During training camp last year, I started my run at RR with a piece on DeMar DeRozan and his contract status with the Raptors. This situation was easily one of the top story lines for the team at that time of the year, and for some Raptor fans, there was uneasiness. Not only about the prospect of DeMar leaving, but also about the prospect of retaining him at a questionable cost.
Going into his seventh year, DeMar was a solid draft choice by Bryan Colangelo that improved every year in the league; but he was one that still possessed a few obvious flaws. In a way, the 2015/2016 campaign was a validation season for DeMar DeRozan and the collective fanbase, as it seemed like a virtually foregone conclusion that DeMar was coming back for max-money.
Given DeMar has once again signed with Toronto long-term, I thought it’d be interesting to revisit what we felt at that time, and see if some of the key improvements we wanted to see in DeMar’s game came to fruition. Not only were some of these items obvious, some of them can be said for DeRozan’s entire career with the Raptors.
What it boiled down to back then
Winning: This one was easy. Even though I thought it would be difficult for the Raptors to retain DeRozan purely on winning (as winning 50+ games and a post-season series victory weren’t guaranteed) that’s exactly what happened. The Raptors not only won 50+ games, they shattered the franchise single-season win record with 56 wins, they gave the city its first trip to the conference finals with two series victories, and they once again reinvigorated a basketball fanbase starved for a winner. In some ways, given DeRozan’s personality, commitment to Toronto, annual improvements, and the Raptors’ season results alone, it was basically guaranteed that DeMar would be back at this price; no matter what some of the rest of this list may say.
Defense (consistently): As a wing with reasonable size, DeRozan’s lack of strength, and lateral quicks often made him a below-average defender. But if he could rebound, DeRozan could make himself an asset for the Raptors defensively. While the Raptors became a better defensive team overall in 2015/2016 as compared to the year prior (going from 23rd to 11th – the additions of Joseph, Biyombo and Carroll obviously help), DeRozan’s basic defensive numbers remained the same.
In certain situations, DeRozan’s size and individual defense would play a factor, but on most nights DeRozan was bested at the defensive end of the floor – and was exposed quite awfully by Paul George and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs. I love DeMar’s offensive strengths, but let’s be quite honest – the defense was not the reason he got this contract, and likely will be a weakness for him going forward. The Raptors will need to back up DeRozan’s defense with strong defenders including DeMarre Carroll, and where applicable, Joseph, Patterson, or even Sullinger.
3-point shooting (again, consistently): Again, this one was obvious as well – but it was desperately needed. With everything DeRozan brought to the table offensively, the 3-point shooting (DeRozan shot at a 28% clip in 2014-2015) just wasn’t cutting it. For the Raptors to effectively be able to play lineups with JV or other bigs that don’t have 3-point shooting, the ability at the wing to knock them down is so important – adding Carroll to the mix certainly helped the cause to the extent that Carroll was able to play during the season.
DeMar DeRozan 3-point shooting – 2013/2014 Season (79 games)
DeMar DeRozan 3-point shooting – 2014/2015 Season (60 games)
DeMar DeRozan 3-point shooting – 2015/2016 Season (78 games)
DeRozan improved both his ability and range at least a tad last year as compared to the previous 2, but the shooting still wasn’t where we all wanted it to be. DeRozan has proven to be great with one dribble or less and with his feet set, but off the dribble or fading, DeRozan’s percentages drop considerably. Not to mention, as we’ve grown accustomed to, DeRozan shoots it much better at the left and right corners (41% and 46% in the right and left corners) than straightaway or at the elbows. But to be considered a real threat, I think DeMar will have to increase his volume of shots as well. Shooting 35%+ isn’t going to mean anything if it means he hits just 47 all year.
So, again, while I think DeRozan really has tried to improve, I’ll still say this really wasn’t the reason we signed him. It’s something he’ll have to continue to improve, and it’ll be up to Dwane Casey to get enough out of our other shooters (hopefully Sullinger can become one as well) to preserve floor-stretching in the major lineups. If DeMar can target at least 75 3-pointers at a 35%+ clip this season, I’ll consider it a satisfactory improvement, and one we can live the contract out with.
4th Quarter and Clutch Performances: While it’s hard to measure “clutch”, we can obviously turn to 4th quarter scoring as a quick indication. For DeMar, while shooting percentage increased slightly over the past couple of years, his overall production in the fourth quarter has been virtually the same over the past 3 years.
These numbers definitely show the improvement since the 2012-2013 season, a season filled with close losses and frustrating last second misses from DeMar, Kyle and others.
Here are just a few of those “moments” we saw from DeMar during last season:
When it comes to fourth quarter performances from DeRozan, I think it’s safe to say we’ve yet to see the best. I expect DeMar to remain one of the top scoring options for the Raptors down the stretch this season (this is Dwane Casey we’re talking about); and if he shoots anything at or above 40-45% in those scenarios, or gets himself to the line, I think we’ll all be happy.
Market factors: Of course, when I wrote that piece on DeRozan nearly a year ago, there was some hope Kevin Durant could actually be considering the Raptors. Nonetheless, the money Durant, Mike Conley, Al Horford, and other free agents demanded this summer, meant that the money paid to DeMar made practical sense. If you’re in the market for a two-time all-star that’s top-10 in the league in scoring, it means that you’re either at the max, or pretty damn close to it. And don’t forget, when the salary cap rises even higher next year to projected levels in the $100M – 110M range, this contract may look that much better. Currently, we’re looking at an increase around 22% as compared to 2016/2017 levels, meaning guys like Lowry or prized free-agent Russ Westbrook could command money in the $30-$35 million range. That’s just silly; and it’ll allow us to put DeMar’s contract into a much better perspective next summer. Who knows – at some point in the near future, DeMar’s contract could look like Lowry’s does now (seriously).
What can’t really be quantified however, and something we didn’t really consider coming into last year, was DeRozan’s attitude. As Masai Ujiri said in the DeRozan presser on Thursday, the integrity, commitment, and loyalty DeRozan showed throughout the free agency process was pretty incredible – and for someone who works as hard as DeMar does, he developed somewhat of a soft spot with Coach Casey and Masai. Here’s a super athletic guy, drafted by the Raptors,and working his tail off and showing improvement every year – why not take our chances and reward him instead of starting over with something you’re not sure of? From that perspective, this deal, while made for clear on-court reasons, was also made to reward a first-class citizen off the court in the prime of his career.
All things considered, the DeMar DeRozan experiment at least thus far, has been a success. You have an above-average volume scorer that gets to the line at an elite level, and can deliver solid mid-range scoring to compliment the three-point shooting and ranginess of Kyle Lowry. He’ll never be a locker room problem, is an outstanding role model for young players, and has earned a great deal of respect from his coaches. For the long term, I’ll take whatever comes with that.