It is often said that a team can’t win in the playoffs without a superstar. A player that other teams and the referees respect enough that they can get to the free throw line when defenses tighten down and buckets become harder to come by. It might seem premature, but DeMar DeRozan is becoming that guy for the Toronto Raptors in his very first trip to the postseason.
“This man (DeRozan) is becoming a superstar in front of everyone’s eyes,” Kyle Lowry said. “He is doing it on the defensive end and the offensive end.”
Lowry knows what he is talking about. After back-to-back 30 point games and 24 points in Game Four of the series against the Nets, DeRozan is eighth in playoff scoring at 24.5 points per game. More impressive, however, in a physical defensive series were points are at a premium and defenses are shutting down scorers, DeRozan is a Playoffs’ best 12 free throws per game. DeRozan leads Dwight Howard (11.8), LeBron James (10.7) and Damian Lillard (10) in free throw attempts as the only players averaging in double figures at getting to the line this postseason.
DeRozan is ready to be the guy the Raptors turn to when necessary at the end of games.
“I think so, but the crazy thing about our team is it could be anybody,” DeRozan said. “It could be Kyle Lowry, it could be Greivis, it could be JV, it could be Amir, that’s the crazy thing about our team. We have trust in every single person on this team to carry us to a victory especially in the last five minutes, but sometimes they just look to me – more times than (not), but we put that trust factor in every single guy who steps out there on that floor.”
A lot of DeRozan’s confidence has come from years of hard work that paid off in an All-Star appearance this season. After some first game jitters in the playoffs, the 24-year-old realized he could do the same things in the postseason that he’d been doing all year.
“(Belief) is a lot of it,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “He has confidence. He is growing. He has worked and earned that confidence. He has made himself an All-Star, that’s a confidence builder and confidence is a huge issue in this league. He went through Game One and he experienced that and got that out of the way and from that he grew and gained confidence.”
However, Coach Casey isn’t quite ready to lay the superstar label on his young wing just yet. Casey sees a lot of room for growth in DeRozan’s game and it would be hard to argue with him.
“We are not there yet and I don’t think that they think that we are there yet at that point,” Casey said. “It is great to see DeMar grow. There is still room for more growth on his part and he knows it on the defensive end and places in the offensive area. From where he came from he has grown leaps and bounds and what the beautiful thing is there is a lot more there with him.”
On the individual side, leading the Playoffs at getting to the free throw line says DeRozan has arrived, but the ultimate test of any superstar has to be, does he make the players around him better. Is DeRozan an individual star or a team player who uses his skills to help his team win?
“I think he has already (made a name for himself),” Casey said. “Making the All-Star team kind of validated who he is, where he has come (from) and what he’s earned. Now it’s about the team, more so about what he contributes to the team than about him as an individual. DeMar has never been a guy that thinks about himself first. The only thing I see and feel and hear from DeMar is about what we can do, what the team can do and I think that is his approach throughout this series.”
“With Kyle, I knew I had to pick up the offense early and come out aggressively,” DeRozan said after Game Four. “I knew they were going to change up and start trying to get the ball out of my hands. I missed a couple of shots, but I didn’t let that take me out of the game. I knew I could do some things at the defensive end, so that’s what I did, especially with me on Joe (Johnson). Just try to help my team on the defensive end.”
The Raptors dug in over the last six minutes of Game Four to hold the Nets without a field goal and DeRozan was a huge part of that.
For comparison, in the Raptors original superstar Vince Carter’s first playoff run at the age of 23, he averaged 19.3 points on 30 percent shooting and went to the free throw line 10.3 times per game in three straight losses to the Knicks. These are different teams from different eras, but the 24-year-old DeRozan’s averages of 24.5 points on 36 percent shooting with 12 free throw attempts per game and a record of 2 wins and 2 loses looks pretty good.
Coach Casey is right. There is lot more to come from DeRozan – possibly even before this playoff series is over and he is not a finished product, but that only serves to strengthen Lowry’s assessment of where DeRozan is in his progress. The Raptors have a superstar developing right in front of their eyes in his very first playoff series.
Lucky Loonie Or Are The Raptors Just Getting Better?
You can never have too much luck on your side and a couple of months ago, Toronto Raptors fan Vernon Chang, also known as MoVernie, hid a Lucky Loonie inside of the Barclays Center just in case his beloved Raptors had to face the Nets in the playoffs.