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Is DeMar DeRozan a real MVP candidate?

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Let’s make the case to include DeRozan in the conversation with the league’s very best.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

It can’t be real, right? Toronto’s favourite adopted son receiving legitimate consideration for the NBA’s most coveted individual prize?

Over the last handful of seasons the chatter has bubbled up, revealing itself during the odd scoring barrage DeMar DeRozan might treat the ACC to, as he stepped to the foul line to invariably sink a couple nail-in-the-coffin baskets.

“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”

The jubilant voices of 20,000 deliriously happy Raptors faithful, thanking the franchises arguably best player for demonstrating just how important they think he is to the success of the team.

While they’re not wrong — and his individual numbers and impact on wins and losses have been tremendous — in the past, his personal contributions have been eclipsed by the league’s bigger, brighter, and often-times more publicized stars.

Often times, it’s wishful thinking on home fans’ part, cheering enthusiastically for their team’s most dominant player. Basketball fans have been witness to some impressive propaganda chants of MVP to force the narrative of that team’s player into the league-wide debate for the end-of-season award.

Kobe. Lebron. Giannis. Beasley.

OK, not all fans can be taken seriously. Which is why the MVP chant power is sacred and mustn’t be abused, although if I had to watch the Knicks for the past couple decades, I’d latch on to one-game wonders like the Walking Bucket too.

Let’s not forget the importance of the chant’s gesture. Often times, a player’s significance to a team’s success get’s taken for granted or over looked unless it’s part of the week-to-week NBA discussion amongst the league’s journalists and talking-heads.

The fans have done their part to shout their approval for DeMar “I am Toronto” DeRozan, now it’s time to make the legitimate case. Not just for now, but to keep his name in the discussion as the season rolls on, games become more contentious, high-pressured, and more valuable.

There are the usual suspects, nominated as MVP favourites before a single regular season minute has been played. Then there are the outliers who force themselves into the discussion by changing the perceived narrative around their team and themselves with their consistent MVP play.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the first during the opening month of this season, helping his team to an outstanding start and helping to showcase just how much his contribution affects his team’s success. But he and his team have faded in recent months.

Victor Oladipo had a moment for a few weeks, Kyrie Irving a solid month as well, but it usually comes back to James Harden, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. It’s hard to argue against them but now it’s hard to argue against the inclusion of DeMar DeRozan.

He’s begun to enter the MVP discussion not just because of his recent scorching scoring display through the month of January (29.2 ppg on a .582 True Shooting Percentage) but because of his willingness to accept the new ball-movement system coach Dwane Casey and his staff implemented leading into this season. The change has facilitated DeMar’s transformation into a truly unguardable one-on-one star, taking advantage of more open looks from his mid-range office and growing more comfortable with his long-range stroke.

Teams do like to load up on DeRozan to force a turnovers out of double teams but he’s learning to anticipate those traps as well. When pressed, DeRozan reflexively reads the defense, finds the open man, trusting they’ll make the correct decision, and if the ball ends up finding him late in the clock, he’s able to make easier scoring plays without the burden of forcing bad shots with multiple defenders draped on him, as the defense is often spread out, due to the preceding east-west ball movement that opened driving lanes and alleviated initial double teams.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch and the most important thing I pointed out is that it’s reflexive. We all wondered if the Raptors — and particularly its stars — would revert to bad habits in end-of-quarter possessions or tight games. Would the ball movement Casey preached leading into this season be abandoned as quickly as the Raptor’s mojo in Game 1 of the playoffs?

The playoffs question can wait but for now, halfway through what could be a franchise defining season, but the Raptors’ brightest star has proven himself up to the challenge of elevating his game, and his team to new heights.

It shouldn’t be a surprise — or something held against DeMar — that his scoring average has dipped a bit (25.2 down from a career best 27.3 a season ago) due to his willingness to get his teammates involved.

That is how we try to judge the worth of a player’s value to a team in his ability to make his team better, right?

This is that old Nash/Kobe debate over a decade ago. Kobe clearly had the gaudy scoring averages and would be a nightly assassin for the talent-strapped teams he led, while Nash made all-stars out of nearly anyone playing significant minutes around him and had his Suns piling up significantly better win totals, leading to the decision of who was indeed most valuable.

How do DeRozan’s personal stats match up with the league’s usual MVP gang?

Favourably.

While he’s achieved career highs in assists (5.0 per game), 3-point percentage (.350), and True Shooting Percentage (.579), the NBA’s usual MVP nominees still outrank DeRozan.

But when the regular season wraps up, Toronto is on pace for a potentially franchise-best 57 win total, and DeRozan will be largely responsible for that total if his game holds true. As a result, DeMar’s Win Shares percentage has him in the mix with the best — DeRozan at 6.3, James at 7.8, Kevin Durant at 5.8, and James Harden 8.0. It will be interesting to see where he stands in April but with half the season gone, his numbers hold weight.

Harden is doing his usual, leading the league in scoring, James is challenging not only league-leaders in most statistical categories, but his own MVP numbers from seasons’ past, and Durant is making a strong case again, even more so every time Curry sits.

But there’s going to be room for debate based on win totals and how much credit we think each player deserves for those wins.

I’m not saying DeRozan is the MVP so far, just that he’s deserving of consideration and belongs in the conversation.

What do you guys think?