The Raptors' strong finish to 2012 was in big part thanks to two of the young players they have been counting on in Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan.
The fact that the Raptors have lost two games and Davis and DeRozan have not played well is likely not a surprise. The one thing you seek from all young players is that magical word consistency. We are starting to see that more from both on a regular basis.
During the Raptors recent stretch of winning eight of nine games (between December 14th—January 2nd), both DeRozan and Davis were in the starting lineup and played key roles in that. Here is a look at some numbers for them during that stretch.
DeRozan: 19.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.5 steals, 45.3% FG.
Davis: 11.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 blocks, 54.8% FG.
If we rewind back a year, both DeRozan and Davis struggled starting out the lockout shortened NBA season of 2011-12. It made the long term future of both a serious debate among Raptors supporters and media on if they were long term answers.
It should be pointed out that the lack of ability to work with the Raptors new coaching staff was likely a big factor in their regression to start last season. Players during the lockout were unable to have any contact with their organizations during the labor stoppage. This for a team that was changing their identity and philosophy with a new staff was a big factor for Toronto.
Dwane Casey as the players have come to learn is a demanding coach that expects a lot, especially on the defensive end of the floor. This has never been a strength for DeRozan and even today is not what he hangs his hat on. Davis seemed to be the type of player that needs to be pushed to get effort from him. His success under Casey only seems to validate that suggestion.
DeRozan is rapidly becoming an iron man of sorts for the Raptors. He is averaging 37 minutes per game, which is 17th in the league entering play on January 8, 2013. He rarely has been injured throughout his four years in the NBA and is someone the Raptors can count on being able to log minutes night in and night out. When you add that to an improving efficiency, this is a valuable asset to have for any team in the NBA to be able to count on.
The last step is obviously him improving his play on the defensive end of the floor. DeRozan was taken to school by one of the NBA’s elite in Kevin Durant recently.
Kevin Durant is doing that to almost everyone though. Where DeRozan truly struggles defensively is when he is forced to chase down players that are constantly in motion. When he is forced to chase players around, it often leads to him getting left behind. He also needs to improve on his close-outs and always be in position to contest shooters in the corner.
Ed needs to continue to develop his offensive skill, which has come a long way this season. If you gave him a jumper like Amir Johnson has and the range that he has developed, it would go a long way for Ed. The Raptors offense would need to be reshaped somewhat if Davis is going to be your long term answer at the power forward position. He is not going to ever develop into a stretch-four like Andrea Bargnani.
You would also like him to contest more shots and eventually being paired with Jonas Valanciunas going forward could give the Raptors something they have lacked for years. It also would give Jonas a much more willing and competent help defender playing alongside him.
Davis and DeRozan both are not perfect or finished products. That said, they have shown the promise that people felt for them entering last season that they failed to deliver on.
The Raptors showed faith in this happening before the season ever started with both. They picked up the final year option on Ed Davis’ rookie contract. That was a minor and expected act of faith. The extension they gave DeMar DeRozan in the $40 million dollar range for four years was a major act of faith.
DeRozan in some ways had earned that faith through his constant work ethic. This is still on display as noted in an article by Doug Smith in the Toronto Star on how DeMar DeRozan brought in 2013. He was home early studying for the Raptors’ next matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
That worked out pretty well, as DeRozan shot 11 of 17 and score 24 points in a win in the Raptors first game of 2013. This is a far cry from his last two games, in which he has been 7 of 27 for just 25 points, which both resulted in losses.
Davis has also struggled in the last two games with a double-double performance of 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Sacramento Kings. That was overshadowed by the inability of Davis or anyone in a Raptors’ uniform to stop DeMarcus Cousins. He was nearly invisible in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder with just four points and three rebounds.
What it says, both in winning and losing, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis have become big pieces of that. Dwane Casey admitted in his post game remarks after a recent game I covered, that it will be tough to remove Ed Davis from the Raptors’ starting lineup. This is a far cry from what he said earlier in the year, about Andrea Bargnani being their guy come hell or high water, which I also had a front row seat for.
Speaking of which, the Raptors still have no timetable for Andrea Bargnani to return to the lineup and the same goes for Jonas Valanciunas, both of whom rehabbing from injury.
Davis and DeRozan through in my own observations are pretty close both on and off the floor. It seems that based on their improvement this season, that is going to continue for at least a few more years to come in Toronto.