DeMar DeRozan has finally started to take the word "potential" and is starting to change it to production for the Toronto Raptors. He has been one of few bright spots in an otherwise typical 3-8 start to the Raptors' season after another loss last night in Philadelphia.
The season for DeRozan started out well, signing an extension with the Raptors just prior to tipping off the season with the Indiana Pacers. On that night, DeRozan was not exactly playing at high level, while on the Internet he was taking tons of shots from all sides on how the Raptors were crazy to pay him $38-40 million dollars.
DeRozan, since that time, has been tearing it up for the Raptors. He is becoming their No. 1 scoring option as a result of Andrea Bargnani having his struggles and Kyle Lowry being out with an injury since the Raptors fourth game of the season, before returning last night in limited action.
If you dig beyond the numbers and to the core of who DeMar is as a young man, it is impossible not to root for him. Personally, I share a common bond with him that will never stop me from cheering for his success.
His motivation to make life better for his family—specifically his mother—is the main reason he came to the NBA early out of USC.
Great human being aside, this is—at the end of the day—a business. Last season, even the people that support and root for him would admit that was not his best.
As we sit 11 games into his fourth NBA season, the superstar talents and athletic ability that were raved about when he entered the NBA Draft are starting to come together.
In this stats-obsessed time we live in, sometimes we lose sight of the simple ones.
You score a lot of points. This is normally a good thing more times than it is not. DeRozan has scored 20 or more points in 6 of the Raptors' 11 games this season. His overall points-per-game is just a shade under 20, checking in at a 19.5 average per game.
DeMar’s field goal percentage had dipped to 42.2 percent last season, but he has bounced back to shoot 45.1 percent so far this year. Still off from his career best in his rookie year of 49.8 percent, but that was in a far different role than he has now and in far less minutes on the floor.
DeMar—despite not getting all the calls many might feel he deserves—is still getting to the line 5.8 times per game. The hope would be that that number increases as the season goes along. Also, his free throw percentage is a bit below his career average of 80 percent, checking in at just 78.1 percent early on in the season.
DeRozan has always been a fantastic finisher on the break. If the Raptors defense can improve and they can get out and run, this will also help DeRozan’s point totals to continue to rise. Never a great three-point shooter, DeRozan is at 30 percent from long-range which seems terrible but is actually a big improvement from his career percentage of just 21.7.
The consistency in performance is starting to show, and the Raptors can count on DeRozan getting his points night in and night out with few exceptions. Some nights, when things are going well, he is more efficient than others.
This is not one of those new advanced stats, and it can’t be measured by mere statistics. He has the motivation to succeed considering his coming into the NBA is to help his mother get better medical care. Who wouldn’t run through a wall for their own mother?
It is more than that though. In watching DeRozan since he arrived in Toronto he tends to be at his best when there is a bit of a chip on his shoulder. At his best, he plays on the floor with a fire and anger.
Sometimes that can boil over and cause him to lose focus. However, most nights it keeps him attacking the hoop and taking abuse regardless of whether or not calls come his way. If you ask Raptors’ fans they will tell you it is not more often.
While adding some weight to his frame, DeRozan is still slender to a degree. Regardless of that, he takes no prisoners when he attacks the hoop.
The first conversation I ever had with DeMar was him telling me that he didn’t just want to be a good player, but he wanted to be a great player.
You would hope that every player in the NBA felt that way. However, that simply isn’t the case, as far too many get satisfied by the money and lifestyle and lose their drive and ambition.
DeRozan has freely admitted in scrums I have been apart of and others I have not that he reads all the nasty stuff said about him. He takes all that and turns it into motivation for himself to achieve his goals.
The motivation has always been there, but we are now getting to see it translate to production on the floor.
The other motivator that has eluded DeRozan is a trip to the postseason. That goal is one that will require some help to achieve.
That said, DeRozan seems more engaged to be part of the leadership of the Toronto Raptors, and with a guy like Kyle Lowry in that room, he has some help in that regard.
Whenever you hear critics of DeRozan, one of the first points they make is to point out his lack of ball-handling skills.
He has improved much in this area. As a result DeRozan is becoming better at creating his own shot on occasion. He is developing his post-game as well.
In addition to better ball control and being able to use that to create some shots for himself, he has cut out a lot of ill advised attempts. DeRozan, especially last season without Andrea Bargnani, would look to force shots and try and fill the scoring void. It would often end in terrible results.
He has developed a turnaround jumper that is getting more and more consistent. You are starting to see brilliance at times in his game. DeRozan has talked about being more a student of the game. He has mentioned to others how he has watched a ton of tape this summer.
When you ask him for specifics on what he worked on, he will respond with "everything." Clearly though, some things got more attention, and his ball handling and shot selection were high on the list of priorities.
In terms of leaping ability, DeMar DeRozan can hang with almost anyone in the NBA. We see it often in the highlights on his dunks.
What we are starting to see now though is DeRozan taking that skill and using it to be more active on the glass. Let’s face it, a DeMar DeRozan dunk has a solid chance of making any highlight package. A great athletic rebound is left on the cutting room floor.
DeRozan has shown a significant bump up in his rebounding numbers this season. His career best on the offensive glass in a season is 75. This season in 11 games he has 11 rebounds on the offensive end. Extra possessions are always something any coach will take gladly.
Overall he is averaging 5.2 rebounds a game as of November 20th. If continued, that would be a big jump from his career best of 3.8 back in 2010-11. It is no secret the Raptors underperform in terms of rebounding with Andrea Bargnani. So, if other members of the Raptors starting cast can get some more boards it helps.
DeRozan is doing more in that regard this season.
Perhaps the best proof of DeMar’s improvement is some of the people that were loudly opposed to his contract extension, who might now be giving it a second look.
DeRozan has taken some solid strides in this first one-eighth of the NBA season. The improvements are noticeable to all, from the biggest basketball expert to the average fan.
Other things you are starting to see are improvements in passing. His individual defense is better, despite the fact that the Raptors' overall defense has not been as good as last season.
We live in a world of instant gratification and evaluation. DeMar DeRozan’s path might be slower than some people would have hoped or liked, but he is heading in the right direction after a season that left doubt.
The one thing you see in the Raptors' struggles is how much this young man wants to win. It is written on his face after every loss. The Raptors made a commitment and an investment in a young man that—above all else—cares. He is starting to show what he is capable of, and we are talking more about what DeRozan is doing instead of what he could do.
The road for every player is unique and some never turn that potential into production. DeRozan is taking the first major steps in that process, turning all those skills that showed he had potential into weapons he is using to produce.