We are not done with the rankings, the rankings will never be done with us. In all things related to the ranking of NBA players in advance of the season, we shall never be free. Yesterday, ESPN’s NBA rank came to a conclusion with a ranking of the top 10 players in the league. This, after they ran through a list of the other 90 best players. As you already know, the Raptors popped up on the list a few times.
Here is the summary of those moments.
Stats & Info: Although the addition of Ibaka didn't result in Toronto's ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference last season, as was the hope when they traded for the shot-blocking floor stretcher, the Raptors did have success when playing him at the 5. In the 231 minutes Ibaka played center during the regular season, the Raptors outscored teams by 14.1 points per 100 possessions, perhaps a sign of things to come with Ibaka now inked for three more seasons.
Stats & Info: DeRozan is a master of getting to his spots, ranking second in PPG off drives and third in PPG off of pull-up jumpers. Nobody made or attempted more shots outside of 10 feet with a defender within 2 feet than DeRozan, who actually converted on a higher percentage of those than he did when there was no defender within 6 feet.
Stats & Info: If you're wondering why Lowry comes in 18 spots ahead of DeMar DeRozan, here's a clue: When DeRozan was on the floor without Lowry last season, the Raptors were outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions. When Lowry played without DeRozan, the Raptors outscored teams by 10.8 points per 100 possessions.
Here’s my trenchant analysis: the Ibaka ranking is very nice. The Lowry ranking is very fair. We can make peace with these assessments.
But you already know what I’m going to say here: DeRozan at 39 is patently absurd. And DeRozan at 39 behind Jae Crowder is so backwards I don’t even know where to begin. Oh wait, I do! Here’s the thing with Crowder, a fine and useful player: he can shoot the 3, and he has muscles, and if you need some strong defense he has tremendous value. His description mentions his place in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive RPM, which connects him, laughably, with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo (as if they are remotely the same kind of player at all).
But here’s the thing: Crowder’s skills are eminently replaceable. Again, that’s not to say Crowder doesn’t have skill, or value, or talent in the things that he does. In fact, he may be the very best at the things he does — as those advanced stats suggest. The Cavaliers, his new team, will definitely welcome his help on the wing (or as a small-ball 4). But there are other players in the league who do exactly what he does and who can help teams win in the exact same way. The incremental change in talent from Crowder to, say, Danny Green (no. 59), or Nic Batum (no. 66), or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (no. 71), is what exactly? A few percentage points higher or lower from three, a slightly stronger ability to slide his feet faster on defense, maybe a nicer mid-range jumper? That’s worth a ranking jump of almost 20 spots (from last year’s 56, when Crowder was exactly the same player)? I humbly submit, no it is not. Crowder cannot put a team on his back, Crowder is not the guy you want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line, Crowder is not a player you can build an offense around.
For all his faults meanwhile, DeRozan is decidedly all of those things. We just spent last season, one in which DeRozan made the All-NBA third team (e.g. one of the 15 best players in the league that season), watching him actually do all of those things. He had help, and he has flaws, but there is no universe in existence in which you’d pick Crowder over DeRozan when building your team. And that is as mad as I care to get about NBA rankings.
Until the next batch comes out.