DeMar DeRozan is currently in the midst of his best season as a professional basketball player. Quietly, the former Trojan has stepped up to the proverbial plate in his fifth year with the Toronto Raptors, and has developed into the outright go-to guy on a team that has longed for a leader on the court for years.
Despite the career-high numbers and the All-Star selection, DeRozan’s value as one of the legitimate top shooting guards in the league continues to be overlooked. DeRozan isn’t hiding his true talent and abilities. In fact, it is the opposite, as his stock as one of the NBA’s best shooting guards is kept secret by a small-market–in NBA standards–and by a team in the East not named the Heat or the Pacers. The truth is that DeRozan’s improvement and worth simply falls through the cracks in a league driven by large markets and commercialized franchises.
Regardless of how or why DeRozan’s game is underrated, this does not seem to be in the mind of the man himself. DeRozan is a “team-first” type of player, which was ever so present in his recent chat with former three-time NBA champion Rick Fox for the American Express Off Court segment on NBA.com. When discussing his first time selection as an NBA All-Star this past February, DeRozan deflected the individual merits and credited the help and work of his teammates in Toronto for getting him the invitation to New Orleans. He also made the following remarks to Stephen Brotherston about his teammates earlier this season: “As long as we are winning, we got 15 faces as long as we are winning. I’m not into (being) an individual, whatever I do I have to thank my team for it as well–for my success–because we are all in it together.”
However, let’s breakdown the individual improvements that have accelerated DeRozan’s game. He accredits his commitment to his overall game in the offseason for the rise in his numbers. Offensively, he is playing with more confidence than ever, which has continued to accumulate with the more experience he has as a pro. For example, from February 25 to March 2, DeRozan scored 30-plus points in each contest for a three-game stretch. In January, he went off against Dallas for a career-high 40 points.
With the trade of Rudy Gay this past December to the Sacramento Kings, DeRozan had the opportunity to step in to be the outright go-to guy for the Raptors. He grabbed that chance by the horns and has not disappointed. As the young leader of the squad up north, DeRozan maintains his focus to set the offensive tone from the opening tip to the sound of the final buzzer. Setting the offensive tone for DeRozan typically means using his athleticism to generate energy on the floor, creating for his teammates to get easy buckets or displaying aggressiveness in order to take advantage of the defense.
Let’s take a moment to break down DeRozan’s superb numbers this season. First, he is averaging a career-high in scoring (22.7), which is second-best among shooting guards–behind James Harden–and ninth overall in the NBA. He is also averaging a career-high in minutes per game (38.0), which is again second-highest among shooting guards–behind James Harden–and fourth-highest overall in the NBA.
In his NBA.com interview with Rick Fox, DeRozan discussed how he has learned through his experience in the league how important it is to get to the free throw line. Therefore, part of his game has been developed to use his aggressiveness to attack the rim and try to get opponents into the penalty at a faster rate. You can see this focus come into fruition this season, as he only trails James Harden–which isn’t surprising since Harden mostly lives at the charity stripe–among the league’s shooting guards for free throw attempts per game (7.8).