Raptors Cage

DeMar DeRozan Is Finally Growing Up

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A young kid from Compton, California decides to enter the NBA draft, as he leaves after one year with the University of South California (USC). The Toronto Raptors have selected, DeMar DeRozan. He’s a young fella, only 19 years of age, but has tremendous upside, extremely athletic, but raw.

That kid we once knew has finally grown into a basketball player. He came from his rookie year, being a young role player, relied on to run the floor and guard his match-up, to being a player now relied on as a go to option, and core piece for this franchise.

Photo credit - USA TODAY Sports, Douglas Jones.
Photo credit – USA TODAY Sports, Douglas Jones.

His growth this season has been impressive, and has been a diamond in the rough for a team that has faced inconsistency, health issues, and failed expectations.

Start at the beginning of the season. DeMar signed an approximate 4 year, $38 million dollar deal on the first game of the 2012-2013 season against the Indiana Pacers. DeMar stepped into the spotlight this season, when the team labelled him with the pressures to be the go-to-guy. As the contract extension was signed, disapproval followed. Is DeMar overpaid? Is he going to be an all-star? He’s barely improved, why is being signed for so much money?

DeMar didn’t exactly open up the season against the Pacers with a bang, but maybe that was the excitement of a new contract, a new season, a new environment, and new expectations. He followed up that game with a magnificent November, with 8 out of 16 games scoring 20+ points, and 8 games with 5+ rebounds. DeMar also tied his career high of 37 points against the Utah Jazz in a terrific triple-overtime game, where DeMar had carried the team, until the final moments of the game where Utah was able to pull away.

December and January came around the corner, and these were months that DeMar has struggled with from the past. This wasn’t the case this season, as DeMar stayed consistent throughout the duration of the middle of the season, only having 4 single digit scoring games out of a possible 29. Not only was he contributing in the scoring department, he was getting to the boards on a consistent basis, averaging 4 rebounds in those two months, with 11 games of 5+ rebounds.

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports, Tom Szczerbowski.
Photo Credit – USA TODAY Sports, Tom Szczerbowski.

DeMar was not only scoring and hitting the glass, he was going back to his roots – something he lacked doing in the previous season –  which was attacking the rim. Up to this very point, DeMar is tied with Paul Pierce for 9th in the league in total free throw attempts, and 7th in total free throw makes (14th in free throw attempts per game, and tied for 9th in free throw makes per game). In the month of February, he had two career bests in terms of getting to the free throw line and making his free shots. DeMar was 100% from the line, going 14-14 against the Miami Heat on February 3rd. He than had another career game in the same month, going 14-15 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 27th.

DD also added a post game to his arsenal. DeMar comes down the court in transition, and you will see him turn his back to the basket, and look to take a player out on the block. The team isn’t hesitant to get him the ball on the low block, because he’s very effective when working the ‘back to the basket’ game. The turnaround jumpers, the shooting over top of defenders, and improved ball handling are reason for his current success.

He’s developed a court vision, and the ability to find the open man. He’s averaging a career high 2.7 assists (previous season’s averages were 2.0 assists, 1.8 assists, and 0.7 assists). That number isn’t exactly what you call a ‘play-maker’, but he’s definitely had a good number of games to prove his ability to find his teammates. From the eye, the game has come at a slower pace to him. He’s now become a student of the game (DeMar spent New Years Eve/Day studying tape), and looks at other ways to contribute. Demar has a career high in total assists with 178, and there are still 15 more games to play, whilst in the past 3 seasons, he’s respectively had totals of 128, 148, and 53. Kid Dynamite has already matched his career high assists of 9, twice, this season.

His Point per game average is up (17.5, previously at 16.7), his rebounds per game are up (4.1, before at 3.3), the free throw percentage has increased (approx. 84%, previously at 81%), and the field goal percentage is up from the previous season (43%, previously 42%). He’s ranked 22nd in the NBA in scoring, 18th in the league in minutes per game (7th in minutes played), and 22nd in field goals made (19th in field goals attempted). His career highs – other than for most rebounds in a game – have been matched or broken this season.

Derozan vs. Indiana
Photo Credit – USA TODAY Sports

DeMar also had a number of “Hollywood” moments this season. Compared to last season, DeMar DeRozan looked like a different player. During the 2011-2012 lockout shortened campaign, the spotlight moments were at a minimum, he looked disinterested, and quite frankly, cringe-worthy. But, he’s become a joy to watch in the big moments, against the big teams, and in big situations. DeMar’s 37 point game in a triple-overtime loss is an example. How about his game-winner at the buzzer against the Orlando Magic? A big time ‘posterization’ on Timofey Mozgov against the Denver Nuggets? Oh yeah, the amazing showcase he had against his idol Kobe Bryant, and his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers!

DeMar DeRozan has been a consistent performer for the Toronto Raptors this season. He’s a great person, and a  great character. He loves the city of Toronto, and the country of Canada. He embraces the fans, he’s a gym rat, spending his time in the off-season in the gym, putting up shots, or playing pick-up ball with some of the best players in the league. Not to mention, DeMar is being mentored by one of the league’s best, Gary Payton, who is very high on the potential of DeMar.

To answer the question of the questionnaires. Is he overpaid? Technically no, because his contract extension doesn’t kick in until the 2013-2014 NBA season, but, in my humble opinion, he isn’t. He improves at every aspect of the game, he grows every season, he’s become more than just your regular NBA scorer, and is a core piece of the Toronto Raptors. Over time, you hope that his defense will improve along with his rebounding, scoring, efficiency, and consistency, because once he’s able to get a grasp on the defensive end, that contract will not be an issue.

What about the all-star potential? It’s right there, waiting. His flashes of brilliance and his great games are teasers, samples even of what fans could hope to see from him down the road. Is he an all-star right now? I would say no, but he definitely has a chance to be an all-star, and even perennially. Improvements? Statistically wise, his numbers have made a significant jump, and watching him play, he has an improved handle, physically stronger, and plays with confidence.

Raptor fans, be happy with the improvement of this young man. With more time in the future, and experience along the way, he has the ability to become something truly special at the shooting guard position, not just for the Toronto Raptors, but for the NBA. As previous seasons record so, there’s no doubt DeMar will come with something new every season, but, this season has been a pleasure, having the ability to watch the growth from his rookie year, to this point, is a positive for the Toronto Raptors in the future.



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