COMMENTARY | It's easy to forget that DeMar DeRozan is just a 23-year-old kid. He's a relative pup that is currently rocking invisible braces yet ranks ninth in franchise history in games played. He has been the face of the Toronto Raptors since Chris Bosh bolted for South Beach and a ton of expectations were heaped on him once he signed a $38 million extension for four years minutes before the start of this season.
However, before the ink was dry on the contract, the critics were out in full force ripping on Bryan Colangelo for getting into a bidding war with himself to retain DeRozan. Members of the media here in Toronto as well as a number of high profile writers south of the border were quick to question why Toronto was so quick to sign DeRozan to an extension based on his potential and work ethic.
DeRozan began to silence some of those critics as he averaged 18.9 points in November and 18.0 points in December.
The critics started to chirp again at the end of January when Rudy Gay joined the team because neither player was known for being accurate from beyond the arc. For his career, DeRozan has shot 21% from beyond the arc while Gay is only slightly better at 31%.
DeRozan once again took this criticism in stride and averaged 19.8 points on February and looked poised to benefit from being paired up alongside Gay.
When Gay arrived in Toronto he boasted DeRozan was the best shooting guard he had ever played with but that was met with speculation by some fans and members of the media in Toronto. It seemed the only person to take this comment to heart was Tony Allen. That speculation was fueled when DeRozan cooled off in March when he averaged 16 points per game and shot 41.2% from the field. Adding to his woes was the 14.3% he shot from beyond the arc.
A determined DeRozan bounced back to finish the season strong by averaging 22.9 points per game in April while shooting 54% from the field and a sizzling 50% from the arc.
The big stat was his hot shooting from beyond the arc because it opened up things for himself and his teammates.
"I get frustrated with myself because sometimes when I don't shoot it," DeRozan admitted to me last night. "I feel like I can get to the basket whenever I have the ball, but Coach (Casey) is telling me I have to shoot it. That's my main thing. I know I can shoot it so it's just up to me to shoot it."
Over his final three games of the season he finally started to trust his outside shot and it worked wonders for his game as well as the rest of the team. DeRozan went 9-12 from beyond the arc during that stretch while mixing in a variety of mid-range jumpers and drives to the rim. Defenders were no longer been able to sag off of him and it opened up things in regards to spacing for his teammates and even getting DeRozan better looks.
It marks yet another example of who DeRozan has been able to turn what has been perceived a weakness into a part of that game that is constantly growing and improving.
"It's beautiful," Dwane Casey boasted when asked to talk about DeRozan's growth the past two seasons. "I think this young man has grown up a lot this season. He's what? 23-years-old? Just his development in the last part of the season after that tough start you could see the confidence growing. Teams (now) double-team him. I think his next step is ball handling and he needs to continue to improve his three-point shooting. Learning to shot-fake and drive from the three-point. He's there but he hasn't hit his ceiling yet."
It's not just his head coach that has noticed the development of DeRozan as Brooklyn Nets head coach P.J. Carlesimo - a former assistant coach here in Toronto - was quick to lavish praise on DeRozan.
"He's a hell of a player," Carlesimo raved to the media last weekend. "He was a good player when I was here two years ago. Has he improved? Yes. I really think he went from good, promising, young player to a very solid guard."
However, even though he has made great strides, DeRozan is quick to focus on the flaws in his game instead of bask in the glory of a recent stretch of strong play.
"I kind of don't look at all the positives because I'm probably one of my biggest critics," a humble DeRozan admitted to the media Wednesday evening. "I'm always looking at all the wrong things I'm doing and trying to find ways to get better."
It's that kind of humble attitude mixed with a tenacious work ethic that has endeared him to the coaching staff and front office during his time here in Toronto. Having DeRozan finish the season like he has in April proves that the coaching staff and front office were right to see a bright future for him.
The key moving forward for him is consistency from game-to-game and month-to-month. If DeRozan's going to take the next step forward he can't have the same peaks and valleys that he had this season.
Hopefully next season the growing pains are less noticeable and he's able consistently play at a high level.
Ryan McNeill lives in Toronto and has been covering the Raptors with media passes since the 2007-08 season.
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