Sports Basketball

Raptors' DeMar DeRozan honoured to be NBA All-Star starter

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors was named a starter for the NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun)

DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors was named a starter for the NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - 

Recognition of DeMar DeRozan's work ethic and constant improvement has been slow to come in many corners of professional basketball.

Thursday night marked a turning point in that regard.

For the first time in his career, DeRozan was voted a starter to the NBA all-star game.

DeRozan joined Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, Chicago's Jimmy Butler, Cleveland's LeBron James and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo as Eastern Conference starters for the 2017 All-Star game.

Starting for the West will be Golden State's Steph Curry and Kevin Durant along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis.

“It feels great,” DeRozan said as he took the time on an off day to meet with the media in the team hotel. “To just be voted is definitely a great honour. Last couple of years I got to see my teammate Kyle (Lowry) get voted in and the excitement I had for him to be voted in was great. Now for me to be voted in is awesome.”

Lowry didn’t pull off the trifecta with three in a row but there’s little doubt in most minds that he will be among the reserves added when the coaches weigh in a week from now to fill out the rosters. DeRozan for one says it’s a no-brainer.

“Yeah, without a doubt, without a doubt. No question,” DeRozan said repeating himself a couple of more times for emphasis.

DeRozan has been selected to the game twice before, both last season in his adopted hometown of Toronto and two years earlier in New Orleans. A hip injury two years ago interrupted his string of visits to the annual gathering of the game's best.

Both times he did go previously he was a coach's selection as a reserve.

The process changed a little this year. Instead of the fans voting in the starters entirely, the selection process was weighted with 50% of the vote going to the public, 25% to the players and 25% to select media members.

DeRozan and Boston's Isaiah Thomas actually wound up tied in the voting but the fan vote, in which DeRozan finished ahead of Thomas, got him the nod.

So take a bow Raptors nation. You did your job. And know that DeRozan is very appreciative.

“That’s real special,” DeRozan said. “Just to see the push ... I remember the last couple of days I was watching on Twitter and just to see hockey guys, all the support from the Prime Minister, different ways of voting, strategies from the fans in Canada and the fans all over ... it was awesome.”

Every year DeRozan comes back a better player than he was the year before and this season may be the most significant change yet.

DeRozan heads into play Friday as the second leading scorer in the East averaging 28.2 a night to the 28.7 Boston’s Thomas has put up.

DeRozan's 414 two-point baskets are first by a large margin in the NBA and his 369 free throw attempts rank him sixth in the NBA and second in the East.

His points per night are a career high as are his 5.4 rebounds a game. By year’s end he will likely be averaging a career high in assists as well. As of now he’s at 3.9 a night with the four he averaged a year ago his career high.

“I always try to figure out what else can happen from being an all-star to being a multiple all-star to winning a gold medal to making it to a conference final, just so many things,” DeRozan said. “This is definitely something new that I am definitely appreciative of. I appreciate the fans, the player votes, the coaches and media and everyone who had a part in this.”

Lowry certainly seemed to be enjoying his friend and brother reaching these new heights.

“That's how I'll be watch my brother as a STARTER in the 2016-17 all-star game!!!” Lowry messaged via Instagram with a picture of one of the hundreds of baskets the career-long Raptor has scored with Lowry looking on in the foreground.

The honour for DeRozan is just another in a series that have made the last six months a bit of a whirlwind for the Raptors' leading scorer.

In addition to Thursday's honour there has been that gold medal in Rio de Janeiro with the U.S. Olympic team, a max contract from the Raptors just before that and the trip to the Eastern Conference Finals before that.

“I honestly haven’t even slowed down to think about it,” he said. “I think this summer will be my first summer in my career where once the season is over I can really sit back and really realize it then. But right now I’m full speed ahead in the moment and just try to absorb it and get better.”

It's the only way he knows.