On the day after the Raptors welcomed Rudy Gay to Toronto and beat up the Clippers in a 25-point blowout loss, DeMar DeRozan was in a chatty mood; specifically, to talk about the luxury of playing with Gay.
While the trade that brought Gay to Toronto in exchange for Jose Calderon and Ed Davis raised eyebrows because DeRozan and Gay have similar skill sets, the two played fantastically off of one another in Gay’s debut on Friday night.
DeRozan doesn’t see any reason why they can’t continue to flourish together and make things easier for one other.
"I read a couple of things that were saying, you know, people are always trying to find a negative out of something," DeRozan said. "We’re here just to win. He wants to win and I want to win just as bad as anything. Once you put that together and understand you don’t have to have selfish players out there, it definitely could work. I’m not a selfish player and Rudy is not a selfish player."
DeRozan stressed how much easier everything was for him with Gay also on the floor.
"Hey, man," he said, "I just felt comfortable. He takes so much pressure of me, I wasn’t even tired last night."
When told that Gay informed the media —after just one game together— he was the best two-guard that Gay had played with, DeRozan’s eyes widened.
"Wow," he let out slowly before continuing, "That’s big. Especially how long he’s been in the league. Definitely big. Rudy is probably what I needed since I’ve been in the league. You never know. He helped me so much. With him just helping me, it helps me help everybody else in a way because it makes me feel that much more comfortable to where I don’t have to score. I like getting my teammates involved. Once that happened, I think everything started to happen on its own."
While DeRozan credited the arrival of Gay with his strong play against the Clippers, teammate Kyle Lowry praised DeRozan’s growth as a facilitator.
"I said that to him on the bench," Lowry said. "I said, ‘You look like the game’s slowing down for you.’ And he said the game’s definitely slowing down for him … He’s making those passes off the curls, he’s knowing where guys are coming from and he knows when to make the pass now, he knows when to shoot the shot."
DeRozan was eager to talk about how his ability to see the floor has grown since his rookie season. "It’s like you know how teams are going to play you and you know you probably have three options of what’s going to be open. Once you know that and understand that they’re going to blitz you or double team you, you know where your next teammate is going to be. It just seems that everything is slowing down. You react to it as quick as possible.
"I think you’ve just got to realize that. Early on in my career, if it was a play for me, my first instinct was, I’ve got to come off to score. Instead of that, I’m coming off and reading everything. How the guy is playing me, if I have the open shot, if my man is open. Little things you just learn. It helps me."
While DeRozan and Lowry both stressed the importance of time and patience for younger players learning the game, DeRozan also credited the time he puts in each day and night studying film. You may recall that DeRozan eschewed New Year’s Eve festivities in favour of a night home in his condo, watching tape and studying Synergy.
"I watch a lot on my own," he said. "I watch a lot of tape. I really watch my mistakes more than anything. I think that helps me, all I do is watch my missed shots, missed post ups, turnovers. I try to watch all of the negatives and be my biggest critic as far as that. Not be too hard on myself, but realize what I could have done better."
With Lowry in his ear encouraging him and Gay by his side assisting him, DeRozan has also earned the trust of his coach. Where Dwane Casey would nervously wait for DeRozan to struggle when double-teamed last season, he waits for his fourth-year swingman to calmly make the correct decision this time around. As of late, more often than not, DeRozan proves him right.
DeRozan is averaging 5.7 assists over his last six games.
"One thing DeMar is doing a great job of now is seeing the floor," Casey said. "He is passing the ball like a point guard. That’s one thing he’s really, really improved his game on. He’s being used to being double-teamed, which last year I thought he struggled with."
While Toronto has had more struggles than triumphs this season, on a Saturday afternoon practice sandwiched in between a thrashing of the Clippers and a Sunday afternoon matinee matchup with the Miami Heat, things felt a little lighter in Raptorland.
It was another simple reminder that winning cures all.