Sports Illustrated Top 100 List: Five Most Underrated Players
Sports Illustrated released their annual top 100 NBA players list last week As is the case every year, there are some definite glaring issues with the list. Every single year around this time, the Sports Illustrated Top 100 list drops. And every single year, fans and media alike have a field day with the results. These are the five most disrespected players on the Sports Illustrated Top 100 List:
Honourable Mention: Brandon Ingram (85/100)
Brandon Ingram missed a lot of last season with the appearance of blood clots in his legs. It’s a scary injury, there’s no doubt about it. A more severe case ended Chris Bosh’s career. In 52 games with the Lakers last season, Ingram put up 18.3 points and 5.1 boards per game.
Now with the New Orleans Pelicans, a team focused on building their young talent, Ingram will likely be one of the main guys used on offence. If he can string together a healthy season, putting the likes of Al Farouq-Aminu above him will look bad on the writers of the Sports Illustrated Top 100 List. With his length (7’3” wingspan) and athleticism, Ingram (just 22) is poised for a breakout season in New Orleans.
5. D’Angelo Russell (44/100)
D’Angelo Russell comes in as the 44-ranked player in the NBA according to the SI Top 100 list. As an All-Star last season, Russell was recognized as, at the very least, a top 30 player.
Even if you choose to disregard that, you can look at what he did with his Brooklyn Nets last season. I refer to the Nets as “his” for a reason – Russell took over as the leader of a Nets team that finished 12th in the East the season prior and led them to a playoff berth in 2018-19.
In his best NBA season yet after the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him second overall in 2015, “DLo” averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game. He took a defeated, broken Nets squad and, with relatively the same lineup, made them one of the most exciting teams in the NBA.
Now, a bit of a drop off is certainly in order here. With Russell transitioning to the Golden State Warriors, he’ll have to share stats with a perennial MVP candidate in Stephen Curry. We don’t know how Russell will fit in in the Bay Area.
However, Curry doesn’t have to be a ball-dominant player in Golden State’s offence. The past three years, he’s generally played second fiddle to Kevin Durant. In a move uncommon to NBA stars these days, Curry was fine with it. He does whatever it takes to make the team work. We saw that with KD, and we could easily see it again this year with Russell.
Assuming DLo plays anywhere close to how he did last year (which isn’t unreasonable given Curry’s willingness to play off-ball), ranking him at 44, beneath such players (who are by no means bad) as Steven Adams (40), Paul Millsap (43), and a past-his-prime Chris Paul (21), is a blatant act of disrespect.
4. Julius Randle (79/100)
The Sports Illustrated Top 100 List has Julius Randle listed at 79. Meaning that they believe there to be 78 players in the NBA better than the 24-year-old power forward. Given his stats (21.4 points and 8.7 boards on 52.4% shooting) last season, that’s a little bit ridiculous.
That stat line was Randle playing beside a bonafide star in Anthony Davis for most of last season. After his new team, the New York Knicks, failed to land any superstars this offseason, Randle will have the reins.
With those reins in hand, Randle will likely have a better season this year than he did in 2018-19. Now, will the Knicks be a winning team? Most likely not. I’m not asking anyone to make Randle MVP. But to say that Thaddeus Young (70), Derrick Favors (55), and Eric Bledsoe (46) will have a better 2019-2020 than him is too much. None of those players (save perhaps Bledsoe) will even receive All-Star consideration this year. Randle could very likely be seen in Chicago this February playing alongside LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and the like.
Taking into consideration the importance of playing for a winning team, Julius Randle shouldn’t be anywhere near the top 20. Although he’ll have the stats to be there, he doesn’t deserve one of those spots. However, having him at 79 is most definitely disrespectful. Randle will definitely make a case for an All-Star spot this year, landing him within, at the very least, a top 40 player in the league.
3. Kyle Kuzma (96/100)
The Sports Illustrated Top 100 List put Kyle Kuzma at 96. The Lakers’ forward scored 18.7 points per game while sharing the court with LeBron James last season. That’s an impressive feat in and of itself. James is such a ball-dominant player that even such stars as Dwyane Wade and the ever-underrated Chris Bosh took a backseat to his greatness. Kuzma does the same in LA, but still gets his numbers.
His scoring ability and athleticism could be described as prolific. Kuzma gets to the bucket with ease and from there can finish in a variety of ways. Sports Illustrated cites his three-point shooting (a career 33.5%) as a reason for placing him so low.
The truth is, Kuzma could certainly stand to improve his shooting from deep. Also the truth: he’s better than many of the players listed above him – and he’s only 24. Not only that, but he’ll be a key piece on a championship-contending Lakers squad this year. To rank an 18-point per game scorer on a championship contender beneath Jeff Teague and a soon-to-be-36-year-old Andre Iguodala is a crime.
2. Zach LaVine (90/100)
Zach LaVine plays for a really bad team in the Chicago Bulls. His Bulls finished third-last in their conference last season by seven games. They won just 22 games in all of the 2018-19 season. They’re bad. Being the best player on a team that bad gives your stats a boost. Zach LaVine doesn’t deserve to be all that high on this list.
But, LaVine scored better than the majority of the players listed above him, and did it more efficiently than he ever has before. I’m not saying scoring is everything — there are countless other stats and intangibles that have their own importance — but you have to score to win.
LaVine scored 23.7 points per game while shooting a respectable 37.4% from deep. How did Sports Illustrated reward that scoring? By placing 89 players above him, a good 30 of which aren’t nearly as good as he is.
1. Devin Booker (34/100)
The Phoenix Suns took an 18-year-old Devin Booker 13th overall out of Kentucky. He’s been their franchise player ever since. Heading into his fifth year in the league, Booker is still just 22-years-old. At 22, he’s undoubtedly one of the league’s best scorers with plenty of room to improve. Each year his numbers look better, and there’s no reason why that won’t continue.
In 2018-19, Booker recorded 26.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Now, is his team awful? Yes. Is it his fault? Not really. Booker scored 59 points in a blowout loss to the Utah Jazz last season. The next game he went out and got 50 in yet another loss. The math doesn’t really add up there, and it’s because the Suns’ front office didn’t surround him with nearly enough talent to win any games. Even LeBron James isn’t dragging that Suns roster to a playoff berth.
The fact is, Booker just hasn’t had enough help. Nonetheless, he’s been doing it all without complaint for the Suns, and that could pay off this year. Although the Suns made some head-scratch inducing moves in the 2019 NBA Draft, they continue to add young talent to the roster.
Last year’s number one overall pick, DeAndre Ayton, is one of the best players Booker has played alongside in his tenure with the Suns. Dario Saric is a solid addition as well. To top it all off, the Suns may finally have stability at the head coach spot in the form of a long-term deal with the highly sought-after former Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams.
All of this points not only to growth for the organization, but also a chance for the long-suffering Booker to win some games. His scoring ability and age make him one of the league’s top assets, and ranking him beneath Khris Middleton and De’Aaron Fox is the most disrespectful placement on the whole Sports Illustrated Top 100 List.