The braintrust at SB Nation’s NBA front page is in the midst of publishing something truly insane. No, it’s not a projection of the 2021 NBA Draft (though I imagine that’s up somewhere right now), it’s something a lot more wild: a ranking of the 101 top players in the NBA — [in an extremely high-pitched LaBamba voice] — in the year 2021.
My friends, as a purveyor of all things rankings, I am here for it.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the Raptors-based predictions therein, it’s worth remembering the old 2017 projections written back in 2013. Have a read of this list. It’s like stepping back into a time machine — a very optimistic time machine. How optimistic, you ask? Jonas Valanciunas is ranked at no. 18. Hoo boy, we were all believers back then.
Now then, back to the present (or the future?). First up for 2021, hanging on by his rapidly aging fingernails...
96. Serge Ibaka
Now, our SB Nation thought leaders had some choice things to say of Ibaka in their summary. Here’s a sample:
KOFIE YEBOAH: Shrugs. I’m not that confident about this pick at all. While his athleticism will surely decline, I feel that he can still be a serviceable stretch four for championship teams in four years. It would be his 12th year in the league, but he will be 31 years old. I’m torn.
This is also my take, though it mistakes Ibaka’s ultimate destiny in four years. It would not be a surprise to see him leave Toronto after his three year deal is up, so the idea of Serge leaving to help a championship-calibre team makes a lot of sense. (Assuming of course, the Raptors are not a championship-calibre team in four years — a man can dream.) My only caveat: in four years, I doubt Serge will have much value at all as a power forward, stretch or otherwise. If last season was any indication, Ibaka’s march through time will involve a full-time change to centre. Book it.
We look to the crystal ball again and find, hello, what’s this...
78. Kyle Lowry
In truth, this should not be a surprise. Lowry is already 31, which, for a point guard, is a few steps away from scaling the black hills of rural Sweden with Death, if you catch my drift. Here’s the choice takeaway:
WHITNEY MEDWORTH: Lowry is already a little old and slow, and I think he’ll still be doing fine when he’s 35 in the NBA. Players are playing longer than ever now! He’ll be aging nicely with DeMar DeRozan in Toronto as best friends with a team that could never quite get it all together.
And now, for a little inception, a follow-up quote from yours truly:
So there. It’s on the official record now.
And finally, you know him, you love him, you’ll definitely still be stuck with him no matter what...
50. DeMar DeRozan
Ah yes, this is the good shit. Our man DeRozan will still be in the mix in four years. In fact, he’ll be right in that sweet spot......... in the mid-range.
CHRIS GREENBERG: Saying that a 28-year-old All-NBA third team player will still be very good in a few years is the least fun part of this exercise. But that doesn’t mean DeMar DeRozan will slip below the top 50 player in 2021.
I’ll pick him so you don’t have to.
The SB Nation crew is not as excited as we are at first glance, but stick with it and read the rest of their comments. As they note, there is no reason not to believe DeRozan will still be an effective and valuable player in his 31st year (and 12th NBA season). Players who have a couple of elite skills usually make that transition, and DeMar’s got some elite skills (footwork, for sure; drawing fouls; hitting, yes, mid-range jump shots).
It is modestly funny though to acknowledge that even with all the turmoil sure to hit the league, all of the player turnover, all of the possible futures we could find ourselves in, DeRozan will only be incrementally worse than he’s ranked right now — e.g. 36th according to SI, 39th per ESPN. There’s a comfort in that; we can look forward to DeRozan’s sure-to-be surly response to yet another slight.
The future may be unknown, but, well, not entirely.