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Kyle Lowry comes in at 19 on SI’s Top 100 Players of 2018 ranking

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The best player on the Raptors continues to be one of the best players in the NBA.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Lowry, the Raptors‘ undisputed leader, finally appeared on Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 NBA players of 2018 list. Even at 31, amid uncertainty about his future with the Raptors, Lowry can still lay a hurt on teams. We knew he’d make it into the top 25, and guessed he’d probably crack the top 20. Now we know for certain. According to Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney, Lowry is the 19th best player in the league.

Here’s an excerpt from their summary:

19. KYLE LOWRY, RAPTORS

Lowry (22.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 7 APG) has fallen down a few pegs in the crowded conversation concerning the league’s top point guards, as he missed 22 regular-season games due to injury and then fizzled out amid nagging health issues during Toronto’s humbling postseason. When he was on the court, the hard-nosed, well-rounded floor general was as effective as ever, ranking in the top 25 of four major advanced statistics (PER, Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus, WARP), setting new career-highs in scoring, assists and three-point percentage, and leading the East’s second-best offense. An excellent pick-and-roll threat who improved Toronto’s offensive efficiency by nearly seven points when he was on the court, Lowry had success helming the Raptors’ starting unit and a lethal bench mob group. [Click here for more]

There’s not a lot to dislike in this assessment. The dude continues to be exactly what a modern point guard should be — great shooter, smart pick-and-roll player, and dogged on defense (even when forced into a switch; especially when forced into a switch). Putting Lowry behind the likes of, say, John Wall, makes sense given the latter’s truly insane physical gifts. And placing Lowry ahead of a guard like Kyrie Irving feels right given the former’s superior ability to manage a game in all aspects at a savant-like level. He may be getting older, he may be breaking down, but Lowry’s mind is still as sharp as ever — if there’s an opening to kill you on the court, he’ll take it. It may not always be enough (see: Lowry against some of the players ranked above him on this list), but it puts the Raptors in a winning position more often than not.

The implicit question posed in Golliver’s summary is significant though: we know roughly how Lowry will start the season, but how will he end it? The Raptors depend completely on Lowry to generate so much of what they do as a team. He’s in the top five in minutes every year because without him, as we’ve seen again and again, Toronto just does not quite hum at the same pitch. Last season’s late Lowry-less stretch was inspiring for that reason — showing as it did a team bonding together to grind out wins in his absence — but his seesaw play in the post-season brought all these issues to the fore once again. (And as rightly pointed out, a lot of that grind-it-out roster is now gone.)

The bottom line emerges quickly: Lowry is undoubtedly a top 20 player today. He may even be top 15, depending on how you do your calculations. Any uneasiness comes entirely based on how we feel about Lowry’s future play. For my part, I continue to hope for the best.

(Apparently I underestimated SI’s ability to squeeze content out of this list: you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out where they ranked the top 10 players in the league for 2018.)