I have to address this DeMar DeRozan situation. In brief, my position on him and his season so far: it’s absolutely fair to say he’s been disappointing and point out that he is driving less frequently. It’s also fair to wonder how high our expectations should have been. It’s outrageous to compare him to Jamario Moon, silly to accuse him of not caring, misguided to think he’s close to his ceiling, and absurd to talk about benching him. DeRozan is 22 years old and the second-best player on this team. He loves basketball more than you do and shot a gorillion three pointers this summer in an effort to open up his offensive game. It’s an issue of caring too much, not too little — his body language and the look on his face during a rough shooting night tell me that in those moments when you’re frustrated with him, he’s frustrated with himself tenfold.
One reason for DeRozan’s struggles is, ironically, the fact that he improved his outside shot. He spent his his first two seasons figuring out how to score against NBA defense without possessing three-point range. Now that the shot is in his arsenal, not only does he have to keep working until it’s consistent, he has to learn when he should use it and when he should attack the rim. You learn this through experience. The Raptors will gladly invest in bad shooting nights now, knowing his work last offseason will pay dividends down the line.
John Wall, Evan Turner, Brandon Jennings, and Tyreke Evans were also supposed to enter this season with better form and range. So far, Jennings is the only one who has shot a better percentage on long twos and threes and even he isn’t exempt from the kind of impatience that’s driving me crazy here. What we need to focus on with these guys is the qualitative differences that hint at improved efficiency in the future, even if it’s not showing in the numbers three weeks into a compressed season. I’d count DeRozan’s increased comfort level when shooting from deep as one of those differences.
Of those players, Wall’s season is the most instructive. He’s on the league’s worst team and his start to the year was as disappointing as anyone’s. While he had previously relied on his finishing ability and being the fastest basketball player alive, he started this season wanting to prove that he’d added to his game. He looked for his jumper often and looked more miserable with every misfire. His game used to be instinctive; now he was thinking too much. Life would have been a lot easier if he was on an older, smarter team, but as a Wizard the 21-year-old had to feel the pressure of being the team’s number-one option and the franchise’s saviour. It’s important how he explained his 38-point explosion against the Rockets last week:
“Yeah, I think I’m just relaxing, playing basketball, not thinking too much,” said Wall, who was 13 of 22 from the field, and 12 of 16 from the foul line against Houston. “I think when I was going out there and just thinking the whole time I’m playing, not knowing when to shoot, just thinking too much and not going out there and playing free.”
When DeRozan is confident and comfortable enough to consistently just go out and play like he did in the third quarter last night, those who have written him off will regret it. Raptors fans begged for the franchise to rebuild; now that it’s happening they need to be patient. If there’s anyone who deserves patience, it’s the young man who averaged 19.9 points after the All-Star break last year and showed up this season with an improved commitment to defense and a better-looking jumper.
Perhaps he’ll find consistency and balance on offense once he’s used to expending more energy on D. Perhaps it’ll happen when Andrea Bargnani’s return gives the team some semblance of spacing. Perhaps it will happen when Dwane Casey finally has time to run a full-length practice and focus on how to put the ball in the basket. Even if it doesn’t happen until a year from now, it’s worth the wait.