DeMar DeRozan Bounces Back
DeMar DeRozan averaged 19.4 points per game over the final 50 games of last season, prompting Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo to label the Raptors’ 22-year-old wing as the face of the franchise. It wasn’t long into this season before it looked like Colangelo might have overstated things.
While Andrea Bargnani and DeRozan were clearly the team’s two best players last season and Bargnani was taking another huge step forward in his development, DeRozan soon found himself in unfamiliar territory. It didn’t help that the floor spreading talents of Bargnani were lost early on to injury and DeRozan had become the focus of opposing defenses.
In his first 24 games this season, DeRozan’s scoring dipped to 14 points per game on an abysmal 37.7 percent shooting and the usually aggressive slasher was having trouble getting to the free throw line as opponents were playing him physically even before he got the ball. The Raptors never gave up on DeRozan despite his troubles.
“We are going to keep feeding him, keep trying to get his confidence back, keep putting the ball in his hands and have him make decisions,” said head coach Dwane Casey in early February. “It’s not going to be from a lack of having touches or plays run for him and finding alleys for him to get to the basket and opportunities to shoot the basketball.”
Coach Casey encouraged DeRozan to learn how to handle physical defenses by watching the play of veteran Leandro Barbosa and his teammates were more than willing to work with DeRozan in the limited practice time available.
“Gary Forbes has been my crash dummy,” said DeRozan. “Not to make it sound so, you know, but guys like that challenge me in practice and play defense. We really don’t call fouls in practice and just being overly aggressive playing defense with hand checking and little things like that have definitely helped me prepare for when I go out there and a lot of things on the offensive end feel a lot easier.”
The Raptors brutal start of 24 games in their first six weeks slowed slightly in February as the team enjoyed an extended home-stand. This opened up more practice time for DeRozan to work on his game and adjust to the new reality of being a focal point for opposition defenses. The impact of having a “crash-dummy” to practice on started to show.
“He is more relaxed and getting in a better rhythm,” said Casey early in March. “He is getting used to being played and being scouted for. I think he caught the league a little bit by surprise last year by scoring a lot of points. This year teams came in (ready) playing against Toronto, plus with the fact Andrea being out, he’s like the queen bee and being focused on. He is just getting used to that. One thing he is doing much better is getting a better balance between jump shots and attacking the basket and that’s getting him to the free throw line and getting him extra buckets, extra points.”
DeRozan rewarded Coach Casey’s patience over his last 25 games, boosting his scoring back to 19 points per game on a respectable 45 percent shooting, but more importantly getting to the free throw line career best six times per game and significantly improving his assist rate. Coach Casey wants to see more of the same from his young wing player.
“What he is doing now. Playing in rhythm, having a balance between going to the basket and making jump shots,” said Casey. “He was getting jump shots, he just wasn’t making them. Now those same shots, he has a better rhythm and they are going in. The main thing that helps him with his rhythm is getting the balance of going to the basket, getting to the free throw line and seeing the ball go through the hole is giving him more confidence.
“We are getting that consistency out of him. This is probably the most games we have had in a consistent way of getting to the free throw line, a good balance of shooting jump shots, free throws, getting to the basket. He is doing a much better job of being consistent and playing with a lot of confidence which is huge.”
In his first 24 games, DeRozan had 15 sub-par performances, but only four of his next 25 stand out as inconsistent efforts. DeRozan is back-on-track, but back-on-track is not enough for a future face-of-the franchise player, more is expected and more should be expected from a player with less than three years in the league.
“Just continue to get better,” said Casey. “I don’t want to nick-pick his game or anything like that, but he can work on his ball handling, definitely everyday focus on his defensive presence and defensive attention to detail such as where he is supposed to be, and learn the zone a little bit better. There are so many things, but in particular, being able to handle pick-and-rolls and being more efficient in iso-situations on the offensive end. That’s not a knock on DeMar, that’s just the next level of growth.
“Older players figure it out, they anticipate, they learn the league. I have heard older players say they know the coach’s tendencies, they are students of the game. Those things will come as he gets older. I think defensively, he will get better. Once he gets stronger, that is a huge thing for him going forward. He knows that and we have talked about it, he has to get in the weight room and get stronger, get a little more beef in his pants and that is going to help him tremendously at both ends of the floor.”
DeRozan has bounced back from a poor start, and with the increased focus from opposing defenses he has elevated his game from a season ago. This still isn’t enough to justify a face-of-the-franchise tag however, as there remains a lot of room for improvement in his game and nearly all of the onus is on DeRozan himself to take the next steps. As Coach Casey identifies, DeRozan needs to hit the weight room this summer and continue to improve at both ends of the floor. If he does what his coach asks, this bounce has the potential to keep going up.