Raptors need an improved defensive game from DeRozan


DeMar DeRozan has perfected his own offensive style, but for the Raptors to improve and take the next step, they need him to develop his defensive game.

There is no denying the offensive skill set that DeMar DeRozan possesses. He’s as good as an NBA player can get on offense without being able to shoot the three consistently. But to become a complete player and for the Raptors to make a jump in the East, DeMar will have to make improvements on the other side of the ball.

It’s sometimes hard to quantify good defensive ability, though it’s become easier in recent years with more developed advanced stats. The most popular stat is defensive rating, which is the measure of how many points a player allows per 100 possessions.

According to basketball reference, DeMar DeRozan allowed 110 points per 100 possessions in 2016-17. Putting that into context, the league leader in defensive rating was Andre Drummond, who allowed just 99.

Though his defensive rating is poor, DeMar makes up for it with an 113 offensive rating, meaning he’s still a plus-3 overall. But when the playoffs come around, both of these numbers get worse. His defensive rating goes up a point to 111 and his offense slips to just 104, which means he becomes a minus-7.

The best two-way players in the league can handle an offensive slump because they will make up for it on the defensive end and still be a net positive for their team. DeRozan can’t afford to slip on offense because he has not proven he can hang his hat on the defensive end.

DeRozan’s defense doesn’t pass the eye test

Sometimes you don’t need numbers to tell if a player is competent on the defensive end; it will be obvious just by watching the game. The Raptors quite often have to hide DeRozan on defense, playing him against a lesser offensive player. This can create matchup problems for the Raptors, forcing them to play guys out of position.

TORONTO, CANADA – MAY 7: DeMar DeRozan /

Just by watching the offensive strategy of their opponents, you can tell teams target DeRozan. Over and over again teams will run a play that forces him to switch off his man and on to one of their offensive playmakers.

Against a team like Cleveland, hiding DeRozan is a particularly hard thing to do. He does not have the skill to guard LeBron or Irving, nor the size to handle Thompson or Love, so he usually ends up on JR Smith. But the Cavs are a smart team. They will often run a high screen forcing DeMar to switch on to Irving or Lebron and then they can exploit the defensive mismatch.

Finally acknowledging there is a problem

DeRozan’s poor defensive ability is not something just being complained about by frustrated fans anymore. Other people connected to the organization are acknowledging it also. The Raptors’ home broadcasts on both TV and Radio have been noticeably more critical of his defense. It takes a lot to make play-by-play man Matt Devlin make critical comments of a Raptors’ player, especially an established star.

Even DeMar’s own coach has talked about his need to develop his defensive game. Before last season, Dwane Casey told USA Today he asked DeRozan to show his improved defense from the 2016 Rio Olympics with the Raptors.

"“How come you can go play for Mike Krzyzewski and play defense but you come here and we have to hide you defensively?”"

This is an interesting quote from Casey. He’s admitting the team actively tries to hide DeMar on defense while also acknowledging his improved ability and potential on the defensive end.

Will that potential become reality this season?