The Toronto Raptors’ starting shooting guard, DeMar DeRozan, enters his fifth season with expectations for his performance higher than they have ever been. He has proven to be a player who provides his coach with that most-sought-after quality, consistency, and while he has been an admirable pro thus far, DeMar will need to spike his play for his team to win. In short, his statistics will need to improve about 10% across the board, and that’s a tall order. Can he do it?
The starting lineup for this season will look strikingly different that last. Whatever one may think of Rudy Gay (and you will learn my thoughts in due time), he’s a dramatically better player than last year’s Game 1 small forward, Dominic McGuire, who didn’t make it to Christmas before being deservedly waived. Andrea Bargnani’s star-crossed Raps career is over, so for the first time ever for DD, he won’t be tipping off with the Designated Disappointment. I’ve pencilled in Amir Johnson as the starter at power forward. Why am I harping about everyone but DeMar in his profile? Because DD will need to find his sea legs quickly with his new running mates if the Raps are to get off to a decent start, and make the playoffs. Last season commenced with 4 wins in 23 games, and you’d have to be the Michael Jordan Bulls to make the postseason after that.
DD’s report card for last season read: “Another solid offensive season, with noticeable improvement in taking the ball to the hoop. However, DeMar’s lack of success from 3-point range hampers his offense. His defensive play is lacklustre. GRADE – B” Long-time Raps fans will know these negatives also apply to each of his previous seasons, so consistency isn’t always to be desired.
A shooting guard doesn’t handle the ball, or lead the offense, the way his backcourt counterpart does at the point. However, he must contribute something to the ball-handling chores, largely by being the safety valve when the point is double-teamed. DD ranks no better than adequate as an emergency ball handler. He also must be able to fight through screens near the basket in order to get open on pick-&-pop plays, and this skill is one in which DD has been criticized for lack of determination. I don’t know about that, but I do know that his jump-shooting range is severely limited past about 19 feet. He is fortunate to have been selected by the Raps, because he likely would not be in the NBA with his woeful 3-point shooting (23.9% career) had he been drafted by a strong team like San Antonio or the Lakers. DeMar doesn’t scare anybody as a rebounder, which is why he’s probably less versatile than Terrence Ross may prove to be. But there’s the rub – DD isn’t a star, but he’s a top journeyman. There are no whispers about attitude problems; in fact, he appears to be a friend to everyone who joins the Raps. DD averages more minutes per game than anyone else on the team, and is never hurt. He is a legitimate threat to attack the basket, and makes opponents pay for fouling him during his frequent forays to the hoop. His 355 made free throws on 427 attempts ranked #7 and #8 in the NBA last season.
In April of last season, DD hoisted 18 3-balls, and buried 9 of them. If he can maintain that capability from Game 1, the Raps will be markedly improved. Forcing opposing defenses to get up in DD’s face will improve our spacing substantially, with Rudy and JV likely to be the biggest beneficiaries. (It should be noted that he made 9 in 50 attempts during January, February and March, so let’s not assume that he’s somehow “fixed” for good.)
DD is the player most mentioned in trade discussions, and that’s understandable. I hope he’s still around for a long time, but I wouldn’t make book on it. Should the Raps struggle this season, I think he’ll be gone by the trade deadline. There aren’t many untouchables on the Raps (how about JV…and that’s it), and GM Masai Ujiri has no players to whom his judgement is tied. DD’s contract is very reasonable, at $9.5M for each of the next 4 years. [20-second timeout: I don’t understand why this deal is criticized as an overpayment, and another example of Bryan Colangelo’s poor judgement. I think it’s an excellent deal for both team and player, and won’t be an impediment to a trade should Ujiri decide the current squad needs to be blown up, starting with DD. Landry Fields’ contract, on the other hand, deserves all the dung thrown at it, and Rudy Gay’s is not much better.]
I like DeMar as a Raptor very much. He’s an easy guy to underestimate, because he’s not flashy. But he’s a proven pro, and someone whose skills and personality would be exceedingly hard to replace.