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NBA Player Rankings: Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard both outside SI’s top 10

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For ranks 30 to 11 in Sports Illustrated annual pole, the Raptors’ have both Kyle Lowry... and Kawhi Leonard?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

You may be currently thinking what I thought — gone are the years of watching the Raptors’ criminally underrated superstar rank beneath guys such as Khris Middleton and Robert Covington. We all knew what they didn’t, and despite chance after chance on the national stage to prove his naysayers wrong, DeMar DeRozan failed to deliver the performances that we all took for granted. Until he was traded.

And now he’s playing in San Antonio, ranked 30th in Sports Illustrated’s latest ranking of the top 100 players in the NBA. But, for all the dominating performances he showed Toronto, he’s not our worry anymore. Now we have a new, undeniable superstar to fawn over. It’s undeniable! It is! He’s a superstar of the rarest kind! A top-five talent — as long as [insert summertime platitude], and such and such and this and that happens.

But enough of those what-ifs, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Kyle Lowry

2019 SI Player Rank: 23

If I may say, this is is the fairest ranking for a Raptor from the SI team since last year when Lowry was ranked 19th. Considering he was asked to take a back seat, reduce his minutes and most importantly, his intensity, a four-slot drop isn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Ben Golliver at SI justifies the ranking with some rather fluffy praise:

Although Lowry’s individual numbers diminished last season, the fall-off was mostly attributable to a more careful management of his minutes rather than a dramatic change in his ability. The four-time All-Star logged five fewer minutes per game during the regular season, a substantial strategic adjustment that helped him play 78 games and turn in easily the most efficient postseason of his career.

I honestly see nothing egregiously overreaching or incorrect in the overall assessment, which continues on,

This much is clear: No one benefits more from Leonard’s arrival than Lowry, who gets to move to a shotgun role alongside an MVP-level champion at the exact moment his own window as an elite point guard was starting to close. — BG

Now, sitting here, with my hand mangling my chin, brow in full furrow, tapping the sole of my shoe maniacally, I read that last line of that assessment once more.

“...alongside an MVP-level champion...”

“...MVP-level champion...”

Kawhi Leonard

2019 SI Player Rank: 12

I could just write the word “platitude” one-hundred times and nobody would bat an eye. Honestly, I could. But, as with all the years of DeRozan’s underappreciated stardom, I can’t sit silently. We as Raptors’ fans have a duty to begin the bourgeois revolution, overthrowing our media masters, establishing a democratic ranking system. Down with the feudal state!

Ahem.

Back to the heresy that is ranking Leonard 12th — I don’t care what “ifs” you bring to the table. If he’s healthy, if he’s engaged, if he’s in Toronto. We know he’s healthy, (he passed a physical, unless it was forged — in which case, this list is the least of our worries), he’s obviously engaged if he wishes to secure himself a max contract next summer, and yes, conspiracies be damned, he’s in the city of Toronto.

Golliver even had the gall to explain all the reasons why Leonard is a top-10 player, but managed to renege it all with his huge “but...”

Leonard is a perennial MVP candidate, he’s the best player in Raptors history even though he hasn’t played a game yet, and he would be the best teammate LeBron James has ever had if he joins the Lakers next summer. In short, he was a 20+ points per game scorer and very nearly a 50/40/90 shooter in the same year he won 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. ... Clearly, there’s a major “but…” coming now. But, at this moment in his career, Leonard finds himself needing to reestablish a quality that is essential to leadership and winning: reliability.

Golliver makes a fair point about “reliability,” but before last year — which has been well established as a career outlier — how many of those missed games can be attributed to Gregg Popovich’s system of sitting players down at peculiar times? Without last season in the mix, Leonard suited up for 81 percent of his team’s games for his career (2011-2016/17), an average of 66 games per season.

This is a question of both health and demeanor. After playing just nine games last season, the 27-year-old Leonard has now missed 27% of his team’s regular-season games during his career.

How many games did Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili miss on average per season in that same six year span? Parker played the same amount, actually — 81 percent. Ginobili played forty fewer games overall than both. Yes, they’re older, but it’s public knowledge that Popovich sits his most important players, regardless of age.

This is something Golliver failed to consider, and instead he penalized one of the best (if not the best) two-way players in the league for it.

I mean, Leonard at twelve?

I understand it takes a monumental amount of work to compile these lists, and as such, there will be mistakes. But — like the Hulk, here comes the conspiracy-theorist ripping out of me — why are there always such blunders with Raptors’ players? Hulk-smash.