When Dwane Casey arrived in Toronto a couple seasons ago one of his mandates was to turn DeMar DeRozan into a fourth quarter closer.
Yeah, the same player who prior to this season had never shot better than 28% from beyond the arc, owns a career 44% field goal percentage and was prone to going long stretches in games where he wouldn’t even shoot the ball.
Casey’s bold claims were often met with chuckles from the media and shock from fans.
DeRozan is making Casey look like a genius this season as the talented guard is averaging a career-best 20.9 points per game, shooting a solid 30.7% from beyond the arc and he has started to have ice in his veins during fourth quarters.
This newfound clutch shooting late in games was on display against the Indiana Pacers when DeRozan scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter.
This game wasn’t an anomaly, as NBA.com shows DeRozan is averaging 4.7 points in fourth quarters this season while having a healthy +/- of +2.8.
“I just understand when my team needs to lean on me in the fourth quarter I have to pull through,” DeRozan told me after the win against Indiana. “I can’t be tired. I can’t have any excuses. I’ve gotta’ do whatever I can to help this team win.”
But it’s more than just willing himself to the free throw line or making high percentage shots late in games; it has been the mental adjustments that have been huge for DeRozan this season.
“He has made a big, huge jump from two years ago when I first got here,” Casey boasted to me earlier this week. “He’s always getting better. He’s working on getting stronger. He’s reading situations and how the defense is playing him. He’s taking what the defense is giving him and that’s the biggest step that he has made. He’s more efficient in his shot selection. He knows if the defense comes he’s kicking it out and he’s passing out of his touches.”
A big part of the mental adjustment Casey is talking about is reading what teams are giving him and making the necessary adjustments instead of forcing things.
“I thought he did a good job reading those screens,” Casey said after the win against the Pacers. “As the game went on, he did a better job deciding if he was going to fade it, curl it, or pop it and just generally reading what the defense gave him. That’s another step in his development; reading what the defense gives him and not just being robotic in his play. That’s been a huge step for him.”
DeRozan is still a young player with plenty of room to grow, but it’s becoming clear this season that all of his long hours in empty gyms are starting to pay dividends.
While it’s working out for the Raptors on the court, it’s also making Casey look like a genius for seeing something in DeRozan that nobody else did.