It was always building to this. But how could we have known? How could we have known that the kid from Compton, who came into the league an athletic wing who couldn’t shoot, would evolve into what he is now: A scoring machine, a good defender when he puts his mind to it, an ever-improving passer, and much more.
Well, DeMar DeRozan knew. He tweeted as much back in 2010:
Don’t worry, I got us…
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) June 29, 2010
That faith in himself to succeed and the work he consistently puts into his game finally came to a head on New Year’s Day, culminating in a franchise record 52-point performance that saw DeRozan take sole ownership of the achievement from old friend Terrence Ross and former Raptor Vince Carter. But it wasn’t just that DeRozan dropped 52 points on the Milwaukee Bucks (an Eastern Conference rival), it was that he displayed an all-around level of dominance for 48+ minutes (due to overtime) that was an encapsulation of everything he’s worked so hard for.
Let’s start with what everyone’s most interested in: The points.
DeRozan has now reached a place offensively where anytime he’s on the floor, one believes he can get a basket whenever he wants. And one would be right, because not only is DeRozan able to score in nearly every way possible, his confidence is also at a supremely high level—perhaps the highest we’ve ever seen.
Take, for instance, his recent three-point prowess. Over his last 10 games, DeRozan is shooting 46.7 per cent from downtown, and this season is up to a career-high 34.9 per cent. In the game against the Bucks, he went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and left Milwaukee players looking at each other and shrugging. When DeRozan makes his threes, he becomes nearly impossible to guard—it was the one place defenders felt comfortable leaving him wide open, even desiring him to shoot from there, but now that seems to be changing. With every triple he drains, DeRozan’s willingness to take those shots and confidence when pulling up seems to be increasing. Bad news for opponents.
If DeRozan is able to get into the lane with even a little momentum, there’s no stopping him. By this point in his career, DeRozan is too strong to stop without giving him a shoving foul, and he can score with either hand easily. He has a sweet euro-step that he often uses to give a defender the slip when they think he’s going to charge full force, and he’s so agile and quick that most bigs are too slow to react to how he’s coming at them. And, if he somehow can’t manage to get in deep enough, he can let fly a pretty, high-arcing floater from anywhere around the key. He’s one of the top scorers in the league within three feet of the hoop, making 65.5 per cent of his shots in there.
Perhaps one of the most underrated parts of his offensive skill set is his ability to perform in the post. DeRozan has always had nice feel down there (he has mentioned multiple times about watching tape of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant) and his footwork is so spectacular that even other superstars like Kevin Durant have taken notice and complimented him. That aforementioned strength has come in irreplaceably useful when backing guys down and turning into a move. Where DeRozan looks most Kobe-like is during his turnaround jumpers along the baseline, shooting over defenders despite a hand in his face.
Then there’s DeRozan’s patented shot—the pull-up midrange jumper from 16 feet, the shot he’s become famous for merely because the league is trending away from it for its supposed lack of efficiency. DeRozan takes most of his shots (29.1 per cent) from 10–16 feet, and shoots 47 per cent in that range. He’s making 51.3 per cent of his two-pointers overall this season.
So yeah, DeRozan can score. And on that chilly January night he nearly burned down the ACC with how supernova-hot he was. If you take a close look you can actually see scorch marks on the ball. But as mentioned earlier, this game was not just about DeRozan’s scoring. Looking past the franchise record, he also managed to continue his stellar passing, play great defense, and make intelligent decisions with the ball.
I wrote an entire article on DeRozan’s passing this season, which you can read here, so I won’t go into too long of a spiel on it. But it would be foolish to ignore that, amongst the rainstorm of buckets, DeRozan also recorded eight dimes on New Year’s Day. Yes, he looked for his shot, but he also looked for his teammates, and when one of them was open, he didn’t look them off. Instead, he made the passes he’s been making all season long, finding guys out of the pick and roll and off of curls, and kicking out after penetration.
This leads directly into his decision-making, which also was unaffected by his hot-hand. Late in the game and in overtime, when everything was on the line, DeRozan was often being trapped by the Bucks, two of them swarming over to him every time he caught the ball. It would have been too easy for DeRozan to jack up a tough, contested shot (and be like Kobe!), but instead he read the situation and made sound decisions, such as passing to a cutting man in the lane that garnered him a hockey assist. It was moments such as this that showed just how far DeRozan has come as a player, how much he believes in his teammates, and how his will to win overshadows even his own individual success.
Lastly, DeRozan’s defense was outstanding! Finally, for an entire game, we saw the player we all know he can be on that end of the floor. He was all over the place, sticking to his man, switching properly, and even swatted a shot by Khris Middleton from behind. And when there was just 3.2 seconds left to play in regulation, DeRozan bodied Malcolm Brogdon at the top of the arc so well that Brogdon wasted all of those seconds just trying to get past him to see the rim at all. It was the sort of effort and intensity that, combined with everything else, made him look like the unstoppable force he has always believed he can become.
It was always building to this. We couldn’t have known, but DeRozan did, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing now. Pretty good for a kid from Compton who couldn’t shoot.