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First half of SI’s Top 100 NBA players of 2018 includes a couple Raptors

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But who cracked the first half of the list? And where are they ranked?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the annual tradition we all know and love: ranking NBA players in advance of the upcoming regular season. Unlike ESPN’s extensive NBA Rank rigmarole, in which they rank every dang player in the league, the team at Sports Illustrated’s The Crossover has opted for a top 100 approach. Kudos to them for the restraint.

As befitting a top five conference team, and a top, let’s say, 10 playoff team, the Raptors have a few players in the bottom half of the list. (SI will reveal the top half tomorrow.) The questions, as always: Who made it? And where are they?

Without further delay, the Raptors on SI’s Top 100 NBA players list, according Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney, are:

80. JONAS VALANCIUNAS, RAPTORS

There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason. The 25-year-old Lithuanian big man has posted nearly identical numbers for three straight seasons, a sign of his workhorse mentality and inherent dependability, but also of his carefully-carved niche and his inability to win an expanded role in crunch time. [Click here for more]

56. SERGE IBAKA, RAPTORS

The Magic traded for him in hopes that he would provide a clear defensive team identity. Then, the Raptors acquired him with an eye towards substantially improving their lineup versatility against the East’s top playoff contenders. On both counts, the 27-year-old Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) left his new teams wanting more. In Orlando, he proved unable to solve the many fit questions around him and failed to transform a space-deprived offense that needed more than a complementary frontcourt scorer. In Toronto, he couldn’t recapture the game-changing, two-way play he regularly showcased during his Oklahoma City tenure. [Click here for more]

Let’s tackle Jonas first. He’s notably ranked behind such luminaries as Reggie Jackson (who is a shell of himself), Dwyane Wade (a shell of a shell), and Dwight Howard (the dust of a bunch of shells).

Valanciunas also has the indignity of being (rightly) ranked behind Greg Monroe, his most obvious comparable in the league and the man he was tasked with slowing down in the playoffs last year (to only modest success). As Golliver points out, Jonas’ fate isn’t entirely his fault. The league has moved on from his specific skill set, and no amount of effort from Jonas is going to change that. As it stands, what Valanciunas does do, he at least does consistently — for better or worse — in a reliable number of minutes. He’ll always be Toronto’s large adult son, and everything that implies. In the final analysis, that counts for something (and should definitely count for more than whatever the hell Howard is going to “give” his team this season).

Now Serge, well... to be honest, this is a fair spot. It may even rank Ibaka too high. There’s no question Ibaka’s value to the Raptors is enormous. He’s the only reliable two-way big man on the team, he can play (and guard) both 4s and 5s, he has a three point shot and will not (definitely, in no way shape or form) hesitate with his outside jumper. As Golliver outlines however, Ibaka’s best days are clearly behind him. It was telling that the Raptors got Ibaka on a extremely reasonable deal — both in terms of dollar amount and years — despite the place he once held in the league’s hierarchy. Again, some of this is not Ibaka’s fault, a big man has to be a vital playmaker now, and Serge has never quite been that. But it also just speaks to the vagaries of time and age. A sober note to end on.

Wait, I almost forgot! Other “Raptors” who made the list: new Thunder-er Patrick Patterson in at no. 98 (with a blurb written by someone who both understands PP’s ineffable value, but has not had the, uh, pleasure of watching him play night after night), and James Johnson at no. 91. He is truly the one who got away. Sad face.

What will the top half of SI’s ranking hold? Safe bets: DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. We’ll see where they end up tomorrow. Hang in there.