Twenty-six games left before there’s a 6 1/2 month drought of Raptors basketball. Think about that, maybe it’ll help you enjoy and even relish the final third of the NBA season. Searching for positives has been made easier of late with the emergence of rookie Ed Davis and sophomore DeMar DeRozan, who we’ll see this weekend in the Slam Dunk Contest proper. Coming into the year he had three major knocks against him – shooting, ball-handling and defense. Since the turn of the new year all three have seen improvement. DeRozan has seen his field-goal attempts rise by four since December, he’s taking 16 shots a game and shooting 51% in 2011. What makes this feat impressive is that the makes are coming in the form of jumpshots. I don’t have access to monthly percentages per shot-range, but even aggregating his 2010-11 totals and comparing to last year speaks to the improvement.

The telling range is the one between 10-15 feet, it’s the area of the court where guards who can’t shoot force the issue against interior help defenders, and those that can have solid NBA careers. The 10-15 foot range is also ideal for catch-and-shoot guards who can extract high-quality shots against trailing defenders by making the most of screens. Last season DeRozan shot 31% from this area and only took 0.6 shots a game from there. This year he’s quadrupled the number of shots from the exact same range, and doubled the percentage of overall shots he takes from there, all the while hitting them at a 43.2% clip. Comparing that number to the master of the mid-range/screen-usage game of the recent era, Richard Hamilton, it’s rather impressive. Since 2001, Hamilton has shot 45%, 47%, 41%, 42% and 32% from this key area, and we can see that DeRozan is doing his best to catch up.

The other area that hoopdata.com tracks is the 16-23 feet range, the story is similar here. He’s shooting 42% (compared to 38% last season) and has doubled the amount of shots he takes. Putting all these numbers together you see a player dedicated to improving an area of his game which is seen as the biggest knock against him, to me that is a sign of a keeper. It’s only been one summer and he’s already recognized that remaining stagnant is not an option. I wish that was an attitude adopted by all our players.

In a summer-time interview with our colleagues at Raptors HQ, Eric Hughes went into specifics of DeRozan’s areas for improvement:

It’s time to develop even further and take his game to another level and do things like not run people over when he gets in the lane, have that pull-up jump-shot like you talked about, and also add some other shots to his game, not just getting the basket and getting lay-ups. He’s gotta have that pull-up game, he’s gotta develop a little floater in the lane, and hey, he’s gotta develop his range too. He’s still not very confident from the 3-point line, he still kicks his legs out when he’s out in that area, and he doesn’t have the confidence he needs to have. So with some more hard work and dedicating himself for the rest of the summer, he can take that next step next year.

What we’re now seeing are the fruits of hard work. The floater hasn’t been showcased a great deal and understandably so, getting that shot right is very difficult, especially when you release it from the baselines which is where DeRozan will be forced as his jumper develops. The finishing at the rim against help defenders has been disappointing, but only until you consider his free-throw attempts – 4.8 per game. The hallmark of a great scorer has always been getting to the line, from guards to bigs, it’s what is absolutely required from a player which wants to be “the man” on the team. The 4.8 FTAs is modest, good for 7th in the league amongst shooting guards. Second-year FTA numbers for prominent shooting guards are very similar, for example Kobe Bryant had 5.8 and Monta Ellis had 4.6, Dwayne Wade is in a league of his own with a ridiculous 9.9.

This was going to be a trying season from the start, the playoffs were set as a goal in pre-season only for the team to aim at something, nothing more. It wasn’t realistic and I’m sure the players knew it themselves, this was to be a year of growth with the hopes that at least two of the five starting positions can be shored up for the next five years. Right at this moment it looks like DeRozan could be one of those positions, there are still many questions to be asked, but those that have been asked have been answered with a positive response.

  • Bo4

    I’d go even further to say that both Amir and Ed are future starters, along with DeMar, if they all continue to improve at a reasonable pace.

    Unfortunately, Andrea did not show the necessary pattern. He regressed in year two even though his minutes went up. Does he ever get into top condition running & weight-lifting?

