Much has been written, debated and dissected regarding DeMar DeRozan’s game throughout his 8-year professional career with the Toronto Raptors. A recurring theme has ever been his dedication to his craft, to coming back to training camp with a couple of new moves, tightening up and enhancing his existing skillset. Last season was no different. In the wake of the longest NBA season of his career combined with the Olympic tournament in 2016 with the USA squad, he had a legitimate excuse to rest on his laurels and take a breather ahead of the 16/17 season.
Instead, motivated in part by SI ranking him 46th among active NBA players, DeRozan worked harder than ever, and took the league by storm in the first month, stringing one 30+ point performance after another like he was grinding for badges on MyCareer in 2K.
He posted the highest output in his career in points (by far), rebounds, free throws made and attempted, and the second highest true shooting percentage behind only his rookie season (while nearly doubling his usage over that year).
But, Jae Crowder.
In the 2016/17 regular season campaign, DeRozan stamped his name over a host of franchise records, including games played, minutes played, points scored and free throws made. He developed a habit of scoring key buckets in the final stretches of close games (shout-out to D-Rose), cracked the All-NBA third team for the first time, was mentioned by Kevin Durant who cited his world-class footwork as the best he’d seen “In a long, long time.” Oh, and he got on the cover of the Canadian retail version of NBA 2K18, for whatever it’s worth.
And yet, all those accolades were not enough to rank him above Jae ‘Bae’ Crowder, according to ESPN. While some of the other players that placed higher than the 39th-ranked DeRozan have unique skills that can be argued by some to be more valuable than DeMar’s, Crowder’s case is difficult to fathom. As last summer’s SI ranking proved however, this whiteboard material may become a blessing in disguise for the Raptors.
In fairness to his critics, DeRozan’s game was not free of blemishes even in his best year as a pro.
His two major weaknesses, defense and three-point shooting once again reared their ugly head in the playoffs. Despite increasing his defensive intensity fueled by the arrival of the all-business P.J. Tucker, the effect was only temporary. And as the season and especially postseason three-point shooting percentages show, that part of his game failed to improve. It was no small miracle that despite a horrendous long-range shooting total (under 7%(!)) and the infamous zero field goals game in Milwaukee, DeMar posted the second best playoff true shooting percentage of his career, a respectable 53.3%. The end result though – the team struggled yet again on most of their offensive possessions, leading to a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.
With the Raptors set to overhaul their offense to rely more on passing and long range shots, it remains to be seen whether DeMar’s game can adapt. Examples could be pulled from nearly every Toronto game showing the ball zipping around the court from player to player, until it reaches DeRozan. There, it would stop, as the USC product would grind the pace down to a halt, and take on his man one-on-one. While that often means a basket or a foul in DeRozan’s favour, it makes the club’s offense highly predictable and relatively easy to plan for. Will DeMar’s game take another evolutionary step, or will he resort to old habits when the pressure is at its highest? While those are fair questions, they are but the newest scions of a deep-rooted tree.
As fans, our emotions often ebb and flow along with the daily performances of our favourite team and players. While that’s a main reason sports fandom is as exhilarating and addicting as it is, it also at times detracts from the larger picture. We live in the age of Kevin Durant’s move from one title contender to its 73-9 rival, Lebron’s Decision, and Neymar and Mbappe’s cynical moves to big-money PSG. These athletes contrast sharply with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Francesco Totti, loyal club icons who have become synonymous with their franchises.
While DeMar DeRozan is nowhere near those legends as of yet, he has plenty in common with them. Vince Carter put the Raptors on the NBA map, Chris Bosh put in a strong seven year stretch before leaving to win titles in Florida, but it was DeMar DeRozan who made The Six his home. He has invested himself fully with the franchise; dedicated himself to improving year after year; signed his latest contract without even speaking to any other club. In his words: “I am Toronto.” He set a franchise standard for years to come, and Norman Powell’s early extension can be partly attributed to the example set by the senior shooting guard on the roster.
Whether he will end up bringing an NBA title to the city or not, DeRozan is growing into the role of a franchise legend now, and the Raptors are growing with him. There will be a time when we look back at this era with fondness, remembering DeMar’s dunks, big shots, and annual playoff appearances. And so let us savor the coming season and enjoy another year of prime DeMar DeRozan.
But seriously, Jae Crowder?