It’s Complicated

Trying to make sense of DeMar DeRozan’s old school style & approach to Basketball…

For years, along with backcourt buddy and co-star of Toronto’s most popular BROMANCE, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan has been arguably Toronto’s best player and leader.  Even anointed with that distinction, criticism around his overall effectiveness and ability to lead the Raptors to Eastern Conference supremacy never goes away.

In 2009, as a freshman at USC, he was billed as a raw offensive talent with superior athleticism — Getting a read on DeRozan’s ceiling was difficult to say the least .  Chosen ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors, he was entering foreign and unchartered waters. He was not Vince Carter, but many were expecting him to re-create the magic Vince conjured up, back when he actually liked dunking.

As much as Raptor fans wanted to witness DeRozan develop into a superstar talent, one couldn’t blame them if they opted instead for a more modest ceiling, given the track record of past superstars drafted by Canada’s lone NBA franchise.  A superstar in Toronto often ended with broken hearts and Mourning no-shows…

Fast forwarding 8 years…


Sports Illustrated recently named DeRozan the 36th best player in the league as part of their 2017-2018 rankings (Lowry was #19).  Claiming the 36th spot represented a 10-spot jump forward from last year.  Still, DeRozan took to twitter to voice his assessment of the ranking…

Finding respect SOUTH of the 49th parallel has been anything but easy for #10.  Even in Toronto, there are those who question his ceiling and ability to lead a team.

Coming in at No. 35 was Bucks SF Khris Middleton.

Are you f***ing serious??? Khris Middleton is better than DeMar DeRozan? That’s some White House fake news. Others coming in just ahead of DeRozan were: Hassan Whiteside, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Al Horford.  How do all those players deserve a spot above a perennial top 5 scoring guard in the NBA?

DeRozan has transformed himself into one of the most elite scorers in the NBA. Finishing top 5 in scoring amongst guards in 3 of the last 4 seasons, it’s hard to argue the contrary (in an injury shortened 2014-2015 season that saw him miss 22 games, DeRozan finished 9th in scoring).  As a rookie, he couldn’t shoot.  He fixed that.  His younger years saw him rely solely on his athleticism to generate offence —  as recently as this off-season, Kevin Durant praised DeMar for his offensive arsenal and having the best footwork in the league.  DeRozan has never been shy to admit faults in his game, then vowing to correct them in his next breath…vows he’s continued to stick to.

He’s remained loyal and committed to the team that drafted him.  He signed the biggest deal in franchise history when he could’ve easily bolted like the stars before him — Carter, McGrady, Bosh — DeMar wanted to win in Toronto and him signing roughly 12 minutes into free agency proves that.

…So why the complicated relationship?

As smooth and swift as he makes it look, DeRozan’s game is outdated, much like the Raptors offensive philosophy, but in this instance the former informs the latter.

A ball dominant shooting guard who excels in half-court isolation sets.  His “bread and butter” being attempting shots offering the lowest expected return and value — LONG MID-RANGE SHOTS! Some may say he’s improved as a passer, and while that may be the case, he still falls well short of where he needs to be.  Never once has he averaged more than 4.0 APG in a season.  The league is no longer based on what makes DeRozan the most comfortable — it still has a place in the league, but to rely on it exclusively is playing with fire.  The last time I checked, Raptors aren’t dragons, and DeMar isn’t a Targaryen and thus playing with fire will result in serious burns (AND THERE IT IS – the standard GoT reference).

Embracing a new offensive philosophy that focuses less on isolation basketball and more on ball movement will test DeRozan’s resolve.  Developing consistent trust in his teammates to perform when opposing teams key on him will pay dividends — CJ Miles should help spread the floor.  Stormin’ Norman Powell continues to look like the steal of the 2015 draft — the likes of Ibaka, JV, and Co. all need to buy in to a new way of doing things.  All of this should help the coaching staff transform an offence that ranked last in the NBA last year in assists-per-game (18.5).  Any hopes of playoff success rests on their collective ability to modernize their outdated offensive formula.

Circling back to DeRozan’s situation. On top of embracing offensive change and improving as a distributor and facilitator he must develop a consistent three-point shot and commit to a respectable effort on defence.  Casey has already said he will consider giving DeRozan more minutes at point-guard this season in an attempt to kickstart a revamped offence.  With a usage rate of almost 35% last year (~10% higher than Lowry, who was 2nd on the Raptors in that category), it would make sense to experiment with him at the 1 so long as he understands the distribution responsibilities that come with it.  The defensive front is where I have the least sympathy for DeRozan.  He simply has to be better as a point of attack defender.  This goes beyond the issues around Jonas being targeted in screen and roll scenarios.  Too often, DeRozan gets torched by inferior competition — perhaps an underlying reason for his #36 ranking. Kobe is his idol — Kobe played defence — learn from your idol.

Ultimately, DeRozan’s legacy will be measured on playoff success and performance.  He, and by extension, his team has struggled in games 83 and beyond.  Even their wins have been mostly ugly.  Last regular season, DeRozan had offensive and defensive ratings of 113 & 110 respectively (per 100 possessions).  As a team, the ratings were 112 & 107 (per 100).  In the playoffs, DeRozan’s offensive rating dropped to 104, and his defensive rating rose to 111.  As a team, they slowed to an offensive rating of 101, while maintaining the same defensive rating.  Numbers don’t lie — something has to change for the Raptors to have sustained success in the post-season.  Ball movement. Ball movement. Ball movement.  AM I GETTING THROUGH TO ANYONE?!?

The Raptors have never been better.  DeRozan might very well be the greatest statistical Raptor of all-time — Vince is the Raptor’s GOAT when you factor in overall impact, excitement, etc.  Yet even in admitting that the Raptors organization has never seen days as bright as they presently are, they are at a major organizational crossroads.  And if you ask me, what road they head down will depend heavily on the evolutionary path chosen by the NBA’s most polarizing player — Mr. “I am Toronto” DeMar DeRozan.

Vince started the fire — he pissed on it  — Chris Bosh threw a few logs on it — he too then decided to piss on it.

DeRozan now presides over the fire…you’ve “held it in” for this long…please don’t pee on the fire.  Feed the fire DeMar.


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