The story as recently as last season on DeMar DeRozan was that he was a one-dimensional player. Give him the ball, let him put up tons of shots (and get to the free throw line) and hope for the best. After the first few years of his career, this was basically the best case scenario. But as the Raptors have improved, so has DeRozan (or vice versa?). And tonight, as he appeared at times to casually dissect an undermanned Miami Heat to the tune of 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting (including 4-of-5 from three), it was like watching a different type of basketball player all together.
For the rest of the Raptors, it was largely business as usual. Kyle Lowry, newly minted All-Star starter, played another complete game with 15 points and six assists. He also chipped in two steals, and enough pull-up threes at the appropriate moments to break the Heat's back. From the bench, Terrence Ross continued his unconscious run of play with 13 points on, wait for it, 100 percent shooting. (Ross missed one free three, but he shot four of them in the game, so that's OK.) And it should be noted that while Jonas Valanciunas didn't have the most noticeable of offensive games, he did corral 13 rebounds, drop three (!!!) dimes, and play solid defense on the Heat's mix of attacks at the rim.
The results for the Heat were remarkable only in their unremarkable-ness. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the only super talented players on the team left standing right now, had 26 and 22 points, respectively. They drove the minor runs Miami had in the second quarter and in the fourth, when as coach Dwane Casey said afterwards the Raptors were "running in mud." (That's my favourite expression of his.) Unfortunately for the Heat, there's just not a whole lot of team left after that duo. They needed 18 minutes from Amare Stoudemire, got 22 hopeless minutes from Gerald Green, and poor Tyler Johnson got embarrassed not once (on a missed breakaway reverse dunk) but twice (by a cruising Lowry) in his 33 minutes. Your heart almost -- almost -- goes out to Wade and Bosh as they go down with this sinking ship.
The high point of the game remains the play of DeRozan, however. He's now scored 30+ points in three straight games, and while tonight it was done with the usual breathtaking drives and post moves, there were also those four 3-pointers. "You start to look at the game like it's checkers," DeRozan said after the game. "You try to think two, three moves ahead and not just that next move, understanding what you can do, what your strengths are, where you like to be on the court. You just really nitpick at the game." It's this style of play, and way of thinking, that will bring DeRozan to the All-Star team in a couple of weeks.
The Raptors are now 28-15 and have an increasingly solid hold on their second best team in the Eastern Conference claim. It's long been felt that with DeRozan as the best, or at least most used, player on the team, this would be the ceiling. He could get you places, but not the place. Except now, suddenly, DeRozan appears to be getting even better than originally thought. Yes, he's never going to be LeBron James, but it's no longer ridiculous to grade him along that rubric.
"I think he still has another couple of floors he can get to on his growth process," said Casey afterwards. To which all I can think is: How much higher can he, and by extension the Raptors, go?