DeRozan finding ways to lead while absent from the court

Before this season, DeMar DeRozan missed a total of 11 games in his NBA career, 10 of those to injury and he never missed more than five games in a season in his first five seasons in the league.

This season, the number of games DeRozan’s missed has already grown to 21 after he tore his left adductor longus November 28 in a game against Dallas.

On December 5, DeRozan was about to miss his fourth game with a groin injury and spoke to the media.

“This is probably the most serious injury I’ve had ever,” said DeRozan, unaware of a time-frame for his recovery or return to the court. “It’s more frustrating than anything, I want to be out there.”

Now, after almost two months out of the game, DeRozan is nearing his return, either Wednesday against the lowly Sixers or Friday against the Eastern Conference leading Hawks.

While DeRozan’s teammates have hit a bump in the road as of late – Toronto has a 1-5 record through its last six games – they’re not pressing him on when he’ll return to the court, having managed a 12-9 record in his absence.

“I think it’s more of ‘whenever you get back,’” says Kyle Lowry. “We’re three games over .500 without him, I think that’s pretty good for not having your All-Star and probably your leading scorer when he’s healthy.”

DeRozan was averaging 19.4 points and 7.8 free throw attempts per game prior to his injury and while his offensive skills are missed on the court, he offers a lot more to his teammates.

“He’s an All-Star,” says Lou Williams. “When you’re an All-Star, on the video games you’re like a 90-plus. He has about a little bit of everything, so we could use him.”

Players like Williams, Lowry, James Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas have all been carrying the extra load without DeRozan in the lineup, but for Lowry, the trust he has in DeRozan’s instincts on the court seem to be missed most.

“Just the fact that you can give him the ball at the post, he can work it and get to the free-throw line. He gives you the ability to give him the ball and know he’ll make plays,” says Lowry, who’s averaging team highs of 21.8 points and 8.7 assists in DeRozan’s absence.

“It’s always good to have him around, but we’ll be better once he’s back on the floor,” adds Lowry.

While DeRozan’s return is much anticipated, Coach Dwane Casey isn’t expecting him to jump right back in where he left off prior to injury, averaging 19 to 20 points per game.

“It’s going to take a while to get the rust off and we’ve got to live with some of his mistakes or whatever he brings to the table, just until he gets the rust off the pipes,” says Casey, who is waiting for the final go-ahead from the club’s medical staff before DeRozan returns.

“I’m sure there will be minute restrictions on him to come back, but if he’s in uniform the old rule is ‘if you’re in uniform, you’re ready to play,’ so hopefully, he’ll get out there and give us something.”

Despite not being out on the court, DeRozan has been around the club as much as possible, recently participating in full practices, going through the motions of game day routines, and sitting on the bench during games. Most importantly, DeRozan is still finding a way to be a leader for the Raptors without playing.

“He’s been very encouraging, before games, after games, he still leads our huddles, he’s still the guy that’s outspoken, he’s still very much involved,” says Williams. “He’s sitting in there right now watching film right now, he hasn’t played in two months, so he’s been very involved.”

When DeRozan realized the severity of his injury, he wanted to become more involved from a coaching aspect, even joking to the media that he’d have to buy a couple suits to join the staff on the sidelines.

“Even in film sessions he’s been vocal, stating some things that he was seeing,” says Casey.  “He’s already said, he’s seen more by having that time away, more so than when he was in the fray trying to play.”

And like many other milestones and hurdles DeRozan has faced on and off the court, Casey calls this injury another learning and growing experience for the 25-year-old.

“It will help him so much to see from a coaching lens, from an outside lens, it’s a lot easier to see in that situation than it is when you’re trying to compete and play,” says Casey.

Through the last 21 games, the Raptors rank fifth in NBA scoring, averaging 108 points per game and shooting .467 FG% and while stats may or may not improve upon DeRozan’s return, Casey says his team will improve regardless.

“Anything he brings to the table is going to help us through this tough time, I mean, we’re not playing good basketball right now on either side of the ball,” says Casey. “He’ll give us that extra talent that you need to win in this league.”

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