Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan’s SI Ranking actually makes sense

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 05: DeMar DeRozan /

Number 36 actually sounds just right for DeMar DeRozan in ranking, especially when you consider who’s surrounding him on the list.

Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has a complicated relationship with Sports Illustrated. Last year in SI’s pre-season player ranking they dubbed DeRozan the 46th best player in the league. Which led to a social media snipe followed by a scoring streak scoring tirade rivaled by only Michael Jordan.

This year Sports Illustrated ran the same piece but with updated rankings. DeMar DeRozan is now ranked number 36th on that list of 100 names. Understandably, as a professional athlete, any press that says their lesser than the best is seen as an affront to their status as a player. So, naturally they tweet about it.

Last year’s ranking was so comically bad that it became a season long meme. Now at 36, it’s an improvement but not enough to which it feels appropriate… to him.

Number 36 actually sounds just right for DeRozan in ranking, especially when you consider who’s surrounding him on the list. Sandwiched between Carmelo Anthony at no. 37 and Khris Middleton at 35, is a microcosm of where DeMar DeRozan exists in the NBA. He dances on that subatomic line between a player that looks great while scoring a plethora of empty points and a player that actually contributes significantly to wins.

His old school playstyle is aesthetically pleasing to watch because Mid range pull ups, floaters and fadeaways are the skill set of shooting guards of yore. But Like Carmelo Anthony, DeRozan requires the ball to score. He needs to hold it, squeeze it, dribble it and cradle it to sleep before he takes a shot.

Without a 3 point shot the 28-year old engineers suave slices to and around the rim getting to his spots to take his shots inside the arc. Deebo’s finishes at the rim are acrobatic and gorgeous which transfix the eye as well as the offense. But there’s more to the game than putting the ball in the bucket as the primary ball handler.

Without the rock in his hands, DeRozan exists without a purpose. He’s not a spot up shooter in any capacity. And without a 3 point shot he actually negatively impacts the team’s offense.  By allowing opposing defenders to scrunch the defense, cheating on help and obscuring driving lanes it’s harder to play with DeRozan than without him. When DeRozan does get that ball beyond the arc it can lead to infamous ‘record scratch plays’ by overdribbling halting the already lurching Raptors offense.

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Dwyane Wade is the model for a guard cutting without the ball but DeRozan isn’t like to do that. He wants the ball in his specific spots and wants to get there himself. If DeRozan was even a mediocre 3 point shooter (35% on 4 attempts a game) it would clear up a lot of his off-ball woes. The threat of shooting the three alone opens passing and driving lanes for back court partners to skewer the defense. DeRozan offers no versatility, he scores one way and one way only, his way.

And While that mid range game works for DeMar DeRozan, it only works for DeMar DeRozan and nobody else. His play lead him to career high scoring (27.3 points per game) but the Raptors have always performed better with DeRozan off the floor (especially in the post-season). If you play him with another playmaker, you hinder the other’s abilities to operate and his as well. Leave him as the primary ball handler on the floor and DeRozan’s teammates always suffer the consequences.

And we’re only talking offensive versatility at this point. DeRozan has never graduated to a passable defender and he doesn’t look like he’ll ever do so. He has the physical attributes to make a step forward in there but he’s never put the tools together. He’s the easiest off-ball defender to shake because of his ball watching and he gives up on drives much to easily. Beyond the initial effort to stay in front of his man if DeRozan falls a step behind he’s already gearing up for the next offensive possession.

DeRozan’s a singular force that just gets buckets which is fine but that also means you’re not a dynamic player. If you only really excel at one singular thing: scoring from inside the arc with the ball in your hands, you’ll be hard pressed to be classified as a supreme talent in the league.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 27: DeMar DeRozan /

Carmelo is the same way, he’s a scorer that doesn’t benefit anyone other than himself. He shoots the three but his overall efficiency as a player is lower than Deebo’s resulting to his rank lower on the list.

Khris Middleton on the other hand is the antithesis of the two players ranked below him. He’s a role player but one that thrives off the team around him while also making his entire team better. Posting a line of 14.7 points, 4 rebounds and 3.4 assists he’s not eye-popping but he’s the legs to the young Bucks squad. The Bucks sported a 112.4 Offensive rating with him on the floor (which would be second in the league) during the 2016-17 campaign and their net rating with him on the floor ( +4.5) is the second best mark on the team behind Jason Terry.

Being a sniper from deep (shooting 43.3% from range) stretches the floor for the like of Giannis Atetounkoumpo, Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon can attack the defense. Middleton can score off curls, post-ups, spot ups and the odd screen and roll providing the Bucks with offensive flexibility in an offense that stagnates critically.

And Although DeRozan averages .5 more assists per game than Middleton at 3.9 they get them in different ways. Almost 80% of Middleton’s assists last season were for dunks, and three-pointers and layups.  He makes the extra pass allowing the ball the hop from him to another in a split second while DeRozan has to single-handedly breakdown the defense before delivering dimes.

His flexibility touches the other side of the floor as well. Middleton at 6’8″, with a 6’11” wingspan is slower than MF DOOM’s (note to editor: MF DOOM has must remain in all capitals, that’s how you spell his name) flow but switches effortlessly between positions 1 through 4. He knows the angles and his combination of length, strength, and basketball IQ makes him able to hold his own in otherwise over matched situations. Whether it be length for spot up shooters, strength post and toasters or IQ for pick and rollers Middleton can deal with them all.

Realistically Middleton can fit into any roster at almost every position. With his multi faceted skill set offensively and defensively is the primary reason he’s ranked over DeRozan. His traditional stats don’t make it obvious why he’s so significant but the eye-test and advance stats bear the truth. And examining the players further up the ranks multi-skilled players populate the upper echelon. DeMar DeRozan needs to expand his repertoire to reserve a spot among the league’s elite players. DeRozan stands as the inflection point as to how high a player with only one way to influence the game can possibly climb. For now, he’s ranked right where he belongs, number 36.