Raptors' DeRozan proving his doubters wrong
Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan listens on the bench ion the dying moments of the game as a defensive play is set against the Denver Nuggets in Toronto on Oct. 31, 2016. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
If there is one thing DeMar DeRozan loves — besides simply playing basketball — it is proving his legion of critics wrong. He doesn’t do it maliciously and won’t rub mistakes in their faces, but every time he makes someone think twice about something they wrote or said about him, DeRozan smiles.
Because the lists generate clicks, the biggest North American sports sites love to rank NBA players. DeRozan, a two-time all-star and a top-10 scorer last season, was listed in most somewhere between the 40-50th best player in the NBA. DeRozan has his flaws, he has defended poorly throughout his career and is not the most efficient scorer because he rarely shoots three-pointers, but that still seemed low.
Before the season started, DeRozan let it be known that he didn’t agree and once the ball was thrown up, he has gone about proving it on the court.
DeRozan is off to the best start of his career and the best by any Raptor, eclipsing 30 points in each of the squad’s first three games. His 35-point average was tied for third in the league entering play Tuesday, behind only the incredible exploits of Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis. He has shot 54% from the field, 10% above his career average, is rebounding better and has stepped up defensively.
So, is it sustainable?
“I really don’t think about it … I’m not thinking about if I miss a couple of shots in a row or this, just really trying to go out there and compete as hard as I can and give us the best opportunity to win,” DeRozan said after practice on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s game at Washington.
DeRozan’s field goal percentage will slip, the law of averages cannot be denied, but one thing that hints at least a bit of sustainability is the fact that his free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempts) is way under his career norms (.295 vs. .404 career) so once he finds a better balance, he will still produce, even with fewer shots going in, because he will be at the line more often.
The Raptors entered Tuesday ranked last in assists-per-game and assist percentage (number of field goals assisted) and passes-per-game, yet, still rank near the top in offensive efficiency. Head coach Dwane Casey believes you should take advantage of what players do best, not try to make a group something it is not, which means let DeRozan — and Kyle Lowry — do their thing, attack.
“Teams are switching (slow-footed big men) on him, and he’s done a great job of exploiting that. But also, with that, too, our guys have spaced much better. We’ve done a better job of spacing, getting out of his way, creating an opportunity for him,” Casey said.
“(His shot-making) has allowed us to get our defence back and get set. Because it is such a, it’s not a ball movement, it’s more of a one-on-one iso–type situation. Which is, he’s one of the best in the league at doing that.”
Keep in mind that Toronto’s assist numbers would look better if the players would start nailing three-pointers. The team has made only 3.7 per game and shot just 20% from beyond the arc, worst, and 29th of 30 teams, respectively. Patrick Patterson could have tied Friday’s game against Cleveland by nailing an open trey in the dying seconds and others have misfired as well.
“We haven’t gotten going offensively like we know we (can),” DeRozan said.
“Pat hasn’t been Pat yet, it’s going to come. Kyle hasn’t been himself knocking down his shots, T-Ross … once that comes, it’s going to make it easier when we drive-and-kick, guys knocking down their shots at a high rate.”
Casey trusts DeRozan to make the right decisions with the ball and gives him the green light if only one defender is in front of him.
“We can put in cute offences that go to 15 passes but at the end of the day, we want the ball in our best players’ hands and to do what he does and go to his strengths,” Casey said.
“DeMar is smart enough to know that when they commit multiple bodies to him, to kick it out. If they’re playing him one on one, he has to play to his strength which I’ll take all day.”
NO TRICK, NO TREAT
Patterson was dressed up as a member of Cameo (look them up if you don’t know who they are) post-game on Monday, but said he didn’t go out for Halloween.
“It’s like 11:30 at night (by the time he got home). Families are going to sleep. And you see a tall black man knocking on the door at night time in a leather jacket and a red cup?” Patterson said. “You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what to think. It wouldn’t be good.”
On a more serious note, Patterson said his mentality doesn’t change when he is on a hot shooting streak, or when he is in a slump.
“It’s not difficult. Encouragement from my teammates, encouragement from my coaching staff just telling me to keep shooting the ball no matter what. That’s what I’m going to do, no matter how many times I miss. It feels good. It’s just not going in,” he said.
“I can’t let it affect any other part of my game: defensively, rebounding, whatever it may be, I can’t let my shooting affect that part of my game.”
AROUND THE RIM
Centre Lucas Nogueira was on the court shooting, but still limping. Rookie Jakob Poeltl’s solid play has relegated Nogueira to third-string status when he is able to return to the lineup. DeRozan and Patterson praised Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, saying the veterans are already comfortable playing with them, confident they won’t make too many mistakes – and that they will quickly learn from them … Casey said DeRozan’s ability to attack the paint and get to the free throw line makes him a lot like James Harden. “They emulate each other. One’s left-handed and one has a beard (the other is DeRozan),” Casey said … Out of context Casey quote of the day: “I’m not a total moron, we’ve got to play to our strength.”