Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan missed a month and a half with a groin strain, but it only took a few moments back on the court for him to show why he is still this team’s All-Star. DeRozan followed up an easy 20 point 9-14 shooting performance against the 76ers with 25 points on 11-18 field goal attempts against the first-place Hawks two days later. DeRozan was one of the few Raptors that looked truly comfortable on the court and without his presence, Toronto could have easily lost both games instead of coming away with the split.
“He was playing like an old man,” Head Coach Dwane Casey explained. “The slow man’s game, not getting too high off the floor and that’s where he is in his career now. He is smart, he is under control and he brings a calming effect to our team. He has gone from a young man to a man.”
DeRozan averaged 30.6 minutes, 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in his first two games back. He took his season average 16 shots per game and the only noticeable discrepancy was the 4 trips to the free throw line in each game compared to his season average of 7.3 attempts.
The return couldn’t have come soon enough. Toronto is mired in a 4-6 slump over their past 10 games as they have been letting their opponents average 106 points. They need whatever calming influence DeRozan can provide.
The Raptors have been one of the NBA’s top offensive teams all season and their ability to put up points was masking a defensive slide in DeRozan’s absence. Then Toronto’s scoring dipped. DeRozan’s presence should at least help them put up more points.
“I think DeMar DeRozan has developed himself into one of the top offensive players in the league,” Casey told Pro Bball Report prior to DeRozan’s injury.
“Every year he has brought something new to the team. Our first year here (he was) more of a volume scorer, he had to get up so many shots to get his points. Then teams started double-teaming him and then he developed his passing. He is still developing a consistent three-point shot – that will come. I think the older you are, the easier that becomes, but he has brought something new offensively – another way to score to the table each and every year and it’s of his own doing.”
Starting last season, DeRozan finally figured out how to get to the free throw line in a big way and he was one of the top players at getting to the charity stripe prior to his injury this year.
“Shoulder hitting, creating contact, attacking, being aggressive, going to the basket, being physical and going to the rim, I think that’s another side of his offensive maturity,” Casey said. “I think that’s a big plus for him getting to the free throw line – him being the aggressor and not fading away and bailing the defense out.
“He has gotten physically stronger to be able to absorb contact in those situations. To be an elite player, you have to take that beating because they are going to send their best defenders against you each game and they are going to try to beat you up (by) sending a second defender or a defender and a half to you so physically you’ve got to be physically ready to absorb the contact.”
It hasn’t looked like DeRozan was wasting his time waiting for the medical staff to give him clearance to play as he rehabbed from his groin injury. His first two games back suggest DeRozan was working on his below the rim game in order to further develop his offensive arsenal. Toronto may have gotten back an even more efficient scorer than the one they were expecting.
The longer DeRozan was out of the Raptors lineup, the more obvious his absence became and that shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. Even with the amazing effort put in by Kyle Lowry that kept the team’s record solid in his absence, DeRozan is still the Raptors top offensive threat and All-Star.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
“Since I’ve been in the league I’ve been the type of guy that gets to the free throw line,” DeRozan said. “I take pride in getting to the free throw line and being top 10 in attempts. It’s just my style of play. It makes the game come easier if you get to the free throw line.”