DeMar DeRozan has been playing better of late, but will the return of Andrea Bargnani throw off his game?
"I'm out there just feeling comfortable and playing my game."
The question was asked regarding his improved play of late.
And DeMar's answer, in typical DeMar-like fashion, doesn't reveal much.
But to even the casual Raptors' fan, we're seeing an improved version of the USC alum since the All-Star break.
Last night DeRozan dropped in a game-high 23 points in Toronto's 116 to 98 win over the Houston Rockets, his third 20 or more point game in his last four outings, and his seventh in nine. Not all of these are of the most efficient variety, however he's upped his scoring average to 16.2 points a game, a jump from the 14 or so that he was averaging earlier on.
Can he keep this up?
That's the biggie for me, and something I pondered as I watched him last night against Houston.
As most readers know, I've never been a huge DeMar backer, simply because I didn't think he excelled in any one area. He's an ok scorer, but not a very efficient one (he's hitting only 42 per cent of his shots from the field), a horrific long-range shooter (career 21 per cent), a bit of a black hole offensively (1.8 assists per game this year despite a usage rate of 24.7, a career-high) and not as good a rebounder as you might expect considering his athletic ability.
And on D, he's shown improvement this year, but he's hardly what you would call a stopper. Consider Tony Allen, one of the best defenders at that position. His defensive win score last year was 2.7, and his defensive rating was 101 (the lower the score, the better.)
DeMar this year has improved posting scores of 0.9 and 106 respectively, but when you match them up against even an average defender to good defender at that spot like Ray Allen, he's got some work to do. (Allen's marks are 1.3 and 102 so far this season.)
So where does that leave us?
Considering the shooting guard options in the upcoming draft (our HQ scout at the Big East tournament has been raving so far about Jeremy Lamb), in my mind it's now or never for DeRozan. We're approaching the end of year three, and for shooting guards in the NBA, if it doesn't happen after three season, it's likely not going to happen period.
Luckily though for Raptors' fans, DeMar appears to be breaking out of his shell.
We noted the scoring improvement already, but you can see other steps forward as well, at both ends of the court.
Most impressive to me perhaps is this comfort in the post and last night he completely abused Kevin Martin on the blocks. Leo Rautins made a valid point that most shooting guards in the NBA, even if they have his height and size, aren't athletic enough to stop his turnaround jumper down there so once he starts nailing it on a consistent basis, that becomes a pretty formidable weapon
According to "mySynergysports.com," DeRozan is only posting up on 6.7 per cent of offensive plays, putting him in the same class as players like Richard Hamilton and Jason Richardson, but outside of say a Dwyane Wade, at nearly 13 per cent. But I'm hoping this number increases as the season goes on as it's an area I think he can exploit more often, especially since he's not nearly as much of an "attack-off-the-bounce" guy as many fans thought when he was drafted.
And in any event, regardless of his offensive selection and decision-making, it's all about consistency here, as one of the most frustrating things about DeRozan has always been his lack of consistency in performance.
5 points one night, 25 the next, 18 the next on 9 of 23 shooting...
...and on and on.
But of late, we've seen a much more consistent output from DD, something that's shown up in his "shake" metrics.
What are shake metrics you ask?
Ben Golliver of Blazers' Edge coined the term to describe a statistic that examines a player's scoring (in)consistency.
You can read all about it here, as well as how the formula is calculated, but essentially when you put DeMar's mark over the season under the microscope, it's not great, but it is improving. Generally speaking, you want players to have a low shake rate in terms of seeing consistent scoring output, night in and night out. From Golliver:
Shake therefore represents the relationship between a player's scoring variance and his scoring average. If a player scored 10 points (or 20 points, or 30 points) every single game his Shake would be 0%, perfectly consistent. If he alternated scoring 0 points 41 times and 20 points 41 times over the course of a season, his shake would be 100%, perfectly inconsistent.
Last season Kevin Durant's mark was about 16%, so he was a very consistent scorer, a bonus considering the amount he scored as well. Others like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were in the low 20's.
DeMar's mark so far this season? - 39%.
That's not great, but considering before this last stretch of games his mark was in the high 40's, we're seeing some solid steps in the right direction.
The big question in my mind though is, what happens when Andrea returns? The team is playing some fairly cohesive basketball right now under Casey, does this get thrown off when Bargnani comes back?
It's something that's extremely intriguing to me considering the emphasis placed on DeRozan's development and the moves Bryan Colangelo decides to make at the end of the season. How DeMar finishes up will likely go a long ways in determining BC's off-season agenda, and if it includes serious reinforcements at the 2-3 spot.
As for Bargs, we won't have long to wait to see what his impact will be.
He's slated for a return this weekend...