The DeRozan paradox: Raptors can't progress unless old-school star adapts


The DeRozan paradox: Raptors can't progress unless old-school star adapts
  1. The DeRozan paradox: Raptors can't progress unless old-school star adapts
    torontosun.com
    TORONTO — During the first round of last season’s NBA playoffs, as the Toronto Raptors were yet again struggling to put away a weaker opponent, I had a conversation with a member of the basketball operations tea…
    Basketball

TORONTO — During the first round of last season’s NBA playoffs, as the Toronto Raptors were yet again struggling to put away a weaker opponent, I had a conversation with a member of the basketball operations team.

He was confident that the Raptors would still beat the Milwaukee Bucks, and relieved that Toronto hadn’t drawn the Indiana Pacers, where Paul George loomed. Against the Bucks, he said, the Raptors simply had to play smart. Pass out of double-teams and traps, and make the Bucks pay for their aggressiveness.

The name DeMar DeRozan was not mentioned, but it didn’t need to be. The Raptors’ star shooting guard has long been one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success while at the same time exposing its limitations. And, as a new Sports Illustrated player ranking — 36th in the NBA, up from 46 last year — both rankled DeRozan and kicked off another round of debate over his value, it’s worth noting that Toronto’s offseason retooling hinges very much on whether the 27-year-old can be something other than the very good player he has proven to be so far.

First, a word about rankings: Silly. They exist entirely to kick off the squabbles that they inevitably kick off, so there’s little point in fighting over where DeRozan should be on Sports Illustrated’s list. He is, as the publication noted, an impressive scorer who has drawbacks to his game, particularly on defence

But what makes DeRozan “polarizing,” to use Sports Illustrated’s word, is that he is an old-style star in a new-style era. Today’s NBA is one where players earn the most praise for shooting from three-point range and for passing effectively within a ball-movement system. DeRozan doesn’t do much of any of that, and as a result his team doesn’t. Golden State and Boston, the top seeds in each conference last season, had the highest percentage of assisted baskets. Toronto was last in the NBA.

One can understand DeRozan’s frustration: he’s out here taking a ton of shots (third in the league), scoring a lot of points (fifth) and drawing a pile of fouls (fifth), the epitome of the kind of player the league once lionized, and the fancy-stats crowd all but rolls its eyes at his production. That’s of particular importance in the NBA, where advanced stats have won the day. DeRozan may have often heard M-V-P chants at the Air Canada Centre last season, but he received exactly one vote in that race, a fifth-place one at that.

None of these are new developments. When the Raptors gave DeRozan a five-year, US$139-million contract two offseasons ago, they were committing themselves to trying to win in the modern NBA with a key player whose game was decidedly Amish.

Despite the summer roster overhaul, that is still the plan. Or, at least, the hope is DeRozan can be less Amish.

Consider that discussion from last spring. The team was worried about Indiana, because George had been an effective DeRozan stopper a year earlier. And it was frustrated early by Milwaukee because the Bucks were stifling Toronto’s half-court offence. Both of those things have to change if the Raptors are going to become more than a very good regular-season team that ekes out playoff wins over low seeds in the early rounds. They can’t run an offence that is so vulnerable to an excellent one-on-one defender like George, and they can’t run an offence that lacks the ball movement that is the hallmark of the league’s best teams.

Because DeRozan gets so many plays — third in the league in usage rate — much of that will come down to him. Can he get others involved when the defence keys on him? Will he pass up inefficient shots in favour of getting his teammates efficient ones? It would, obviously, also help the Raptors tremendously if he…

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