Let’s go back to late in the first quarter in Charlotte. This is before the disastrous 38-14 third quarter in which Toronto committed 13 fouls, 10 turnovers and let Charlotte shoot 80 percent. It’s before Jerryd Bayless scored 14 in the final frame to make a game of it. 44 seconds left in the first, the Raptors are up by seven. On a set play, Ed Davis receives a pass from Gary Forbes at the left elbow. DeMar DeRozan gets a step on Reggie Williams, cutting baseline from the corner, and it’s over. Bounce pass, hammer dunk.
On the Toronto broadcast, Leo Rautins raved about DeRozan’s timing. While it looked like an easy play (and, given that Bismack Biyombo was occupied with Amir Johnson at the right elbow, the finish certainly was easy), making reads and cuts is just as important as having the necessary skills to score in the NBA.
Take Gerald Green, who is producing for an Avery Johnson team that runs a play almost every time down the court — he always had that talent, but struggled with the mental part of the game.
Take Chris Paul, who has made the Clippers into a top-five offensive team in part because he has incredible court vision and is an extremely efficient scorer himself. He also does the little things, like teaching DeAndre Jordan to count to two before rolling to the basket.
I jumped when DeRozan smashed it because it was a sweet play and I love those kind of assists from big men. It was also unexpected. Davis isn’t selfish, nor a black hole, but he only has 38 assists on the year and is almost never asked to be a playmaker. His four assists last night were a career high. No one questions Davis’ talent; his finishing ability and his shotblocking made you think he was a great NBA prospect from day one at UNC. Same goes for DeRozan — he was a project when drafted in 2009, yet seemed like the obvious choice at No. 9 for a team in need of a shooting guard. The question is if they can harness this talent, work effectively with the rest of Toronto’s core, and make the Raptors a serious threat two or three years from now.
For some, Davis and DeRozan haven’t lived up to expectations this season. Their numbers are down, even factoring in the uptick in DeRozan’s scoring over the past six weeks. But they’re not supposed to be finished products yet, so we shouldn’t be talking about them with doom and gloom. Development takes time. Adjusting to a new system takes time. Doing so with your star on the bench most of the time doesn’t help. Part of getting better is playing smarter and building chemistry. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, they’re there below the surface. It’s alright if it takes a fancy dunk to get your attention.