The impossible conversation surrounding DeMar DeRozan

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We need to talk about the way we talk.

It’s impossible to talk about Toronto’s lone all-star DeMar DeRozan. It simply cannot be done.

With most players, the conversation circles around their on-court performance. How many points did they score? How many rebounds did they snag? Did they make the correct rotations on defense? Their play dictates how we feel about them. If they sucked, we’re upset and critical. If they rocked, we’re singing their praises. It’s how the fan-athlete relationship works.

Except, that dynamic doesn’t apply with DeMar DeRozan. It doesn’t. It’s never just about his performance for many people. The conversation surrounding DeRozan is steeped in high rhetoric.

DeRozan had a great game?

I can’t believe the U.S. media is still sleeping on this guy. He’s so underrated. Look how wrong the haters were.

DeRozan had a bad game?

You can’t slag him for the way he plays. He works so hard. He’ll probably hit the gym early tomorrow, throw up 1,000 shots, and drop 30 in his next game.

You cannot have a conversation about DeMar DeRozan the player, without repeated mention of his back story. That being the overlooked player, the hardworking player, the silent leader, the team mentor, the ever-improving all-star, the player many fans haters gave up on.

This is where I clarify that most of the badges on DeRozan’s image are well-earned. He has quite the compelling back story. He was nothing but a wide-eyed rookie with hops in his first year. Seeing his transformation from just an athlete, to becoming an actual player has been incredibly rewarding. It’s all a testament to his hard work, of which cannot be doubted. Every player boasts at media day about the improvements they made in the offseason. Most of the time, it’s bullshit fodder. DeRozan actually walks the walk. As a fan, I’m proud to have DeRozan leading my team.

But as a fan, I also want to talk about a player’s on-court performance, without having to pay homage to god-like mythology. I want to treat DeRozan as I would with any other player. If he struggled, I want to write about why and how he struggled. If he dominated, I want to write about why and how he dominated. I want to do with DeRozan what I do with every other player on this team.

But I cannot.

It get’s tiring having to walk on eggshells. DeRozan is a special player, but that applies to his demeanour and his on-court play. Being special does not exempt him from valid criticism. Being hardworking doesn’t exempt him from valid criticism. I shouldn’t have to face the wrath of DeRozan fanboys if I have a legitimate criticism of his performance. That’s unfair to all the other players.

Take DeRozan’s performance in the season opener, for example. I graded his performance as a C+. The top-voted comment in the section denounced my decision and 67 percent of readers voted that the grade was too low.

There are valid reasons to debate the score. A grade of C+ is right on the average, which is how I thought DeRozan played. He made a number of head-scratching decisions on offense early on, and as the game continued, the referees swallowed the whistle on his drives, leaving DeRozan without his greatest attribute as a player — that being his ability to get to the stripe. But I also factored in his defensive contributions, noting that he did make a concerted effort to chip in elsewhere. A horrible offensive performance, mixed with a great defensive performance graded out to average.

Now, it’s one thing to disagree with my process of grading. Perhaps you value defense more than offense, so his output of 11 rebounds and six steals — both career-highs — should be given more weight. Or, if you’re of the opinion that DeRozan made the right decisions, and that he shouldn’t be penalized for being shafted by the whistle, that’s fine too. At this point, we’re having a conversation about DeRozan’s on-court performance.

But that’s not what went down. I didn’t have a discussion about DeRozan’s play. I was called a hater, repeatedly.

It’s incredibly frustrating for discourse to break down in this fashion. I gave valid criticism on DeRozan’s performance while providing some context for his struggles. For that, I was called a hater. No debate. No discussion of his play.

What the non-haters fail to realize is that criticism is what got DeRozan to this point in his career. Responding to valid criticism, and honing his craft accordingly, is exactly why he’s improved. People chastised him for his ball-handling, so what do you see in the offseason? Videos of DeRozan working on his handles. People chastised him for his three-point shooting, so DeRozan fine-tuned his shot. Same with his defense, same with his passing.

And that’s not to say abject criticism, or hating, is good. It’s not. But that’s not what people are saying about DeRozan. What most people want is what I want — to be able to have a conversation about one of the best players on the team.

But it can’t be done.

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