It feels a touch uncouth to bring this up now, but remember how upset everyone was when then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo opted to re-sign DeMar DeRozan to a four year $38 million in October 2012?
DeRozan was coming off a hopeless year in which the Raptors finished 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 23-43 lockout-shortened record. What's more, his averages took something of a downturn that year -- DeRozan was scoring slightly less, shooting worse and grabbing fewer rebounds. The "positive"? His three point percentage took a major jump; it went all the way from 9.6 to 26 percent. All of this information was not exactly cause for celebration.
Last night, DeRozan was officially named as an NBA All-Star for the second time in his career. Two years ago, his first All-Star season, felt like a surprise, like a run of good luck. The Raptors of 2013-14 were on fire out of nowhere and DeRozan's season looked like something of an anomaly. Last year, DeRozan missed 20 games and the Raptors looked all kinds of out of sorts as the season wound down. It was a setback. And now, here we are, DeRozan is playing the best basketball of his career. Again.
"Words really can't explain it, especially with the frustrating year I had last year, going down with an injury," said DeRozan after the Raptors beat the Knicks, 103-93, for a franchise-record tenth straight win. "But everything is a process, nothing was ever given to me, I had to work for everything I accomplished, individually and team-wise. It was rough, but I think it's really made me into the person and player I am today."
This season, DeRozan is averaging career highs in points (23.1), assists (4.1), free throw attempts (8.1) and percentage (84.5), two point makes (7.2) and attempts (15.8), and even three point percentage (32.2), which has long been thought to be the Achilles heel of his game. He's driving to the basket more, finishing through all types of more punishing contact, and has developed new moves and counter-moves whenever he gets into the post. As others have noted, DeRozan is now excelling at just about everything a two-guard can excel at (without a reliable three point shot, as of yet).
Three and a half years after signing his name on the dotted line, DeRozan now has the opportunity to opt-out of that original contract. He'll most definitely become a free agent next season and look for a max-level deal. It seems rather astounding now, having watched DeRozan and the Raptors change, grow and improve, to find both in this position. As recently as last year, or last summer, or even earlier this season, the thought of giving DeRozan a contract of that size felt insane. Now though, one more year of DeRozan at $9.5 million would feel almost illegal, a lucky break for the Raptors and their fans. To his credit, DeRozan has kept his head and just kept working.
"You always think about the tough times, losing records, being criticized, people saying I can't do this, I can't do that, I'm this type of player, all that negativity that you have to deal with," said DeRozan. "You look back on it and think about it, and you really look at it and understand hard work is not a cliché at all."
The Raptors are currently 31-15 and just two games back of the first place Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. They have two All-Star calibre players (with Kyle Lowry being voted in as a starter). They are riding that aforementioned ten game win streak. Still, it feels like they can get even better. Coach Dwane Casey has acknowledged there is still another level or two to DeRozan's game. DeMar himself chuckled when asked the question on what he'll improve next.
"You gotta ask me after the playoffs, pretty sure I'll have a whole bunch for you around that time," said DeRozan. "That's the beauty of it for me. As long as I can go out there, I can get up in the morning, I can dribble this basketball, I'm putting on the jersey, I'm going to figure out a way to be better, to prove somebody wrong, I'm going to figure a way. That's just all I know."
It's hard not to get excited about the future.