Actually — spoiler alert — I don’t think I will be getting too feisty this time out, because… I think… they may have gotten these ones right on the money?
Let’s dive in:
#40 Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet takes a massive leap on ESPN’s list, moving up from 88 to 40. Here’s what Tim Bontemps had to say:
VanVleet has made famous his “Bet on Yourself” mantra with his rapid improvement on the court. His next goal is to make the All-Star team — something he thought he deserved to do last year in his hometown of Chicago. It’s a goal he can attain if he continues to improve and the Raptors remain in the mix atop the East.
Nothing too revelatory there, and we’re all more than familiar with Fred’s story by now. ESPN now has Toronto’s new $85-million-man ranked ahead of Spencer Dinwiddie (49), Kemba Walker (48), Victor Oladipo (47), and Caris LeVert (46), all of whom were ranked ahead of VanVleet last season. Pretty good for the too-small guard from Rockford!
One spot ahead of VanVleet is Malcolm Brogdon, and I think that’s a solid debate. Statistically, Fred comes out ahead in my eyes (scored more, averaged more steals, shot a better eFG, had more win shares, better defensive box plus-minus, better VORP) but Brogdon is bigger and teams still value that.
It’ll be interesting to compare their stats at the end of this season; I expect Fred’s role to continue to grow, but I’m not sure Brogdon’s will, if he’s playing alongside a healthy Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
#30 Kyle Lowry
Lowry also moves up a few spots this year, from 34 to 30, and I think that’s about the right spot for him. After years and years of defending Lowry to people who just don’t get it, it’s nice to see him finally getting a little more respect from the U.S. national media. Here’s what longtime Lowry stan Kevin Pelton had to say:
At some point, Lowry has to experience the pull of his age (34)… right? After two down seasons as a scorer, Lowry shifted back to a primary role with Kawhi Leonard’s departure, averaging 19.4 ppg and helping the Raptors post the best winning percentage in franchise history. He remains a determined defender and savvy playmaker whose streak of six consecutive All-Star appearances is tied for fourth longest in the NBA.
Ah, it’s so nice to see the love. Though even that bit about “down seasons as a scorer” lacks context, as it’s not like Lowry struggled to score those two years; his role in the offense shifted and his ability to adjust his own game for the benefit of others, whether it was the bench mob in 2017-18 or Leonard and Siakam in 2018-19, is part of what makes him great.
Here, Lowry ranks ahead of Marcus Smart (37), Russell Westbrook (36), Khris Middleton (35), Jrue Holiday (33) and Jaylen Brown (32), which should all spark some debate (though not from us). Westbrook ranking below Lowry here doesn’t make up for him stealing Lowry’s All-NBA spot last year!
Again, the biggest debate might be with Lowry and the guy ranked one spot ahead of him: Trae Young. If one were to take future potential, age, salary and contract length into play, Trae Young is definitely the more valuable player. But this rank is solely for 2020-21, and if a team needed a point guard simply to help it win the 2021 NBA Championship, I don’t think there’s a single NBA team that would take Young over Lowry.
#24 Pascal Siakam
Siakam actually dropped two spots here, from 22 last season; that seems a bit odd on the surface, as in his first season as a primary option he averaged career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists, along with free throw percentage. But perhaps the expectations that inevitably come with a max contract — and his poor bubble performance — have weighed him down? Here’s Bontemps again:
If Siakam’s shooting can take one more leap, he will go from star to franchise centrepiece. While Siakam shot a respectable 35.9 percent last season, he shot just 24.8 percent from behind the arc in the postseason. If Toronto wants to go beyond another East semifinals exit, Siakam needs to find one more big leap with his shot.
Really... that’s the problem? Three-point shooting? This is an all-too-easy argument to make, and a disappointing one. On the surface, of course Siakam would be a better player if he shot a better percentage from downtown, but, at the same time.... 35.9% is a higher three-point percentage than LeBron James, Giannis Attentomoumnpo, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, and James freakin’ Harden all shot last year... so, you know. I think he’ll be fine, and dropping him two spots for his three-point shooting is ridiculous.
It would make more sense to express for concern for Siakam’s shooting inside the arc, where his overall percentage dropped from 60% to 49%, and his midrange shooting specifically (10-16ft) dropped from 47% to 33%. That surely has to do with defences loading up on him and forcing him into tougher looks, away from his spots (his percentage of shots at the rim went down from 40% to 28%).
Anyway, no need to turn this into a Siakam player review. Overall 24 sounds about right. It’s ahead of Brandon Ingram (28) and Rudy Gobert (26), and one spot ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns. Bam Adebayo comes in 13, which seems way too high to me (he’s somehow jumped ahead of Joel Embiid), but, given Bam’s consistent performance last year — as a second option, it should be noted — combined with a Finals run, I can’t argue too much with him being ahead of Siakam.
That should do it for Raptors on this list, unless Matt Thomas has somehow cracked the top 10! Hey, there’s always next year.