Raptors fans have been sent on quite the roller coaster this year. What was supposed to be a season that provided answers about the future has really only led to more confusion. Beyond Bargnani in limited games, Toronto’s young players have been largely disappointing, none more so then DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan came into this year after a solid sophomore season where he showed the potential to one day be a really good scorer. It was expected that after another offseason to work on his game, he’d return better than ever. That has not been the case. After a start to the season that saw him show off an improved three-point shot, DeRozan fell off the map for an extended stretch. Over 19 games in January, DeMar shot a putrid 36.7% from the field, on his way to just over 14 points a game. His Effective Field Goal % (EFG%) was less than 40%, and he averaged 2.3 turnovers compared to 1.3 assists per game. The lack of Andrea Bargnani for most of those games, the introduction to a new system, and DeMar’s own limitations as a player all contributed to his terrible month.
However, a few games before the All Star Break, DeMar started putting together a nice string of games. Starting with a February 15th loss to the Spurs where he scored 29, DeRozan has scored 21 or more in 7 out of his last 9 games. It’s not a coincidence that the Raptors are a (relatively) robust 4-5 in those games. In fact, since an embarrassing loss to the Bobcats on February 17th, the Raptors have a point differential of +37. That’s +5.28 per game, pretty good considering they’ve played playoff teams like Orlando, Houston (twice), and Memphis (incidentally, DeMar’s worst game of this most recent stretch). DeRozan’s improvement isn’t the biggest reason for this run of improvement, but it’s impossible to conclude that a relatively efficient scorer doesn’t help.
Over the last 10 games, DeRozan has upped his FG% to 45.8%, and his EFG% to 46.8%. That’s still not good, but compared to the inefficiency of January? DeRozan is doing golden. How has he managed to up his percentages like this? The answer is pretty simple. DeMar was shooting at the rim less than 4 times a game in January, and making only about 52% of his shots there. However, over this current stretch, DeMar has shot at the rim over 5 times a game, and he’s making about 70% of these attempts. He’s also shooting a few more free throws per game (5.3/game over the last 10), and his shooting from 16-23 feet has also improved (to 33%, but still).
DeRozan’s non-scoring contributions to the team remain minimal. However, over the last 10 games, he’s managed to up his Assist Rate and cut his Turnover Rate to a passable 10.3% each. He still needs improvement there, but at the very least, he’s not being as careless with the ball as he once was. DeMar’s rebounding remains poor, at just 3.1 boards a game (Hoopdata doesn’t have split numbers for Rebounding Rate). And his defense has been at times above average (his P&R defense especially, which according to Synergy, is 44th in the league), but mostly has been mediocre.
So considering DeMar’s numbers of late, what do we make of his improvement? It’s become obvious he doesn’t have what it takes to be a prime scoring option on anything other than the worst of teams, and his numbers other than scoring indicate a limited player. However, I don’t think it’s out-of-bounds to suggest that DeRozan can eventually become a solid 3rd or even 2nd scoring option on a playoff team. His skill set can mesh with a star player, and he’s capable of sometimes looking like a star, for quarters at a time. Although it’d behoove Toronto to target a wing, ideally Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd Gilchrist in the upcoming draft, if DeMar manages to continue this surge, and maybe even build on it, I think it’d be fair to say he’s played a way into the future of the team.
All stats courtesy of Hoopdata and mySynergySports