The Sports Illustrated Top 100 players of 2018 ranking continues today with a list of players from numbers 50 to 31. (What a canny move on SI’s part to stretch this thing out to three days.) As expected, there’s another Raptor in the mix: DeMar DeRozan. And as my headline gave away: he’s in at number 36 on the list. Now of course, the big question: is that a fair assessment?
First, let’s read what Rob Mahoney of SI fame had to say:
36. DEMAR DEROZAN, RAPTORS
Every year we relitigate the case of DeMar DeRozan, perhaps the league’s most polarizing player. Our verdict comes down to this: DeRozan is a refined, impressive scorer whose limitations create real problems. His best skill—and his only one that is above average—is one we’ve seen repeatedly stifled in a postseason setting, leaving us with lasting concerns about the ceiling DeRozan imposes on his own team. [Click here to read more — a lot more]
If you don’t feel like clicking that link, allow me to summarize. Mahoney goes on to say that DeRozan’s value to the Raptors continues to be complicated. On the one hand, the man can score, and has become delightfully skilled at doing so in ways we never thought possible (even as DeRozan’s methods have become far less popular). But on the other hand, Mahoney also suggests that because DeRozan isn’t a great three-point shooter, a weak off-the-ball player, not the sharpest of play-makers, and a negligible defender, his value continues to hit a certain limit. DeRozan’s improvements were enough to bump him up from forty-FOH-six, but not enough to include him in the truly rarefied air of the top 30 or 20 (which is odd since DeRozan was on the All-NBA team last season). As yet, there has been no official response from DeRozan on this new ranking.
So yes, let’s get indignant about this on DeMar’s behalf, if for no other reason. But then let’s also search our feelings here. It’s hard to argue Mahoney’s point in those games when DeRozan is playing poorly. Unlike the truly fearsome players in the league, it does feel distinctly possible to slow DeRozan down. His cumulative effect on any given game can be shrunk — even compared to that of teammate Kyle Lowry, who has had some similar struggles, and far more injury concerns. To get even more specific, I won’t tell you how many times I smacked a table in frustration while watching DeRozan get bottled up again by the likes of Tony Snell or Khris Middleton in the first round against the Bucks. These are definitely things that happened, and they are moments that are difficult to forget when trying to take a clear-eyed snapshot of what DeRozan means now.
To DeRozan’s enduring credit, he makes it difficult for the NBA’s analysts to dismiss him outright, as they could at the beginning of his career. It’s been a fate — this dismissal — assigned to many similar “one-dimensional” players before him, and it’ll be tagged on to many players after him. The numbers suggest DeRozan doesn’t always help the Raptors win, and in some instances, may actively keep them from winning. It’s a damning take, and one we know, in our heart of hearts, is sometimes true.
And yet — and yet — the Raptors win. They win when DeRozan is playing, and when he is sitting. They win when Lowry is injured for long stretches, and when he’s cannon-balling around the court. They win when the team has no power forward, and when trades bring in a host of new players. Yes, like 29 other teams, and many other “failed” players, the Raptors and DeRozan ultimately lose. But the numbers are right there in that W column as irrefutable evidence. To suggest the removal of DeRozan could somehow increase said number seems insane. He’s built himself, brick by brick, into an exceedingly useful player, and a winning structure has risen around him. I mean, what else are we even doing here?
(Check back tomorrow to find out where SI put Lowry in its assessment of the top 30 players in the NBA.)
UPDATE: DEROZAN RESPONDS!