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After two playoff games, this is a different DeMar DeRozan

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After years of playoff misfortunes, DeMar DeRozan is playing on a different level, and looks ready to carry his Raptors team to a championship.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The undisputed best player on the court in Game 2 of Raptors vs. Wizards, DeMar DeRozan continues to re-write his playoff resume. Through two games, he’s been playing on a different level, and put Toronto in a place they’ve never quite been before: in complete control.

Referring to himself as Neo, Sports Illustrated’s 36th ranked player heading into 2018 continues to prove doubters wrong in these playoffs. Much of DeRozan’s success has to do with the growth in his game, specifically his play-making. Per 100 possessions, he’s averaging two more assists than he did last playoffs — and nearly three more than he did two years ago.

Through the eyes of DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan has always been able to score — Game 2’s 37-point outing reinforced that — and while past playoffs have cast him in a negative light, calling into question his ability to put the ball in the basket is the height of stupidity. In four of the last five seasons, DeMar has finished top-10 in total points scored — fairly cut and dried, I’d say.

So far in these playoffs, DeRozan has shown what a different player he is, compared to past versions that dealt with playoff hiccups. This time out, he’s been the coolest, calmest and most collected player on the court. So much so that there are times I find myself pleading for DeMar to show a little more fire. His demeanour can mislead; drawing some into believing some BS fake news narrative like “He doesn’t leave it all out on the court!” or “He needs to crank up his give a **** meter”, etc.

Plays like this, late in the fourth quarter of Game 2, show where DeRozan's head (and heart) truly reside.

Hustle like that shows just how much DeRozan cares about winning.

Through two games, DeMar is averaging 27 points, five assists, and 3.5 rebounds. An assist percentage of 22.5, up from 17.0 a year ago and almost eight percent higher than his playoff mark in 2015-16 show indisputable improvement. Blitzes and double teams, his nemesis in a past life, are now easily thwarted.

Furthermore, DeRozan’s true shooting percentage is just shy of 60 percent, now that he is confidently converting on his three-point attempts, shooting 45 percent on 5.5 attempts per game. He’s also turning it over less than he ever has in a playoff setting.

With so much on the line in each game, there’s no such thing as a small sample size in the playoffs. DeMar is an All-Star and by some accounts, a superstar. Every moment he shines is allowed to be viewed in isolation, rather than merely filed away — and subject to broader analysis later.

Attention to Detail

DeMar DeRozan has long idolized Kobe Bryant, even tabbing the retired Laker legend’s one-team legacy as the reason he chose to re-sign in Toronto.

“I want to be able to go through the good, go through the bad with one team, and realize that at the end of my career I can potentially play for one organization.”

DeMar DeRozan, speaking to Marc J. Spears (via The Undefeated)

(You can find the full interview here)

Despite an infatuation for perpetual growth, DeRozan remains an unfinished product. Luckily for him, retirement hasn’t changed keener Kobe either. Bryant remains very much a student of the game, though he’s more of a professor at this point.

One of the first episodes of ESPN’s Detail saw the Mamba breakdown DeRozan’s Game 1 performance. I for one enjoyed his analysis and commentary, finding him to be complimentary without sounding like a total a** kisser — not that anyone would expect that from the likes of one, Kobe Bryant.

I don’t profess to know whether DeRozan knows or cares that his idol is watching from afar, meticulously combing through his playoff performances. I imagine he would be flattered at the thought though.

My bet is that he knows – and rest assured when Kobe calls with his two cents: DeMar will answer.

(I watched the entire episode here. No guarantees it will work on other computers though)

Next Stop: Washington

After taking a 2-0 lead over the Wizards, winning both at home, Toronto is in uncharted waters. Never in franchise history have they gone up 2-0 in the playoffs.

Through two games, there haven’t been many passengers in the Raptors rotation. Every player to a man is making winning plays, some more frequently than others — even Norman Powell had a few nice screens in Game 2 (low bar, I know).

As for DeRozan, he is not the same player Washington saw three years ago. He’s a whole different beast now, routinely maximizing the talents of his teammates in addition to scoring like he always has (and in some new ways too). Perhaps it’s been the realization that help isn’t a bad thing to have while pursuing a title. It’s actually necessary.

Facing a win probability of 93 percent, it’s all but certain the Raptors are heading to the second round.

Whatever awaits them there, and beyond, DeRozan and the Raptors will be waiting. And make no mistake when the time comes for somebody to take (and hopefully make) a big shot, Toronto will look to DeMar DeRozan to decide who takes it.