DeMar DeRozan Can’t Take The Pressure?
Before the current NBA season even started, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and team president/GM Bryan Colangelo identified Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan as the faces-of-the-franchise going forward. Any success this season would hinge on the rapid development of these two young players, though not a lot of success was anticipated.
“The team will definitely go off how Andrea and I are playing,” DeRozan told HOOPSWORLD earlier this season. “We have to take that responsibility and take on that challenge every night.”
That is a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old player who has yet to star in the league to put on himself, but early on the challenge was being met. Bargnani roared out of the gate to lead his team in scoring and take an unexpected role on defense while DeRozan featured a three-point shot minted over the extended off season that nicely expanded his game. Over the first six contests, DeRozan averaged 18.5 points on 47.6 percent shooting and nailed 10 of his 16 three-point attempts.
While Bargnani continued producing at an All-Star level until sidelined by a calf injury, DeRozan suddenly couldn’t find the range. His overall shooting percentage dropped to 37.7 percent and three-pointers became a rarity at 3-29 over the past 18 games. It has been hard for even the casual fan to not notice the change. Coach Casey however knows what DeRozan needs to do.
“I was looking at his three-point shooting,” said Casey. I think he shot 52 threes last year in 82 games and this year he has shot 44 already and my thing is continue to attack, continue that mode to get to the rim and body hunt once he gets in there to get to the free throw line. He shot four free throws (per game) last year and he is shooting right at that this year but he needs to get there more. Continue to work on his shot, continue to develop to get better is the best advice I can give him. Just play, don’t be out there thinking, play basketball, have fun. If he has a shot, take it, don’t think about it. I think that’s one of the best remedies for an athletic player, an instinctive player like him can have.”
The lockout-shortened season has had its impact. Games are closer together and there hasn’t been much time for the normally hard-working DeRozan to practice his timing or tweak his shot between games.
“It’s just off,” said DeRozan about his shooting. “Everybody can have a bad game. It’s going to fall. You just can’t think about it. There are a lot of other players in the league – even great shooters – who are struggling. I don’t know why. You can blame it on the lockout maybe. It just is what it is right now. My shot is going to fall and when it does, a lot of things are going to change.
“I try as much as possible to get shots up, to come in and get my shot going, but everything just goes so fast right now with the season (its hard) to get a chance to practice. You just have to find a rhythm and run with it.”
DeRozan and the Raptors have played 24 games in 40 days, 15 of them on the road, so there has been little time to fix problems between contests early in the season.
DeRozan came into the NBA as a slasher and being able to drive to the basket is still a core part of his game. It was his ability to get into the paint that enabled him to double his rookie scoring average last season. DeRozan knows he needs to go back to his strengths.
“Whenever I am open, I intend to take (the three-pointer), but now I am trying to be more aggressive and not settle for as many jump shots,” said DeRozan. “I am trying to be more aggressive and get to the foul line.”
Following Coach Casey’s advice is the best route towards getting DeRozan’s offensive game back on track, but without Bargnani in the line-up, the better defensive teams have been packing the paint and leaving him little room to operate. These tough defenses have frustrated DeRozan and kept him off the free throw line.
“There are certain opportunities for him to drive,” said Casey. “He has to see them. We have showed him situations where he has a chance to drive, but without Andrea the paint is tight. Against Utah and Phoenix, you could drive a Mack truck down there because they have to honor Andrea and he gives you a lot, but there are situations we put DeMar in that he does have alleys.
“He is going to get the respect of officials and I tell the officials all the time that we are playing hard and he just has to keep doing it until he gets the respect of the officials and he has to create contact. You have to go in and body hunt. You can’t avoid contact in order to get the officials to call it.”
When Andrea briefly returned, DeRozan did manage a big game in Utah of 17 points and eight rebounds on 6-11 shooting, but those offensive opportunities vanished again against Denver, Atlanta, and Boston without Bargnani to spread the floor.
As much more was expected from DeRozan this season, the inconsistent results have begun to raise questions about his self-confidence and his future prospects, but he continues to receive strong support from Coach Casey and the Raptors.
“I am sure if you are not shooting the ball well that’s a human instinct to lose a little confidence,” said Casey. “He has the most touches on the team. We run a lot of our plays – second only to Andrea – go to him. 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 and 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. That’s who he is and that’s what he has to continue to do and continue to improve in that area. The only way to get your confidence is to see the ball go through the hole and keep working on it every day and he is doing that.
“It’s like a hitter. You go through those slumps and you just have to keep swinging.”
Coach Casey continues to give DeRozan his best chance to be successful and he is offering some solid advice on how to deal with the criticism a slump will produce.
“I don’t look at it as pressure,” said DeRozan. “It is just a challenge. You face challenges every day, team-wise and individual-wise and it’s something that you just have to overcome.
“He talks to me all the time. Don’t feed off what people are saying or what the media may say, just keep working. Everybody has their ups and downs in this league. You can look at any player, everybody has their struggles and it’s just something you have to overcome and when I overcome it, it is definitely something that I can look back on and laugh about it.”
The Wizards new Head coach Randy Wittman has rotation full of players still on their rookie contracts and he offers some sound advice about their evaluation.
“You have to look at it at the end and that’s where you judge,” said Wittman. “You can’t judge these guys on 20 games, especially when we have got nine guys on rookie contracts that are going to have their ups and downs. You form an opinion today that is probably going to change tomorrow.”
There is no question DeRozan has hit a slump, and without Bargnani on the floor to spread the defense, it has been difficult for this young instinctive slasher to adjust his game and break out of it on his own. The hot start shooting from range and his own high personal expectations for this season probably haven’t helped DeRozan deal with the stress of being a face-of-franchise during a tough stretch of games either.
Coaches know, however, that you don’t judge your highly-rated prospects over a 20-game stretch. Casey is going to keep running plays through DeRozan, and in all likelihood DeRozan hasn’t forgotten how to shoot the basketball or drive to the hoop. A lighter schedule in February that features a seven game home stand will give DeRozan a chance to get his game back on track. In a season with low expectations on a rebuilding team, the Raptors have time to find out what players like DeRozan, who are still on their rookie contracts, can do.
Have a question or comment about the Toronto Raptors? Join Stephen Brotherston for his weekly NBA Chat covering the Toronto Raptors and all things NBA every Monday at 3pm ET.