At some point this season, or soon after, the Toronto Raptors are going to have to make a decision on DeMar DeRozan.
Not because his contract is up, no, he's got another year on his current deal before the Raps look towards things like qualifying offers. But because, right now, he's not that good of a shooting guard.
That's really it in a nutshell isn't it?
This isn't meant to be a "pick on DeRozan" piece, but the reality is regardless of what stats you look at, DeMar isn't exactly a player a new franchise would grab and say "this guy is the one I want as my franchise building block at the 2 going forward."
That's not to say he doesn't have value, but for a club that needs to start assembling some top-level talent, we're talking about the Raptors here of course, and getting back into the playoff hunt, this has to be a major concern.
Especially when you pair that statement with the fact that of the top prospects likely available to the Raptors this year in the draft, the most enticing ones may indeed be shooting guards. Toronto has the fifth-worst winning percentage in the league, and it's extremely hard to see them "climbing" any higher than that. Factor in teams like New Jersey, Detroit, and maybe even Golden State post Monta trade, and there's certainly no guarantee a top 5 pick is forthcoming.
And really, that shouldn't matter in some ways.
Bryan Colangelo doesn't know, he could land Anthony Davis in the end but that doesn't change the fact that even with Davis, the shooting guard spot will remain a position of weakness if DeRozan continues to play the way he has this season.
Yes, he's been better in the second half, but he's still on the season shooting just a tad over 40 per cent from the field, we're not even going to discuss his long-range acumen, and sports a PER and various other advanced metrics that shout "D League" more than they do "future All-Star."
But does this mean the Raptors, if DeMar's play continues at its inconsistent best, should go in another direction?
It's not an easy decision for management, akin to a game of poker where the best players know when to hold onto the cards they have, using them to make a run, and when to cut bait, fold, and wait until the next hand is dealt.
The Raptors have held onto prospects for too long in the past, thinking they would eventually make good on their glimpses of huge upside, (prospects like Joey Graham) and they've given up too early on others, only to see them bloom and blossom with other clubs.
Prospects like oh, Kris Humphries, who repaid Toronto for their short-sightedness by posting a vicious 16 points and 21 rebounds on the Raps last night, in New Jersey's 98 to 84 win.
Of course Hump only recently has realized what he needs to do to earn a consistent job in the L, so I'm not sure we can fault the Dinos too much here. During his time in Toronto there was no indication that he was ever going to put it all together so to speak, and it was a major pain point for Raptors' fans to witness Hump grab offensive boards, only to immediately attempt to score with ill-advised jumpers.
No, I think the more apt and interesting player comparison to make to DeMar in terms of the "how long do you wait on a prospect" is a current teammate of Hump's, Gerald Green.
Like DeRozan, Green was an unber-athletic swingman that screamed NBA potential as a high-schooler. He was drafted 18th overall in the fateful Danny Granger draft of 2005, and there were huge expectations regarding his ability to help lead the C's out of the NBA's basement.
These expectations went unfulfilled as in two seasons with Boston, he averaged 5 points and 2 rebounds, a few dunk contest moments being career highlights during his C's tenure. It soon became clear that while Green could out-jump anyone, and was capable of making jaw-dropping highlight-reel plays, his overall basketball fundamentals and acumen were lacking, and the Celtics let him go after two years.
After that, he meandered around the league a bit, unable to stick with a club, before a stint in the D League this year.
His performance there, and at the D-League showcase where he was MVP, got him back on the NBA radar, and in the end, a contract with the Nets, where he's looked like a completely different player than the one Boston drafted about seven years ago.
Sure, he still gets up and makes ridiculous plays look easy, but he's also a much more complete player now and has done a great job rounding out the rest of his game. Last night was perfect evidence of this as he destroyed the Raptors, scoring 26 points in 25 minutes off the bench, using an array of turn-around jumpers, long-range bombs, drives to the hoop, and mid-range pull-ups. From Hoopdata.com, of Green's 13 shots last night, three were at the rim, two were between three and 15 feet, another four were between 16 and 23 feet, and and a final two were from long range. If you want to be a top-notch shooting guard in the L, shot distribution stats like that, especially when you make 9 of your 13 field goal attempts, certainly don't hurt.
From Draftexpress' twitter account this AM regarding Green's recent play:
Most wanted to pull the veil over their eyes, but it was pretty obvious at the D-League Showcase that Gerald Green is a clear-cut NBA player.
Just goes to show you that you can't ever completely make your mind up & stop evaluating. Especially those known to be super talented.
And I absolutely agree.
You just never know when things are going to "click" for elite talent, and Andrea Bargnani's play this year is a fascinating example of just that.
Which brings us back to DeRozan.
There's no denying that DeMar possesses upside, but as The National Post's Eric Koreen correctly put it in a recent post, "some of his skills remain woefully underdeveloped for a player whose upside was supposed to be that of a go-to franchise swingman."
And again this begs the question, how long can the Raptors afford to wait for said skills to bloom and blossom? For this team to make a major jump in the standings, at some point players like DeRozan and Ed Davis need to take that next big step, and until that happens, we're going to see a club producing results like it has this season; hanging tough with the Orlando's and Houston's on occasion, losing to clubs like the Nets and Bobcats on others.
That's not going to cut it for a fanbase whose support is already dwindling (18th in average league attendance) and potentially for GM Bryan Colangelo, who's running out of time to field a winning club.
With two years left on his current contract, Colangelo needs to to get this club back in contention, or at least making big strides in that direction, and undeniably DeMar DeRozan is a big piece of seeing that come to fruition. There have no doubt been subtle improvements in DeRozan's game, but overall it's been more "tease" than consistent production.