The Raptors DeMar DeRozan was drafted into the NBA in 2009 by Toronto as a high-flying slasher. A player with the potential to play above the rim and produce highlight reel dunks. While he was recognized for his skill with invites to the NBA Slam Dunk competition in 2010 and 2011, that didn’t mean he was recognized as a star or even a future star in the NBA. His game would have to evolve a long ways before that would happen.
Playing on bad teams early in his career meant more often than not DeRozan wasn’t going to be rewarded with free throws when opponents aggressively defended him at the rim. As a rookie especially, the young wing was knocked down without a call more often than not. The strange thing was it didn’t seem to discourage him. DeRozan took his beatings as a sign that he needed to work harder.
“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.”
DeRozan only got to the free throw line 2.5 times per game as a rookie and he had the bruises to prove he was trying to get there more often.
The next three seasons were better, but consistent at about 5 free throw attempts per game. DeRozan needed to work on his handle, outside shooting and earning the required respect of the league and its referees. It might not be fair, but it’s harder to earn that respect on bad teams, fortunately DeRozan developed a reputation as a player that worked hard and kept coming. He really wanted to be a top 10 free throw shooter in the NBA and he was learning more every season.
“You just learn how to play the game,” DeRozan said. “Picking and choosing your spots how to get to the basket and being aggressive, staying aggressive all of the time.”
It wasn’t until Toronto traded Rudy Gay in early December last season that the lights came on and DeRozan got his chance to become that top 10 free throw shooter. Up until the Gay trade, DeRozan was only getting to the line 5.8 times per game in 2013-14, but with Gay gone and the Raptors in dire need of someone to step up, DeRozan turned it up several notches overnight.
In the first game Gay didn’t play in for Toronto, DeRozan got to the free throw line 11 times against the Lakers on the road and he averaged 8.6 free throw attempts for the rest of the season finishing with a top 10 average of 8 attempts per game.
There should be little doubt that the reason DeRozan earned his first All-Star nod was because he was getting to the line like an All-Star. It didn’t hurt that his team was unexpectedly winning as well, but opponents notice when a player is suddenly killing them from the charity stripe. DeRozan had arrived.
So far this year, seeing DeRozan at the line has become an even more frequent occurrence. Through his first six games, DeRozan is averaging 9.7 free throw attempts per game, good for the third best rate in the Association.
Through hard work, effort and increasing confidence in his abilities, DeRozan has evolved since he arrived in Toronto as the skinny wing opponents loved to knock on his butt and his efforts have been rewarded. Everyone on the top 10 list for free throw attempts was an All-Star last year and the Raptors wing doesn’t appear likely to give up his spot any time soon.
“It felt great,” DeRozan said. “Especially to play at this level with these great players that you can learn so much from and just to take this same energy and the same experience back. It can’t do nothing but help you.”
How these two players earn their living couldn’t be more different. However, DeRozan’s real advantage over Thompson comes not from scoring, but rather the “swiss-army-knife” package of skills that he has been developing.