Here's the beauty of building through the draft: DeMar DeRozan has already gotten four solid seasons of experience, and now he's entering his prime at just 24 years old on less than $10 million a year.
Rudy Gay was making $17 million this year and $19 million the next, while averaging fewer points on more shots per game.
It was pretty obvious to the new bossman, Masai Ujiri, who held more value to the franchise. So Ujiri moved Gay to Sacramento on Sunday, less than a year after former GM Bryan Colangelo brought him in.
For now, the stage is DeRozan's to show the world just exactly what he's capable of. He's currently in the midst of his best NBA season, as he continues climbing the developmental ladder at a slow but steady pace.
A consensus top-10 recruit out of high school, DeRozan's size and athleticism for the wing, along with a polished mid-range jumper, made him a coveted prospect from day one. But a few weaknesses in his game have always kept him from reaching that glamorous tier of stardom.
In his one-and-done year at USC, DeRozan posed as a system scorer who played within the offense. He didn't jump off the screen—DeRozan hit the 20-point mark four times, averaged 13.9 points and took 10.5 shots a game.
Since then, DeRozan has adapted a more hands-on approach by evolving into a go-to guy from one who scored opportunistically. He's shown the ability to create his own shot on the perimeter, get to the rack and even take over games from time to time.
But from 2010 to 2012, DeRozan seemed a bit stuck in the mud. He regressed following his breakout sophomore year, seeing his scoring average drop a half-point and his field-goal percentage plummet to 42 percent.
He bounced back last season, though still really hadn't broken through that barrier. And part of that has had to do with a few limitations that's kept him from becoming a complete all-around wing.
As a scorer, DeRozan has never been able to maximize his potential output thanks to a glaring hole in his game. Though his jumper has always been a weapon, it never had much range. And for a wing nowadays, showing up without a three-ball is like a boxer who can't throw his hook.
In the past, DeRozan has relied on making a whole lot of long two-pointers—the lowest-percentage shot on the board.
Take a look at all the shots he took in 2012-13 that were just inside the arc:
By expanding his range just a few feet, he can get shots with the same level of difficulty, only they're worth 50 percent more. But more importantly, it's about making himself a threat from more spots on the floor.
Because he's lacked range, DeRozan has had to pass up on what should be easier scoring opportunities for tougher ones.
In the example below, DeRozan gets the screen and dribble hand off for what looks like a wide-open three-point look. But instead, he chooses to pass on an open shot from 25 feet for a contested one closer to the rim.
You won't find many successful scoring guards or forwards (if any) in the league who can't threaten defenses from behind the arc. The fact that he's been able to average 15.5 points on only .3 three-point-makes a game for his career is pretty wild as it is.
However, this year looks like it could be different. He's come out firing in 2013-14, having made 25 threes in 19 games, after hitting only 34 total in 82 games last season:
|DeMar DeRozan||Games Played||Three-Pointers Made||Three-Pointers Attempted||Three-Point Percentage||Three-Pointers Made per Game|
So far, DeRozan is averaging a career-high 21.6 points per game while shooting a very respectable percentage from long-range. If DeRozan's shooting numbers hold true, this could be a major step in the right direction.
For a scorer like DeRozan to all of a sudden add a three-ball—it's like an RBI-doubles hitter who finally learns to hit for power. Expect the production to keep piling up as the threes keep falling.
One-Dimensional to Multidimensional
In over four years as an NBA pro, DeRozan has recorded just one double-double.
Come on, really? That doesn't even sound possible.
DeRozan has always been a bit too one-dimensional. There's no denying his ability to score, but to increase his overall value, DeRozan will have to do more than just put up points for a mediocre team.
In 32 minutes a game, he sports career averages of 3.5 boards and 1.8 assists. He's never made much of an impact on the glass, while passing was never considered one of his offensive strengths.
At 6'7'' with tremendous athletic and leaping ability, the Raptors should want to see DeRozan become a little more active around the rim without the ball. And now that he's established his threat as a lethal scorer, he should look to use it to create easier chances for teammates.
Adding range might help complete DeRozan as a scorer, but not as an overall player. Improving as a rebounder and playmaker should increase his value to the team.
Role Moving Forward
At this point, it's tough to know what the Raptors' lineup is going to look like over the next two years. But based on his contract and the way he's currently playing, it would be hard to imagine DeRozan not being in the team's upcoming plans.
Until anything else changes, DeRozan is the clear-cut No. 1 option at a time when his skill set is most advanced. He's averaging a career-high in scoring, three-point shooting and free-throw attempts per game.
And though it's unlikely his spike in production will be enough for Toronto to make a serious run, he has the chance to establish himself as a cornerstone in this lineup moving forward.
He'll still need to contribute in other areas across the board to increase his individual value. But if DeRozan wants to be recognized as one of the deadlier offensive players around, this is his year to make it happen.