Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan may have been named to his first All-Star Game in 2013-14, but head coach Dwane Casey needs him to actually play at that level if the Raps are going to win their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
The 24-year-old finished the 94-87 Game 1 home loss with 14 points on just 3-of-13 shooting from the field (23.1 percent). He missed all four of his three-point attempts and had three turnovers versus only one assist.
DeRozan was able to salvage the night to some extent by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line a team-high eight times (making all eight). However, his lackluster defense allowed Joe Johnson to penetrate to the paint repeatedly for easy floaters. Brooklyn’s shooting guard notched 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting as a result.
Big games from Kyle Lowry (22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds), Jonas Valanciunas (17 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks) and Greivis Vasquez (18 points, eight assists and four rebounds off the bench) kept Toronto in the game, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
“DeMar didn’t have the best of games,” Lowry said after the loss, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). “He’ll bounce back though for sure.”
While the Raptors certainly need their lone All-Star to perform at a high level, DeRozan doesn’t need to morph into the second coming of LeBron James. He merely needs to play to his strengths and establish himself as a steady complement to his teammates. If he fails to do so, Toronto is looking at a disappointing first-round playoff exit.
Attack, Attack, Attack
DeRozan led all Raptors players in scoring at 22.7 points per game during the regular season. Toronto needs its first-time All-Star to score in bunches, which is why his docile Game 1 performance earned a bit of a reprimand from the coaching staff.
“The coaches got on me for being too passive [on Saturday],” DeRozan said, per Eric Koreen of Toronto’s National Post.
Simply put, the shooting guard out of USC is not a reliable outside shooter. He missed all four his long-range attempts on Saturday and shot just 30.5 percent from downtown on the season. He’s far more effective and dangerous when attacking the rim and making plays happen on offense.
By contrast, he shot just 41.7 percent in catch-and-shoot situations, per NBA.com.
The Raptors' young star is clearly at his best when driving to bucket, and while his forte is scoring the rock, his penetration opens up passing lanes when defenses collapse to the paint. That was one reason why he averaged four assists per game this season.
Of his approach for the second game of the series, Koreen wrote, "DeRozan spoke repeatedly of needing to be more aggressive in Tuesday’s Game 2. In this case, aggressiveness translates to either making an immediate pass or an immediate move to the rim in the face of Brooklyn’s defensive traps."
Good things happen for Toronto when DeRozan is making quick decisions. He can find open teammates, finish at the rim with consistency and earn trips to the charity stripe (while getting opponents in foul trouble).
Casey needs to see more of that from his youngster moving forward.
Keep on Shooting
DeRozan is what he is: a volume scorer who requires plenty of shot attempts to get into a rhythm. He’s far from an efficient scorer—shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from three—but even his misses aren’t a death sentence for Toronto’s offense.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. During the regular season, the Raptors ranked 11th in the NBA by hauling in 11.4 offensive rebounds per contest, per ESPN. The biggest takeaway stemming from that statistic, though, is the 1,202 second-chance points they scored—fifth-most in the Association, according to NBA.com.
The Raptors’ ability to score on second-chance efforts was trumped by just four teams during the year, making it one of the team’s underappreciated strengths.
So while DeRozan does shoot a low percentage from the floor relative to other All-Star-caliber talents, his misses can actually be turned into a positive via offensive rebounding.
Because of this, he simply can’t get flustered when shots aren’t falling. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t make the most ideal play when it’s presented to him—like dishing the ball off to open teammates—but he needs to remember that his teammates will willingly pick up the slack if he’s having an off shooting night.
Brooklyn is one of the worst teams on the defensive glass, as it grabs just 29.4 per game on average—ranking it 28th. Only the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat were worse in that category, which is something the Raptors need to take advantage of in this series.
As long as DeRozan doesn’t shy away from the moment, attacks the basket with fervor and lets the ball fly when the opportunity presents itself, there’s no reason the Raps can’t come back and win this series.
Losing the opener at home was a tough pill to swallow, but their lone All-Star had a poor performance and they only lost by seven. Moral victories don’t mean much in a playoff setting, but there’s certainly still time for DeRozan and Co. to flip their fortunes.