To notice that a three-time All-Star has elevated his game to another level takes some doing, but for the past three weeks, the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan has been playing like a bona fide superstar.
The East’s second leading scorer in each of the past two seasons, DeRozan was plugging along at 23.7 points per game and the Raptors were a respectable 18-8, then things changed. The Raptors went on a 9-2 run as one of the NBA’s best mid-range players unexpectedly found the range from beyond the arc and in the process set two new personal bests for points in a game and set a new franchise record with 52 points against the (now rival) Bucks.
Now DeRozan’s jump shot was never broken and he wasn’t having a bad year, winning Eastern Conference player of the week on November 20th. It’s just that in his first eight NBA seasons he only took 9.2 percent of his shots from three and he only hit on 28.1 percent of them. Up until mid-December of this year nothing had changed. He was shooting 24.6 percent from three and had gone oh-for (0-15) in the nine immediately prior games.
Then, against Brooklyn, on December 15th, DeRozan hit a three. No big deal, but five nights later in Charlotte he goes 3-4 from deep and on the back-to-back in Philadelphia DeRozan sets a new personal best with 6 three-balls on 9 attempts as he scored a new personal best 45 points.
For the week, DeRozan shot 13-20 from three and averaged 34 points. Not surprisingly, DeRozan was the NBA Eastern Conference player of the week for the second time this season.
After a couple of post-Christmas turkeys in Dallas and OKC, DeRozan hit 5 three-balls twice. Over his last 11 games games DeRozan has been averaging 50.7 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range.
In the process, Toronto took all four games in home and away sets from the more popular 76ers and Bucks with DeRozan averaging 36.5 points. A quiet in your face ESPN, who rather overtly, would like to see Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo be the story.
DeRozan remains an early favorite to be voted back to the All-Star Game this season, but just representing a much maligned East in NBA’s big mid-season showcase isn’t enough anymore. The player who has increased his scoring by 3+ points in each of the past two seasons wants to show he can do more and his team needs it if they are to start getting respect as the Eastern Conference Finals contender that they were two seasons ago and should be this year again.
The Raptors need a superstar. A player that demands attention from ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and other points south of the border as only that level of player will command the respect of the NBA (and their on court officials) come playoff time.
DeRozan is showing signs his game commands that level of respect. In Toronto’s blow out win over the Bucks in Milwaukee, DeRozan grabbed a long offensive rebound in the corner, turned and fired a three knowing he’d hit nothing but net. He believes his new found three-point range is here to stay and if it is, how do you you stop him now?
The question is, can he keep it up? Not ordinary All-Star level respect, superstar level respect.
Over the next 30 days the Raptors will face the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Celtics at the Air Canada Centre. By rights he shouldn’t have to, but DeRozan probably has to lead his team to some wins against this group if he’s going to get anything more than polite courtesy (another, yes you’re right, we missed that call at the end of the game that cost you the win) from the NBA and it’s entrenched box score watching media.
(Another 50+ win season and second best scorer in the East isn’t likely to do it.)
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson