What a difference a couple of days makes.
After a bout of hand-wringing following Team USA's game against Brazil on Wednesday night - a game in which, as we've noted, Raptor DeMar DeRozan did not get off the bench - the Americans were at it again on Wednesday night in exhibition against the Dominican Republic. While the ultimate result was another victory - a soul-crushing 105-62 blowout in fact - the star player was someone unexpected.
This time it was DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan played a total of 23 minutes (second only to Damian Lillard) and led the team in scoring with 13 points (he was tied with, wait for it, Rudy Gay!) Most noteworthy though was the fact that DeRozan shot 6-of-9 from the field, grabbed five boards, added six assists, and even potted a 3-pointer (he was 1 for 1).
To watch the clip above is to see DeRozan employ a full arsenal of moves; he trots out a Euro-step, hits some nifty jumpers, gets out on a fast break - and be sure to stay until the end to watch him throw an alley-oop pass that only a player like Andre Drummond could convert. It's an encouraging scene.
Now it should be mentioned that all of DeRozan's stellar play came against the Dominican Republic, a team who's most recognizable player is NBA bench stalwart Francisco Garcia.
Still, it is hard to underestimate the effect that playing at this level with these players and this coaching staff will have on the young DeRozan. Confidence is still very much a thing that can grow to change the trajectory of a player's career. Being able to hang in with some of the best players from the best basketball country in the world must do a lot for one's mental state. It's the reason why there was some anger at DeRozan's DNP-CD in the previous game. And it's the reason why many are probably very pleased to see him playing so well.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has already said there will be no cuts to the team until later today in advance of the team's game against Puerto Rico. There are definitely some obvious players on the bubble and until Wednesday night, it seemed like DeRozan was one of them. But then again:
Krzyzewski singles out DeMar DeRozan as someone who has played well "whenever there's been live action" including scrimmages, games.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) August 21, 2014
Coach K appears to have some tough decisions to make.