Last season was a splendid one for Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. In his fifth season, the sturdy veteran bumped his production to such an extent that he was named to the All-Star Game. This summer, he shocked any number of experts by making the USA team which will open its world championship defense today in Spain. DD made the final cut over a bunch of allegedly bigger names such as Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward.
As our country is not represented this time around (I’m looking forward to 2018, when Wiggins, Bennett, Thompson et al are ready to shake up the world rankings), I’m not emotionally invested in the results of the tournament. However, as a Raps fan, I’m pleasantly surprised by DeRozan’s achievement in making the American team, and hopeful he’ll see a lot of floor time. What intrigues me most about DD’s selection is what I think, or want to think, it says about his defensive skills. I would have thought the US coaches, in particular Tom Thobideau of the hyper-scrappy Chicago Bulls, wouldn’t accept any player who can’t defend his position. Yet they selected the notoriously blase defender James Harden, whom I suspect will start for them. Either Harden has transformed himself, or the Americans are content to swallow hard and hope his remarkable offensive skills will more than overcome his shabby defensive effort. There’s a third possibility – our man DD may be asked to step into a primarily defensive role, particularly late in games when the US is protecting a lead. He’s admirably suited for such a role, and not because he’s a lock-down man in coverage. I’d classify him as competent and no more. What DeMar doesn’t have, mercifully, is an ego. [20-second timeout: That statement should not be taken literally. Of course he has an ego. No one could achieve what he has already done in sports without one. But he can sublimate it for the greater good - not many players can.] DeMar has shown, particularly last season with the Raps, that if his team needs him to drive and kick, he’ll cheerfully do that. His assists PG grew from 2.5 to 4.0, as did his points (18.1 to 22.7), and he bumped his defensive rebounds and steals. In other words, his game improved in all dimensions.
I think DeMar is the closest thing the US team has to a glue guy (Rudy Gay made the team – is there such a thing as an anti-glue guy?). I expect DD to see more and more minutes as the tournament advances, and the US coaches become increasingly aware of his contributions at both ends of the floor. The FIBA experience should be a positive one for DeMar, and I believe he will return to the Raps as the team’s acknowledged quiet leader.