DeRozan has come. DeRozan has proven himself to be a hard worker, a disciplined learner, and a straight up tough basketball player. As a kid, he modelled his game after Kobe Bryant. Now here he stands, ranked higher than his idol. Kudos.
29 - Kyle Lowry - Last Year: 78
Ditto for Lowry. After reading Jonathan Abram's Grantland piece about his rise, it has been a supreme treat to see Lowry fulfil the role he always thought he deserved. Like DeRozan, he has made a significant jump up the rankings and hit a pay day that feels wholly earned. While a lock on an All-Star spot is no guarantee (especially with the hopeful return of Derrick Rose), fans in Toronto will always know he was robbed last year. One of the things to look forward to this year is Lowry's renewed campaign to prove everyone wrong.
My ultimate takeaway from these rankings? A sincere feeling of respect. A common emotion felt by Raptors fans is indifference. We can get into all the complicated basketball, geographic and cultural issues that go along with that notion. Or, we can boil it down to this: these Raptors are a good basketball team with a rock solid identity.
For our past assessments of the ESPN NBA Rank: