The Raptors have not had a player in the All Star game since Chris Bosh departed for Miami. But in a weird twist of fate, following a trade that was projected to send Toronto into a downward spiral in the East, DeMar DeRozan has emerged as a leader and a threat. And folks are taking notice around the NBA.
After Rudy Gay was shipped (along with Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy) to Sacramento, many believed DeRozan would not be able to handle the increased role—as a scorer, facilitator and defender—that would result from subtracting a 20-point-per-game scorer from the Raptors line up. Gay may have been struggling with his shooting percentages but he was still a player that opposing coaches planned for and his resume and overall cache carried a lot of clout in the Association. As a result, DeRozan benefited at times, facing fewer double-teams, more floor to work with and less pressure overall. With Gay gone, it was only going to get harder for DeRozan.
But instead of caving, he has cruised. In 18 games without Gay, DeRozan has averaged career-highs in points (21.2), rebounds (5.2) and assists (4.6). The fifth-year guard has also kept pace with his career average at the free throw line (he’s shot 80.3 percent, just behind his career mark of 80.9 percent), despite earning a career-high 7.6 free-throw attempts per game. All of this while opposing defences are zoning in on him like never before.
“That’s what it’s all about,” says DeRozan. “That’s what you dream about—just being a competitor [and] going against the top players in this league and stepping your game up.”
His team has also risen to the occasion. Since Dec. 8—when Gay was sent to northern California—the Raptors (13-5 during that span) have a top-three defence (based on opponents’ points per game) and they’ve catapulted to the top of the Atlantic Division and third overall in the Eastern Conference. In fact, following Monday’s win over Milwaukee, Toronto is now two games over .500 for the first time in nearly four years and the club has winning records both at home and on the road. In a way, this is uncharted territory for DeRozan, who has never reached the post-season.
“Every night you have a key opportunity to go against a star,” he says. “You have to rise to the occasion and be ready for it.”
DeRozan’s been more than ready. He is fourth in the league in minutes per game (37.9) and his 21.3 points per game this season have him thirteenth overall in scoring and second among shooting guards, behind Houston’s James Harden.
“My brother @DeMar_DeRozan better be a All-Star this year,” Harden wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “He is out here hoopin!”
In the latest release of All-Star balloting numbers, DeRozan ranked 10th overall among Eastern Conference guards. So he won’t voted-in. But when the coaches have their say filling out the East and West rosters, it’s hard to imagine DeRozan being left off the team. The numbers speak for themselves. And when intangibles like winning are factored-in, many believe DeRozan is a lock (unlike, say, Afflalo in Orlando).
“It just shows you the hard work [I've put in] just to be mentioned in it,” says DeRozan. “Of course every NBA player wants to be an All Star and I’m just happy to [have] my name even brought up in the conversation. I’m just trying to go out there and do my job every night and if that leads me to being an All Star that would definitely be great to go out there and represent for the country of Canada.”
What may be even more impressive about DeRozan is the personal maturity he’s displayed. It’s an intangible that most people wouldn’t notice unless they were around the Raptors on a regular basis. The growth, as a young man with responsibilities, has been immense, and the motivation for that change is rooted in family—not just basketball.
“I’d have to say night and day,” DeRozan answers when asked to describe the change in him as a person this season. “Just to see how much I’ve grown from being a father —raising my [infant] daughter every day—waking up every morning, going to work, trying to get better, being hard on myself [and] trying to be the best player I can be. I’ve definitely seen a maturity in me just growing daily.”