  • KJ-B

    It’s good to see you giving props Arse, at one point I had u pegged as a DeRozan hater–I still remember u sayin’ Sonny (and he’d avg 12-15 ppg this yr) was better than he was and not caring “if he gets traded tomorrow” a couple of months back etc….That being said we have to build around him and Ed if their development is to be sustained and more importantly, have them stick with the Raptors and be the 1st couple of lottery picks to get drafted and stay here for their entire career…

    Note to BryCo:

    Great last couple of drafts BUT this year’s version is full of front court talent where the organization is somewhat loaded–PLEASE take/use this deadline as your CDN version of July 1 on the NBA Calendar… Who knows, Jan Vasely may turn out better than Perry Jones?! It’s looking like a crap shoot a la 2006…

    BE A BUYER:

    Toronto is NOT a UFA/FA hot spot so the best way to get that kinda of talent “North of the Border” will be using the TPE, expiring contracts and probably dangling/peddling Jose/#7 (Thank you Bargs for that 38 pt effort on Wednesday!!!)… The rebuilding starts today and start shopping your entire roster, and potentially 1 of the 1st rd picks to upgrade immediately at Small Forward and the Center (if possible as successful NBA big men are hard to find)…

    The History of this franchise is in your Rolodex –and dare I say your rep/career hangs in the balance as well– hopefully you can find some of the BryCo gold dust by next Thursday or DeMar might just start listening to those seductive voices below the 49th come this weekend!

    Rebuild. Reconnect. Rebirth ’12-13…

  • Nilanka15

    I have to admit, I was unimpressed with what I saw from DeMar at the start of the season, but his improvements so far in 2011 have been a very pleasant surprise. Let’s hope he continues to work on his game this summer, expands his range, gets better at finishing in traffic, and starts getting the benefit of the doubt from refs next season.

    BTW, is that a recent pic, or from last year?

    • KJ-B

      Not sure about the rest, but if he shows well in the Rookie Challenge and stares down Blake Griffin on the All Star Saturday night–maybe even winning with the LA crowd, those calls will be coming fast and furious immediately after the break…NObody will admit it in New York but the NBA and its refs favors stars, now if Deebo can be considered a star after this weekend, that’ll be 7-8 fta’s minimum per game…

      lOl…I also remember u wanting to call me a DeRozan ‘fanboy’ for defending him earlier in the season when I said he was a whole lot better than Weems and his shot was coming together… Glad for DeMar, he deserves the props–this ain’t just hype anymore!

      • WhatWhat

        “.NObody will admit it in New York but the NBA and its refs favors stars, now if Deebo can be considered a star after this weekend, that’ll be 7-8 fta’s minimum per game…”

        That’s depressingly true, lol. Someone tweet this to DeRozan, that dunk contest is important.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jaetotheyoung Jae Park

          I also agree with this. For noname bench players, the dunk contest would be just another dunk contest. But for a legit developing player like Demar, the dunk contest is incredibly important. Not only for his confidence, but gotta remember that the NBA game is also about the rep.

      • Nilanka15

        Lol, that’s because at the start of the seaosn, there wasn’t anything to distinguish between DeRozan and Weems. They were both unproven, althletic wings with “upside”.

    • knickz

      hopefully that 3 pont shot gets better…i can sure use 3’s from him in nba elite 12

  • Kevin Oppella

    Yes we’re seeing good development from Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis and it sounds like they could form a great nucleus/core in 1-2 years time. My only concern is if management will continue to force the issue with Andrea Bargniani? As in, will they continue to see Bargniani as the “go-to-guy’ in after that 1-2 years? I’m not trying to say Bargniani is a bad player but I would prefer to see a team build around guys who can get it done at both ends of the floor.

    • Theswirsky

      thats exactly it

      ofcourse that makes you a hater and so you are now biased and unreliable as a source of information.

      Go points!

  • Bob

    DD is a keeper for sure. Don’t let him slip away like that f****r Chris Bosh

  • Dookielove

    if demar blows up demars gonna leave just like every other star black american baller has done….you american wannabees posing as raptor fans better start appreciating our euro content who actually want to be here…damn idiots.

    • Nilanka15

      What’s more ridiculous than your comment, is the fact that someone actually “liked” it.

      • Jay

        Probably his two little brothers

      • Dookielove

        you dumb bitch. how am i saying anything wrong? this franchise has a history of black american ballers who once they got big wanted back to america or wouldnt report here at all. scrub americans stay but once they blow up they want out…if demar blows up he wont stay. he’ll pull what they all have done from bj armstrong june 1995 refusing to report, to rupaul fraud last season and his ass fuking of the wannabee american fans with rep tdot till they bury me.

        • Nilanka15

          Yeah, you’re right. Racial generalizations are perfectly acceptable. My bad….

          • Dookielove

            July 2006: John Salmons backs out of deal
            January 2005: Eric Williams Demands Trade
            October 2003 AD started offering up the metric system, the national anthem, and learning French as reasons why his children should grow up in America
            September 2004: Nav Bhatia Leaks VC Trade Demand
            February 2005: Raptors pay Mourning $9M to win NBA Championship
            August 2000: Mo Taylor backs out of deal with Raptors
            August 2000: tracey mcgrady bolts
            August 1999: Raptors re-sign Michael “Yogi” Stewart

            …did i miss any?…oh damon wanting out and Kenny Anderson say HELL NAW!

