He made his arrival in 2009, as a 6’7, 211lb guard with tantalizing athleticism and a world of potential. A kid from Compton, shaped by the urban hotbed of basketball talent that surrounded him, was ready for his shot at stardom.
Nearly five years later, DeMar DeRozan is there.
Originally touted as a freakishly athletic leaper with an affinity for dunks, DeRozan brought doubt upon those who felt he could not develop into an all-around guard. He lacked a mid-range game and the ability to stretch the floor on offense. His rookie campaign was filled with underwhelming output and promise. With first-year averages of 8.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG, fans knew that there would be a waiting period before his ascension to dominance.
By DeRozan’s sophomore season, he had upped his scoring to 17.2 PPG after starting all 82 games, yet his field goal percentage had dropped from 49.8% to 46.7%. There was some serious optimism around him at this point after making a major jump, however he was still a very incomplete player.
After two years with the Toronto Raptors, all he truly had to show were two unsuccessful dunk contest appearances and a (still) developing game. When the 2011/2012 lockout season came around,DeRozan regressed statistically. He failed to improve any elements of his game, and quickly shifted from a future core piece to a question-mark.
The following year, DeRozan took a minor forward. He established new career-highs of 18.1 PPG, 83% FT, however didn’t show significant strides in many other areas. The result was the team missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year. Through this period of struggle, the team saw an abundance of shooters come and go, from the likes of Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright and Leandro Barbosa. Maybe it was the limited opportunities to shoot which hindered DeRozan’s progress. As the franchise produced multiple seasons of disappointment, it was clear that change was on the way. And shortly into the 2013/2014 NBA season, that change became apparent.
DeRozan has grown into a player that will no longer put up with failure; something that’s plagued the Toronto Raptors since he came into the league. DeMar’s frustrated demeanor has always appeared evident, regardless of a win or loss. Rather than coast through the summer months without a care, he spends a considerable amount of time in the gym, putting up shots from all over the floor. All the negative energy accumulated from four years of losing was channeled into motivation. Having idolized Kobe Bryant from a young age, DeRozan’s competitive drive (much like Bryant’s) has been shaped by skeptics and critics.
Through every heartbreaking loss, humiliating blowout and close win of his career, DeRozan has matured. He’s avoided the temptation of being complacent through a transition year by refusing to have a non-productive offseason. Last season he showed improvement in his range, yet still lacked the consistency to make that a reliable shot. By December 2013, it was becoming increasingly clear that he was on the verge of a breakout season. DeMar DeRozan has changed. The Raptors can count on him to drain a jump shot from the wing, consistently. Three pointers were suddenly a viable option as this one-dimensional slasher transforms into a polished all-around player. He has finally grown into the impact player the city has been waiting for. Through four-plus seasons, DeRozan endured the departure of disgraced leaders Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay. The team is now his.
DeRozan has grown tired of mediocrity, and his desire to win has immediately translated into on-court production. Now with a reliable mid-range game and increased awareness on both ends of the floor, he has the ability to put up big numbers on a consistent basis. His confidence this season is sky high, as it should be; he’s averaging career highs with 21.8 PPG, 3.6 APG and 4.7 RPG. Aside from statistics, he has also demonstrated incredible leadership and the will to motivate his teammates. Very rarely has Toronto seen a player who can win a game and feel dissatisfied. DeRozan has made it clear that he will stop at nothing until the Toronto Raptors achieve legitimate success.
“[My family knows] how hard I’ve worked,” says DeRozan. “They may dream bigger than me some times, especially my mom and dad—just to grow up and have a mom and a dad. I had a lot of close friends that didn’t have both parents, and I always felt fortunate, as a kid, to have both of them. They did as much as they [could] to provide for me and make sure I had everything. As I got older, I always told myself I’d do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t have to do that for me any more. I think that’s where a lot of my determination comes from and my willingness to always push myself. As long as I can put a smile on their faces and make them happy, that makes me so happy.”
On January 30, 2014, he received validation for all his hard work. DeRozan was voted in by the coaches as a 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star reserve, joining established and blossoming stars to compete on the world stage. Becoming only the fourth Raptor to attain this honour (Vince Carter, Antonio Davis, Bosh), he’s cemented his place among the league’s very best.
“As as kid, I always watched the All-Star Weekend and wished I could be a part of it,” says DeRozan. “I was here [in Canada] with our last All Star—Chris Bosh—in my rookie year. For five years to go by and for me to be the next means a lot. To go out there and wear that Toronto jersey means a lot. I know how passionate our fans are and they’ve been backing us since I’ve been here.”
Toronto fans can only hope that this is the first of many All-Star appearances for DeRozan. Judging by his recent play and continued commitment to growth, he should be in All-Star conversation for years to come. He has shed the title of “raw prospect” and evolved into an elite guard for whom opposing teams must target. The city has grown with him, and in a synchronized effort, DeRozan and the Raptors are bringing exciting basketball back to Toronto.
The kid from Compton has worked hard to silence the doubters; DeMar DeRozan has finally made a name for himself in the NBA.