On the list of things sure to stir up acrimony online is, um, ranked lists. As part of a new ongoing tradition at Sports Illustrated, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney decided to rank the current Top 100 NBA players. It's a task steeped in pure folly and yet I, like many of you, can't look away. The first question of course is: Where did the Raptors' players rank? So, here we are:
80 - Jonas Valanciunas
Ahead of: Arron Afflalo. Behind: Derrick Favors
If this were a ranking of the players with the most potential, JV has to be considered for the top 10. He's still just 22 years old. He still is seven feet tall. He still has soft hands and a roll game that suggests an elite big skill set. He's already averaging almost a double-double at 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. But, he's still inconsistent, still a mental work in progress. As the recent FIBA World Cup revealed, he can wholly dominate at times but also be totally taken out of games (by Aron Baynes no less!) Ranking Jonas behind Derrick Favors feels vaguely insulting - given Favors far more one-dimensional game - but one can and should still hope it is all upside from here with Valanciunas. Let's just say I'll be shocked if he is outside the top 50 or 60 next year.
71 - Amir Johnson
Ahead of: Wesley Matthews. Behind: Tiago Splitter
You really have to hand it to Amir Johnson. When he joined the Raptors he was just a 22 year old string bean with no obvious basketball talents outside of maniacal hustle. As Mahoney points out, it's been this hustle - and the understanding of its application and limitation - that have allowed Amir to become a valuable player on the Raptors. I think we can agree that Amir lacks the specific talents that could push him higher on lists such as these - elite shot blocking, stretch-4 shooting, etc. But, I think we can also agree that the fact he makes it on the list at all, having once been a spare part for the Detroit Pistons and considered expendable by the Milwaukee Bucks (!), is an amazing achievement. Yeah, Tiago Splitter has the championship, but I'd still rather go to war with Amir Johnson.
67 - Rudy Gay
61 - DeMar DeRozan
Ahead of: Danilo Gallinari. Behind: David Lee
Only one spot ahead of Danilo Gallinari? I forgot that guy was even still in the league! While poor Gallo has been laid up by injury, DeRozan has continued to grow and refine his game, help take his team to the playoffs, and compete on the international stage in the FIBA World Cup. Yes, OK, as has been pointed out, he still is not the most efficient player. DeRozan's average numbers (22.7 points, 4.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds last season) continue to climb but that consistency, that next level superstar killer instinct is still being honed. You can question whether or not DeRozan will ever get there, but let me ask you this: would you rather have him... or David Lee?
30 - Kyle Lowry
Ahead of: John Wall. Behind: Andre Iguodala
We all knew Lowry would be the highest ranked Raptor on this list. He's the highest paid player on the team (now), and he's meant the most to their upwardly mobile fortunes. The descriptions of Lowry's game are starting to feel rote: bulldog, heart and soul, engine. But then again, there was once a time when he was described with far less charitable terms like "disgruntled" and "chubby." As this Raptors team has clawed its way towards an identity, it's been Lowry - by whatever word you want to use - who has led them there.
So, how about that: four Raptors in the Top 100. Feels pretty good.
With the Top 10 being announced today (spoiler alert: Lebron is #1), what do you think of SI's rankings?