The HQ's Brandon Graham takes a look at DeMar DeRozan, and his crucial upcoming season...
Within any profession, the law of adaption isn't absolute or assured, in the case of Raptors' guard DeMar DeRozan, this law has yet to reach its final conclusion. There is no doubt that the athletic 6'7 shooting guard has proven that he can take elevate his game above the rim, but has he consistently set his mark as a reliable player down the stretch when his team needed a spark most? Not really.
Going into his fourth and final year under his current contract, awaiting either free agency or an extension, DeRozan has yet to prove to his critics that he has what it takes to be a crucial piece of the Raptors' future. With two fairly slow starts, yet strong finishes to his last few seasons, consistency for DeRozan is maybe his most noticeable flaw.
That being said, consistency is hardly an issue foreign to young swingmen and despite this being his fourth season that's about to begin, we're still talking about a young player in the league as a whole. Recently turning 23 on August 7th this summer , if DeRozan had played out his entire college career, he would've been drafted just this year. Although when considering the amount of "one-and-dones" that the NCAA has seen come and go, that may not be much of a shock to some.
Earning slightly under 3.4M this coming year, playing the wing alongside notables such as the newly acquired Landry Fields and veteran Linas Kleiza, the young guard must make his mark once again on both ends of the floor. As soon as he carries the momentum he generated last year on the defensive end of the floor, it should eventually translate to greater production on the offensive side of the ball. Averaging just under 17ppg, with 3rbs and 2 apg, DeRozan is determined to increase his numbers in all facets of his game. In this past year's end-of-season press conference, the third year guard shared his thoughts on his game, stating that his points of emphasis remain on the defensive end of the court, as his offensive game would come easily.
Head coach Dwane Casey addressed the fact that he saw a progression in DeRozan's game; "I saw him having a greater balance with jump shots, attacking the basket, using screens and a tremendous growth in his confidence".
One thing that hopefully helps in the area of confidence is participation in the Team USA Olympic Senior Men's Basketball program. One can argue about whether or not DeRozan deserved the invitation, but regardless, the hope is that it serves as a launchpad to a breakthrough season, something Raptors' fans have been waiting for since DD was drafted. Jerry Colangelo, head of the US initiative, mentioned on Fan 590's Prime Time Sports that the team consisted of young players who he wanted involved with USA basketball, and added that those young players may one day play for the American Team at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Again, regardless of the legitimacy of his invite, just by having DD play with upper echelon talent like this can only be viewed in a positive light.
As well, another summer where DeRozan has been committed himself to improving his strength and basketball skills. We've heard about the work DeMar has put in this summer during Franchise's chat with Assistant Coach Eric Hughes, especially regarding his attempts to get stronger and play some of the 3 spot next year.
The point here is that in my books, DeMar DeRozan is no lost cause.
He has shown vast improvements on the defensive end, and while the stats don't bear it out, there were areas that we saw noticeable growth on the offensive end as well. He got to the basket with more regularity, especially as the season went on, and while his 3-point stroke was hardly that of Ray Allen, it did take a big step forward from his rookie season.
With the addition of draft pick Terrence Ross to the wing; it will be interesting to see if both guards can mesh their strengths together to better their offensive production as a unit. Although Leandro Barbosa added a much needed spark off the bench at the wing last season, Ross and DeRozan offer a slightly different dynamic, neither being penetrators but Ross offering the long-range shooting that DD hasn't been able to provide.
Could Ross supplant DeRozan in the starting lineup?
That's something we'll have to wait to see play out potentially this season but for now, DeRozan is a lock to start for the club, not just based on Ross being a rookie, but that Bryan Colangelo and Casey have given the impression they're both on the same page in regards to the future of their ninth overall draft pick in '09.
Is this the time for the highflyer to turn his skeptics into believers? No doubt.
We're still talking about a club that has little in the way of consistent offensive talent and therefore it's crucial for DeRozan to take another step next year.
Off-season footage of DeMar like the clips below (around one minute mark) offer a glimpse that he's ready to do just that, and as long as he plays within his element, patience within Raptor supporters shouldn't be lost.
But there's no question that with his contract coming due, time is running out for DeMar, with this season likely showing fans if he's ready to flourish, or if the bar has already been set as high as it can go.