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DeRozan Poised For A Breakout Season

DeMar DeRozan is known for his work ethic, but he had every excuse this summer to relax and take it easier.

After signing a four-year extension last October worth $40 million and becoming a father for the first time this summer, few people would have blamed him for spending time away from the court and relaxing with his family.

Instead, DeRozan went back to the lab and he’s returned to the Toronto Raptors as a much-improved player. Over the summer, he was busy playing in the Drew League, working out with United States Select Team, and spending a ton of time sweating in empty gyms refining his game. He wasn’t content with a big paycheck and he wanted to prove his critics wrong.

If this preseason is any indication, this season will provide DeRozan with the perfect opportunity to prove his critics wrong.

DeRozan’s critics started to make noise last October when he inked a four-year extension worth $40 million that kicked in this season.

The grumblings got louder in January when Toronto traded for Rudy Gay, and fans and the media doubted DeRozan and Gay could play together since neither player was a lock-down defender or possessed a consistent 3-point shot. The fact that DeRozan has shot 23 percent from beyond the arc over his career and only 28 percent last season seemed to make those complaints valid.

All that talk about DeRozan and Gay not being able to play together is being squashed as the duo has combined to score 31.7 of Toronto’s points over the first three preseason games.

When you throw into the mix that Toronto was a respectable 18-18 with Gay on the team after starting the season 4-19, and it’s clear the duo doesn’t have any issues playing together or helping the team win games.

DeRozan has been one of the bright spots for Toronto during the preseason. He’s averaging 16.6 points per game while shooting 50 percent or better from the field in every game so far.

Aside from the numbers, DeRozan appears to be playing with a new-found confidence. Against the Knicks on Friday, he scored on a nifty up-and-under move in the post, a deep jumper, from the free throw line, and he threw down some nasty dunks.

Oh, and he also two impressive behind-the-back passes to Jonas Valanciunas that ended with vicious dunks that roused a sleepy crowd at the Air Canada Centre from their Friday slumber.

“He’s playing at a high level,” Dwane Casey raved to me. “He’s playing big minutes but he’s playing at a high level. He’s being very efficient and he had only two turnovers. He’s playing efficient basketball with his passes, with his attacks and with his reads. He’s probably the most efficient player we have right now.”

DeRozan scored 13 points in the first quarter before finishing with a team-high 20 points. He started the game shooting 5-7 from the field before finishing with an impressive 7-15 from the field and 6-6 from the charity stripe.

A big reason why DeRozan appears to be able to score at will is he has reverted to body hunting like his head coach begged him to do last season.

“My big thing is I was eighth in free throws last season and I want to be top five this season,” DeRozan explained after the win against New York. “That will come with being aggressive. That’s big for me. Coach (Bill) Bayno and the entire coaching staff have been stressing that to me. Just taking a straight line to the bucket. I’ve gotten bigger (so I can absorb the contact).”

DeRozan has has faults in his game, but entering his fifth season in the NBA he appears to be aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a player. He has spent a lot of time this summer working on his weaknesses, and he’s now playing to his strengths instead of being the type of player the media or fans want him to be.

If DeRozan is able to continue his recent play into the regular season, he will take a big step forward this season while making his critics eat a lot of crow.

Ryan McNeill
Ryan McNeill has appeared on ESPN Radio, MTV Canada, SiriusXM, The Fan 590 and other radio programs and TV shows. He has covered the NBA with media credentials since the 2007-08 season.
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