Can DeMar DeRozan ever do anything to prove he is worthy of the $38-40 million dollar contract he signed 30 minutes prior to the start of the season?
Based on the general reaction right after this contract was signed, you would say no. It was basically a pile-on-the-Raptors event in which they were getting hammered from all sides. Bryan Colangelo was once one of the more respected general managers in the NBA. He is a two-time Executive of the Year, once each with the Suns and Raptors.
That seems long-forgotten now, as he is remembered for getting nothing for Chris Bosh, signing Hedo Turkoglu and the many other mistakes he has made in the minds of fans and critics. The DeMar DeRozan contract is widely viewed as his latest mistake.
Can DeMar do anything to change the minds of the naysayers, and make his GM look good for having faith in him?
He just might be able to do that, but it will take a lot of work on his part. And whatever you think of him or his contract, he's always been widely known as a hard worker.
I would like to address something else before we get to what DeMar needs to do: While on the surface this contract looks bad at first glance, it may not be as awful as it seems.
Consider the money that has been thrown around this offseason at restricted free agents. It only takes one crazy team to make an offer to one player to screw another team.
You only need to look at what happened with the New York Knicks as an example. They lost Landry Fields to the Raptors on a crazy contract (which should concern Raptor fans much more than the one DeMar was given). There was a reason of course: to land Steve Nash, which as things have played out might have been a massive mistake. There was also the Jeremy Lin contract that now sees him with the Houston Rockets instead of the Knicks.
All of this will not matter, if DeMar DeRozan can simply live up to this contract. The things he needs to do are fairly obvious, at least for the fans that have watched him for his entire career in Toronto.
Let’s start with some of the things he's already seemed to improve on from last season to this one. DeRozan’s ball handling has improved a lot from last season, always a point used against him by his critics. He also is consistently getting to the line, which is important to increase his scoring average.
He has been a decent free-throw shooter, with a 75.6 percentage at the line for his career. Some modest improvement there, combined with more trips to the line, could improve his scoring average.
Now, for the still-remaining concerns. He is a terrible three-point shooter, both for his position and in general. In his career so far, he averages just 21.3 percent from beyond the arc.
There was an excellent illustration of this problem in their last game against Minnesota.
Andre Kirlenko was guarding DeRozan, but when DeMar stood outside of the three-point line he was left wide-open. There is zero respect from other teams; they know DeRozan can't make the three. It allows a team to have a help defender anytime DeRozan stays parked outside of the three-point line.
Now, if you think DeMar needs to become Ray Allen, you're expecting too much. Honestly, he doesn’t need to be anything close to that. What he needs to do is just show teams that if you choose to leave him open he can make a three-point shot every so often. Nothing more is required
Also, he needs to use his athletic ability for other aspects of his game, beyond his offense. Things like his rebounding and defense need to improve.
He has averaged just 3.4 rebounds in his career, which given his obvious athletic skills is very disappointing.
And given those gifts, it is also disappointing that he hasn't been able to defend better. He has averaged just 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks over his career. Ultimately, those numbers should be higher, and his overall ability to guard his position should be better than its current level.
Dwane Casey should be able to help DeRozan grow in this area and hide his weaknesses as he develops.
Another thing that people want to see is not only DeMar improve his own game, but make his fellow Raptors better. Kyle Lowry will be the one on which the bulk of this responsibility falls. Still, DeRozan has to show the ability to keep the ball moving and improve on his playmaking skills. He has only averaged 1.5 assists in his career, a number which is just too low.
If we see growth in all of these areas, DeRozan not only will live up to that contract, he may make it look like a bargain by the time it expires.
It is a lot to ask of this young man. Yet the Raptors have made an investment here and are banking on getting results. They have paid a high price, based primarily on his potential.
It comes down to something really simple. Do you believe in DeMar DeRozan or not? The Raptors have made their position on this topic clear. He is still young, and to say that change and growth is impossible would be wrong.
I always go back to the first conversation I had with DeMar DeRozan. He said to me at the time, he wanted to be not just good, but great. That attitude is the foundation for him living up to his potential.
His bank account may change come next season, but greatness is a goal he's still working hard to achieve.
This was one of many topics discussed on my weekly podcast . So, if you would like to hear more on this topic and all things Raptors, please give it a listen. This Week in Raptorland is a weekly podcast on Mondays on all things Raptors, in addition to my work here for Bleacher Report.