ESPN released the latest group of names in their ninth annual list of the top 100 players in the NBA early yesterday morning. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray were revealed as the 100th and 71st best players in the league respectively two days ago, and LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan fell within the top 50 today.
The dynamic duo led an overachieving San Antonio Spurs team to 48 wins and a playoff berth a season ago, overcoming the challenges of significant injury and roster turnover. However, the expert panelists at ESPN didn’t seem to take their accomplishments into account.
Although they may not be top 20 players at this point in their careers, the two midrange specialist never got a fair shake. Both guys had career years of sorts, and that’s not to mention they had the added hurdle of facing tougher Western Conference competition night in and night out.
DeRozan posted career-highs in assists, rebounds, and blocks per game while playing for a new team in an unfamiliar scheme. Aldridge shot a career-high from the field, garnered his seventh All-Star nomination, and also put up a career-high in blocks per game.
All of this leaves me wondering, how did the writers at ESPN find over 40 players greater than San Antonio’s star tandem? Seriously? Are Kyle Lowry, Draymond Green, Jayson Tatum, and Nikola Vucevic better basketball players? Better fits within a particular system? I’ll give them that. Superstar potential? Tatum definitely has it, but better at the game of basketball? I’m not so sure about that one just yet.
I’m not saying Aldridge and DeRozan are world-beaters, I’m not even confident they can be the best players on a championship contender. What I do know is they’re deserving of more respect than they received from that article.
So if not 41st and 46th in the league, where do LA and DD stack up in the incredibly talented National Basketball Association? Realistically, somewhere between the perennial All-Stars and All-NBA Third Team candidates.
Aldridge was the lone All-Star for the Silver and Black last season, and the most important player on their roster. He led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, and Value Over Replacement.
I can understand accounting for a reasonable amount of regression. After all, Aldridge is quickly approaching his mid-30s, and few players continue to improve past their 30th birthday. Especially big men.
With that said, he has looked as thin as ever in recent photographs, and that bodes well for his large frame and aging joints.
Expect the former Longhorn to be back to his usual low-post bully ball and fadeaway jumpers. He’ll likely take a step back in usage and minutes, but don’t let that fool you. Aldridge is still one of the best 35 players in the NBA, which puts him right behind Kristaps Porzingis according to ESPN.
As for DeRozan, the modern era revolves around the three-point line and those who can best use it to their advantage. Sadly, he is a dying breed of stars who avoid the perimeter like the plague.
For as poorly as he shoots the three-ball, DeRozan is still a formidable force. He can out-rebound his position, handle the rock like a point guard, and score with the best of them. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also exceptional at setting the table for his teammates to get buckets.
Why then did he descend the player rankings? Well, he wasn’t much of an outside threat before he arrived in Alamo City, and he only shied away from three-point land even more once he got here.
He has shown off his long-distance stroke on social media this summer, but so has every other player in the association. Could we see a new and improved DeRozan next season? Maybe, though I doubt it.
I anticipate he’s added a few tools to his bag of tricks. Nonetheless, if three-point shooting isn’t one of them, then DeMar DeRozan belongs right around where he already lines up.
While 46th seems a tad low, grading out 39th among his peers wouldn’t bother me. And by returning to his ranking from a year ago, he knocks his old running mate Kyle Lowry a notch down ESPN’s big board.