            • Nilanka15

              I guess you didn’t notice that the majority of NBA players are black.

  • Tinman

    I do not think he has improved as much as you all think and followed a link last week showing his improved numbers are deceptive. The positive I take is he is still very young.
    My biggest concern is his demeanor on the court. Do not see that fire. Don’t get me wrong, the kid has talent, but so does Bargnani, and am worried that having both on same growing team is nothing to be doing cartwheels about.
    Davis and Johnson seem to have that desire and those two are the key pieces we need to concern ourselves with.
    That being said, a trampoline, a ladder and a guy in a chicken suit? Worth a watch this weekend.

    • sleepz

      Used to think that as well, but I think he’s one of those dudes that don’t wear it on his sleeve but is still engaged in the game and cares. The game I saw that most was the game they played Atlanta I believe when he got 3 fouls in the first half, the last of which was a phantom foul and he got tee’d up by the ref (although he was absolutely right for arguing the call). On the bench, no uccing, no theatrics, but a quiet seething that made me want to see what he would do in the 2nd half.

      2nd half he came out with a vengance aggressive and attacking and showed me what he was about. He’s shown more progression in his game than I thought possible this year and I was a person who was doubting him hard before the year began.

      I think he has that same desire that Davis and Johnson have.

      • sleepz

        no cussing

    • Milesboyer

      That’s funny because I’ve been starting to see alot more fire from DeRozan recently. I guess it’s how you read the subtleties. Watch his reaction when he gets fouled going to the basket and doesn’t get the call because he doesn’t have the reputation of some more accomplished players. He’s not the most demonstrative player on the team but I’m starting to see signs that he really cares and will do what it takes to win. He’s not there yet, but he’s improving and as he gets older, more mature and more confident, I believe he’ll be become even more of a leader.

  • Bo4

    Dookielove, ~!@#$%^&*()_+{}:”? is all I have to communicate to you …

  • 511

    As I was reading this column here, I thought to myself – half-jokingly – ‘I wonder how long it’ll take for this to become a “ya, but … Bargnani sucks!” “no, he doesn’t, you do!” thread?‘

    Carry on, kids.

  • pran

    if i could trade demar for a top 5 pick i would do it…it’s not going to happen, but im not sold on the guy just yet, he still needs to improve in a lot of areas the odds are against him.

    • Questforfire33

      How are the odds against him he’s just in his second year of the NBA, 21 years old and has shown improvements in his overall game. Even his defense has gotten better slightly.

    • Ay

      I echo Questforfire33’s sentiments. You have to remember he’s 21 21 21 21 21 years old and in his 2nd 2nd 2nd 2nd 2nd year. T-Mac didn’t average 16 points until his 3rd year, and he averagde 15.4 then. Even Kobe, in his second year in the NBA, averaged 15.4 ppg, and 19.9 ppg the season after.

      I’m not trying to place a label on the young fella, but you have to be patient with him.

      The point is that he’s taken tremendous strides this year, in every aspect of his game, imagine what he could do next year, and after that, and so on and so forth. He is improving, he wants to get better, and will get better. Truth!

  • Toshmon

    Its nice to see toronto fans are starting to understand what we may have on our team, can’t wait for the draft lotto.

  • Raptorsss

    Does anybody, remember what I wanted for Christmas? It was a mid-range game for Demar, and Santa came through =)

    • KJ-B

      THAT had nuthin 2 do wit Santa…

  • voy

    Demar certainly has made improvements during this year. I’m hoping he continues to work on his creativity with his handle, get some range on his shot and get a bit stronger to help him finish in traffic.

    Demar seems like a good kid and I think he can be a valueable piece on a good team. I have no problem bypassing other SGs in the draft (unless they’re sure-fire prospects) in order to give Demar a few more years to develop, at this stage in the franchise’s rebuild.

  • AnthonyF

    I’d like to see some range. He may be the worst SG (can anyone be worse?) in the league from 3 point range…. Add to that with his hops a few more rebounds would be nice and improved d….. Happy with improvement, but no where close to replacing Bargnani as the go to guy… Time for haters to get nasty……

  • Buschfire

    Didn’t look great tonight with his peers in the sophmore rookie challenge….got some points but idunno he doesn’t have that leaping ability that Vince had… not even as much some of his teammates tonight who are not in the dunk competition… Idunno to win the dunk comp hes gonna have to get really creative to even come close to blake griffin…. he can’t take it to the hole he needs strength and better ball handling… his jump shot is getting better which will help but this boy needs to get thick and learn to thrown down.

  • Omarmalik

    Demar out of slam dunk compition were dead sadly :(