In Toronto, the Raptors have been selling DeMar DeRozan as a future star since they drafted him 9th overall in 2009 to a somewhat skeptical local fan base. DeRozan has been popular enough, but future star always seemed like something of a stretch, at least until now. In his 5th NBA season, DeRozan’s confidence is high and his preseason performance has the fan base convinced the 24-year-old wing’s game is headed to another level.
“I (feel like a veteran), this is my fifth year,” DeRozan said. “I watch a lot of film. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I am my biggest critic and always wonder why I can’t do this and if I can’t do (something), I have worked extremely hard on it.
“(My confidence) is as high as it has ever been. I just don’t feel like anybody can guard me. I don’t really worry about anything on the offensive end. I know I can score when I want to. I can create when I want to or get to the free throw line. That is just (from) the work that I put in every day, the preparation before the game and everything.”
Known as a hard worker, DeRozan took his training to another level this summer. He looked at the things veteran star shooting guards have done in the past to elevate their game and asked himself, why not me?
“I definitely took my weight training to another level this summer,” DeRozan said. “I (looked at) Kobe (Bryant) and how he approaches the game – how strong he is to be down there in the post. I looked at a lot of older players like when (Michael) Jordan came back, he really took advantage of the post. I told myself, why wait until I am older to try to master that. Why can’t I do that now? I don’t see a lot of 2 guards doing that.”
Throughout the preseason, DeRozan was dominate in the paint, taking opposing shooting guards into the post and using his natural size and improved strength to seemingly score at will. It was a new offensive look for DeRozan that defenses definitely were not prepared for.
“It has been fun for me because the defender has to worry about what I am going to do,” DeRozan said. “Before I would worry about the defender – how he was going to guard me. I think it just comes with watching film, learning different counters and small stuff like that.”
“It is all about your balance, picking your spots, understanding how your defender is playing you and using him as a counter.”
DeRozan credits Rudy Gay for much of his improved offensive effectiveness going back to last season. Because of his size, DeRozan was often covered by bigger small forwards before Gay was traded to Toronto. The Raptors own small forwards haven’t always been scoring threats and while the 6’6 DeRozan has a physical advantage over many shooting guards, that same advantage doesn’t translate if a mobile forward is guarding him.
“If you look back at before Rudy (Gay) came, (teams) were putting a lot of 3s on me,” DeRozan said. “I was going against a lot of 3s like Metta World Peace, Luol Deng, it could be anybody any given night. To take that away because Rudy is out there on the floor gives me a huge advantage.”
Some credit also goes to DeRozan’s confidence with his jump shot. He has been working on improving his range over the past two seasons and DeRozan now believes he can take three-pointers within the flow of the game without being a detriment to his team. That confidence will help open up driving opportunities for DeRozan and keep opposing players from sagging off him as much as they have in the past.
“(My three-point shot) is nothing I have to worry about,” DeRozan said. “If I am going to shoot it, I’ll shoot it. There will be nights it will be on and there will be nights it will be off, but it is all about my confidence and I am not going to let no one take away from my confidence no matter what. No matter if I go 1-20 or whatever it may be. I will just stay positive and keep pushing.”
The improvements to DeRozan’s game over the summer haven’t just been on the offensive end of the court. Head Casey Dwane Casey stresses defense and DeRozan’s improvement on that end of the court can be summed up by – he’s not being noticed for screwing up any more. DeRozan has actually been making some nice defensive plays and that is a huge change from his first couple of seasons in the league when opposing guards would take turns embarrassing him as they blew by.
“This is my fifth year, if you don’t learn anything after being in the league for that long then you are not going to last,” DeRozan said. “I am definitely a student of (the game) and I am trying to get better every day. We are going to have nights when we are not going to be able to score the basketball, but if we play … at the defensive end every night, we have a chance no matter what. We have been drilling (defense) every single day in practice and shoot-around. Casey has definitely been on us – and all the coaches have been on us – to emphasize (defense) and its paying off.”
In the home opener, the Boston Celtics started forward Jeff Green at shooting guard in respect of their earlier preseason experiences with DeRozan. It worked at first. DeRozan shot 1-8 in the first half, but that wasn’t a lineup the Celtics could sustain as Green isn’t a guard and the Raptors headed to the locker room up 49-37 at the half. In the second half, DeRozan shot 4-8 for 11 points as things returned to normal for him.
“We were rusty,” DeRozan said after the game.
No, DeRozan was respected by Head Coach Brad Stevens who knew after watching DeRozan through 2 preseason games that his shooting guards couldn’t stop him from scoring.
The Gay DeRozan combination is going to cause headaches for other coaches as this season progresses. The easy answer for controlling DeRozan in the past of just putting your small forward on him is not going to work anymore. If anything, Gay is the more dangerous scorer and he will take advantage of shooting guards or less mobile forwards if given the chance.
By adding strength in the summer, DeRozan will be able to take his game to another level this season as more teams will have to guard him straight up with their shooting guard and his natural height advantage plus added strength will make him a load in the post for these typically smaller players. This once suspect future star is on the verge of convincing everyone that former GM Bryan Colangelo was right about him all along.