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Player Preview 2017-18: How High Can DeRozan Take the Raptors?

An All-Star without a 3-point shot: can DeMar DeRozan keep pushing his, and the Raptors’, ceiling?

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with an opinion that I feel confident presenting as a fact: DeMar DeRozan doesn’t get enough respect. His 2016-17 season resume includes: All-Star starter, fifth leading scorer in the league at 27.3 points per game, and All-NBA Third Team. In their annual player rankings, ESPN and Sports Illustrated ranked DeRozan at 39 and 36 respectively. Find me the General Manager that would rather have Jae Crowder or Khris Middleton instead of DeMar, and I’ll predict which front office executives wont be around very long.

For the past two years, DeRozan has responded to his snubs via Twitter with #ProveEm. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what he’s done since he became the face of the franchise. Remember this?

Following that tweet and three rebuilding years, the Raptors have been to four straight playoffs, highlighted by taking LeBron James and the Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. With DeRozan, the Raptors have done well.

DeRozan is a player that with one exception, has improved every year. But with that, especially with his unique skillset, strengths, and weaknesses, comes the looming two-part question: has he hit his ceiling? And if not, how close is he to doing so? At face value, DeMar was fantastic last year, with averages of 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. But the harrowing trend of playoff struggles continued. Against the Bucks and the Cavaliers, DeRozan averaged just under six points less than his regular season averages, on sub .400 shooting, and made a single 3-point attempt.

So moving forward, what can we expect? DeMar will likely continue to score, predominantly off of drives and pull-up jumpers within the 3-point line, of which he ranked second and third respectively last season.

This was DeMar’s heatmap last year:

Heading into his ninth season, DeRozan is who he is. While we may see a slight uptick in his shot attempts from beyond the arc, I don’t anticipate that three point shooting will become a staple in his arsenal. The Raptors don’t need DeMar to become a knock down shooter from distance, but would benefit from a willingness to attempt open ones.

That said, DeRozan does not need to become a killer from distance for this team to evolve offensively. C.J. Miles is a huge upgrade from DeMarre Carroll, OG Anunoby actually looks promising, and for what its worth, DeMar has shown a clear emphasis on using his position as the focal point of the offense to facilitate for others. DeRozan learning to regularly leverage his offensive capital to get others involved could be what is needed for the Raptors to take their next step forward.

On the defensive end, there isn’t much novel to add. Once again, DeRozan is who he is. He has all of the athletic gifts to be a great defender, can have standout possessions when locked in, but seems to lack the focus, fundamentals, and instincts to be a consistent positive on that end.

Barring an injury, I expect DeMar DeRozan, with the help of Kyle Lowry, to lead the Raptors to a top four seed in the East. Much to the chagrin of Boston Celtics fans everywhere, in the Eastern Conference the Cleveland Cavaliers are in a tier of their own, followed by a solid group of challengers comprised of the Raptors, Celtics, and Wizards. Maybe it’s the homer in me, but I’m hopeful with this squad. I’ve been an admirer of Miles’ game for some time, excited to see what Serge Ibaka can do in a full season, and am hoping that the Basketball Gods grace DeRozan and Lowry with good health. While the Cavs and Celtics have largely retooled, the Raptors were able to improve on the margins while keeping their core together. There are definite advantages to continuity. Will it be enough to dethrone the Cavs? Probably not, but I’m excited to see DeRozan and the Raptors try again.