COMMENTARY | It may seem unfair to put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a 23-year-old player who was rocking braces last season, but next season is DeMar DeRozan's fifth in the NBA and the first year of a four-year contract that will pay him $38 million.
Throw into the mix that DeRozan's the longest-tenured Raptor along with Amir Johnson, and it's clear there's a lot of responsibility on his shoulders heading into next season.
Last season, whispers among fans and the media began that maybe DeRozan wasn't the long-term fit that Bryan Colangelo had initially envisioned. During his first three seasons in the NBA, DeRozan saw his field-goal percentage drop every season. Last year, it bounced up a bit, but he still only shot 44 percent from the field and struggled at times to share touches with Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry.
For DeRozan and Gay to work together in Toronto, one of the main things they will have to do is create spacing for themselves and other teammates by knocking down perimeter shots. There's reason for doubt that this can happen as DeRozan has never shot better than 28 percent from beyond the arc, and he made less than 10 percent of his 3-point attempts his second season in the NBA.
Besides his nasty hops, DeRozan is known for putting in extra work at the gym and constantly trying to grow as a player, so there's reason to believe he is far from a finished product. Last season, DeRozan showed up to training camp with a lot more upper-body strength, so there's reason to believe he may show up in training camp in a couple months with a much-improved perimeter shot.
This summer, DeRozan had the perfect excuse to take a break from spending time in sweaty gyms because his daughter was born this past May. Plus, with a new four-year extension kicking in next season, some players would kick back and relax this summer. But, in typical DeRozan style, he has been busy this summer playing at the Drew League and is currently working out with the USA Select Team in Las Vegas.
"Stuff like this makes me want to work that much harder," DeRozan told Sportsnet.ca. "Not to do it just for myself, I want to bring it to a team perspective and have the same success that I have individually, team-wise. That's big. That's the next step for me, really bringing that out with myself and with my team. Not just myself, the whole team and the whole country of Canada be recognized."
For DeRozan and Toronto to take the next step forward, there's a lot of pressure on DeRozan to grow as a player and add a perimeter shot to his arsenal. If he's able to do that, it will open up the court for him and his teammates next season. If not, it appears that Toronto's roster as currently constructed will fail to make the playoffs yet again.
It's a lot of pressure to put on a 23-year-old player, but it sounds like DeRozan is up for the challenge.
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