Through the first 9 games of the 2016-17 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors are 7-2, tied for third in the Eastern Conference. A large reason for that has been the tremendous play of DeMar DeRozan. After re-signing on a 5 year/$139 million-plus deal with the Raps, DeRozan has been lighting the opposition on fire. The man who claims ‘I am Toronto’, has been nothing short of spectacular. While it’s still early in the season DeMar has been putting up historical MVP-type numbers with wins to back him. He’s bound to plateau, however if DeRozan can maintain his work ethic, while displaying his ever-improving game there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a part of the discussion for the 2016-17 NBA MVP come April.
DeRozan’s relentless work ethic has resulted in the progression of his game in every season. He’s started out the season with numbers putting him on par with the likes of Michael Jordan (former MVP), Kobe Bryant (former MVP), and Kevin Durant (former MVP). With the inclusion of DeRozan they serve as the only four players in NBA history to score 30+ points through their first four games. He’s also one of only 2 players (along with that Jordan guy) to score 30+ through the first five games. Even more impressive is the monumental improvement in DeRozan’s numbers. From 2013-14 to 2015-16 DeRozan averaged 22.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1 SPG on 43% shooting. Some players sign big contracts and go into cruise control from there. Not DeMar DeRozan. Through the first 9 games of the 2016-17 season, he’s averaging 34 PPG (league leader), 4.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, and 1.4 SPG on 53% field goal shooting and 81% free throw shooting. Even more encouraging is that DeRozan’s only 27 and entering the prime of his career.
Growth and Progression
Digging deeper into DeRozan’s performance this season shows us his improvement further – particularly from an efficiency perspective.
Thus far, an impressive stat is DeRozan’s usage rate. The players with the highest usage rates don’t usually have the best numbers given the nature of the statistic. For example, Treveon Graham of the Charlotte Hornets has a usage rate of 4.4%, fifth last in the league. With that being said, Graham posts a true shooting percentage of 62.5%, identical to his effective field goal percentage. DeRozan, on the other hand, has a usage rate of 37.5%, which is third in the league. He boasts a true shooting percentage of 59.4% and an effective field goal percentage of 53.4%. The point is that while Graham has more efficient percentages, he isn’t nearly as effective as DeRozan. A players usage rate suggests how much of their team’s offensive is run through them.
On that note, as DeRozan’s shooting percentages have gone up, so has his usage rate. It’s easy to remember analysts, executives and others around the league calling DeRozan a volume shooter (someone that shoots too much at an inefficient rate). This year is a different story. DeRozan’s field goal percentage has improved radically from 44.6% to 53%. As evidenced by this game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, DeRozan has become even more reliable with the long 2’s and has even added some new moves to this arsenal:
DeRozan is 4th in the league in Player Efficiency Rating with a PER of 31.54. He also sits at 3.5 win shares, putting him at 5th in the league. These are telling stats that have never been kind to DeRozan, but also are important because they ultimately do a better job of determining the value of a player.
As many Raptors fans are aware, DeRozan’s work ethic is second to none. He is always the first in the gym and the last out, continuously trying to better himself and every aspect of his game. His teammates and the coaching staff constantly praise his gym rat-like mentality. Dwane Casey constantly talks about how DeRozan cares for the progress and development of the team and not just himself. He always has played with a chip on his shoulder and uses critics to drive him. A perfect example is when Sports Illustrated ranked him no. 46 in the top 100 NBA players for the 2016-17 season. DeRozan has indefinitely cast some doubt as to whether he should be ranked that low.
As DeRozan constantly gets better, the question put forward is how high his ceiling is. DeRozan is strange in the sense that there really was no one like him before, considering how athletic he is. He’s one of the most athletic players in the NBA and that’s what helped his draft stock. However, as many prospects learn, you cannot rely on athleticism when playing in the NBA. With that being said, DeRozan realized this, constantly working out and watching tapes of his favourite player and one of the greatest players of all time: Kobe Bryant.
An MVP-caliber player knows no limits to how high he can go. This is where DeRozan’s work ethic really contributes how good he’ll eventually become. With a mindset like DeRozan, there’s always going to be room for improvement. The guy is an amazing mid-range shooter and is among the best in the league at getting to the line. However, he knows his 3 point shot still needs work. He also must become a better distributor if he really wants to help the Raptors accomplish the ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship. The fact that he’s only 27 and only getting better is a scary thought for the rest of the league. It’s a testament to how bad he wants to win.