The best illustration of DeRozan’s All-Star credentials came two days after the announcement on TNT. Heading into the second half in Portland, Toronto trailed the Blazers by 17 points. DeRozan had struggled through the first half, scoring a meager six points on 2-for-8 shooting. Then he erupted and led his team back. He scored 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting and dished 10 assists the rest of the way, playing the entire second half and accounting for more points than the entire Portland team. The Blazers ended up with a three-point win, but they had no answers for DeRozan playing at that level.
In his first full year playing under the terms of the new contract, DeRozan has already shown himself worthy of the money. DeRozan will play on his first NBA All-Star Game on Sunday in New Orleans. His average points per 36 minutes is at its highest level, largely on the strength of getting to the free-throw line more often. He has made his turnaround jumper on the baseline a bankable shot. And since the departure of Rudy Gay, he has shown improved playmaking skills: He is averaging 4.5 assists and just 2.1 turnovers per game since the move, giving the Raptors much-needed distribution beyond Kyle Lowry, who certainly has played well enough this season to be in New Orleans with DeRozan but was not selected as a reserve. Yet, DeRozan does not want this to be his pinnacle. Both he and general manager Masai Ujiri have mentioned that the next goal for DeRozan will be to become a consistent all-star, the type of player who is assumed to be at that level, year after year. In order to do that, there are specific areas where he must improve.
You’d be hard pressed to find an NBA preview that didn’t pick either the Brooklyn Nets or New York Knicks to pace the division, while the expectation was Toronto would be battling with Philadelphia and probably Boston for a coveted lottery slot. The Philly and Boston calls weren’t way off, but New York’s been a disaster, the Nets only recently realized the season had started and Toronto has been one of the league’s biggest surprises, leading its division for just the second time in 19 seasons at this “mid-point” which actually is about the two-thirds mark.
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Click to listen to podcast
DeMar DeRozan talks about his first All-Star game experience, Rudy Gay’s departure from the Raptors and the atmosphere at home games.
When the league’s coaches opted to pass over Lowry, they inadvertently may have furthered Toronto’s cause. Lowry has been playing extensive minutes, actually slightly less than DeRozan, but at the gruelling point guard position. Add into that the manner in which Lowry plays — he doesn’t hesitate to live in the paint among the giants stealing rebounds and bumping with the much bigger men on the court or simply going at them and enticing contact to get to the free throw line, and it’s not hard to imagine Lowry getting a little more banged over the course of a season than DeRozan.
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