The Evolution of the Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan, Raptors

By Joshua Howe

DeMar DeRozan is undeniably having the best season of his career. From improving his defense to making savvier, quicker passes and shooting the three-pointer at a league-average percentage, each year the Toronto Raptors’ All-Star adds something new to his game thanks to a tenacious work ethic.

In his ninth season, everything has come together for DeRozan, who’s come a long way from the athletic two-guard who couldn’t to a player on the fringes of MVP discussions.

DeRozan’s rise isn’t a complete reinvention of his game, but rather, the subtle blending and improvement of layers that have long existed. With that in mind, here are 10 moves that define DeMar DeRozan as one of the top five shooting guards in the game today.

1.) The Straight-Arm Tomahawk

True, DeRozan finishes a lot of dunks two-handed, but those are jams typically for safety in traffic or when moving at a lower speed. When he really turns the jets on, he’s cocking that thing way up over his head one-handed and hammering it with authority over whoever is in his way.

DeRozan’s draft pedigree hinged, in great part, due to his athleticism. This explosion and elevation are most often showcased in the lift he gets on his jumper, but are most artistically expressed in this signature dunk.

2.) The Midrange Pull-up

DeRozan’s bread and butter, his pièce de résistance, his chef-d’œuvre, his masterwork, his iconic—if anachronistic—move.

While he has altered his reputation as an archaic-yet-effective player somewhat by shooting and making more threes this season, DeRozan’s game still heavily relies on his adroit ability to make tough midrange jumpers off the dribble. A career-high 27.2 per cent of his shots are coming from 10–16 feet this season, and he’s making 46.2 percent of them.

DeRozan’s also become quite adept at making these pull-ups while he’s on the move—an ineffably difficult shot to be sure, but one that also keeps defenders off balance and unable to react quickly.

This development was DeRozan’s first on the path to being a productive player, giving him a means to channel his athleticism before his handle and other components of his game matured.

3. The “Gotcha!” Pump-Fakes

Once DeRozan established his pull-up jumper, weaponizing the threat of it with a pump fake was the most natural evolution of his game.

The only other player who gets opponents to bite on pump-fakes at such a maniacal rate is the Dwyane Wade of yesteryear. DeRozan, however, is still young and explosive, and when you toss in his killer midrange game, opponents find it extremely difficult to stay on the ground as he throws one … two … gotcha! DeRozan is one of just eight players this season averaging at least seven free throw attempts per game and, even more impressively, is one of the three guards (Russell Westbrook, James Harden) doing so.

Whether curling off screens or using his quick burst to create separation off the dribble, the first step is for DeMar DeRozan to get his defender out of position. Then, always on balance thanks to pristine footwork, he sells the elevation to get the scrambling defender off the floor.

4. The Kobe Turnaround

It’s no secret Kobe Bryant is one of DeRozan’s inspirations, and with the type of game he plays, it’s not tough to see why. One of the most impressive parts of DeRozan’s abilities has always been his footwork, and so it shouldn’t be surprising he often chooses to back smaller or equal-sized players down into or near the post. He’ll then hit them with a shoulder fake or two, turn, and rise over them to knock down the jumper. Smooth.

As DeRozan’s jump shot has improved, he’s also taken to shooting the turnaround farther out. At this point, so long as it’s within the arc, it’s practically money.

5. The Under-the-Rim Pump-Fake

When DeRozan finds himself deep down in the paint, his pump-faking talent becomes more useful than ever. Pivoting and turning to keep his defenders guessing, he’ll make a sudden turn towards the rim, ball exposed as if to shoot, and all those within the vicinity will raise their hands and leave their feet, allowing DeRozan to gather himself and slip right under them to lay the ball in with relative ease. There are plenty of big men who wish they could do this.

6. The North Connection Lob

Once DeMar DeRozan’s individual offensive game hit a point of self-sufficiency, his next development was integrating his skills within the rest of the offense.

This is a play Kyle Lowry and DeRozan have been running for years now, and it still happens every other game or so. DeRozan will receive an off-ball screen (sometimes he’s just left wide-open in the corner) and make a backdoor dash towards the hoop. Then Lowry, at the top of the arc, will lob a beautiful pass that sails over the heads of eight other players until it eventually finds DeRozan’s hands, high above the rim, ready to slam it home.

7. The Teardrop

One of the more recent additions to his offensive repertoire, DeRozan is now exceptionally good at working his way into the middle of the paint, chewing his options, and then, if there is no pass to be made and no clear path to the rim, he’ll toss up the gentlest floater you’ve ever seen, splashing it home. He’s making 49 percent of his shots between 3–10 feet this season, his best mark since his rookie year.

The teardrop will be a valuable tool as DeRozan ages and his athleticism wanes, and has already added subtle layers to his game. With another tool in the in-between game to pull rim protectors out, DeRozan can bide his time, read the floor and be quick without hurrying.

8. The Eurostep

Again, the footwork. DeRozan is so lithe and agile that shaking a defender out of their sneakers has become the norm for him. He’ll never get recognized like Wade or Manu Ginobili do for the same move, but he’s become so proficient at it that it’s now one of his go-to moves in space, and he even seems to prefer it on the break most of the time, as opposed to trying to dunk.

It’s not unusual to witness DeRozan whip out a Eurostep in the half-court, either. With his midrange and floater game developed, opponents have to meet him further from the rim, giving him space to dance around them.

When he does it in these instances, he looks like he’s moving in slow-motion, his opponents frozen in time.

9. The Jump Pass

This used to get DeRozan into a bunch of trouble—he would charge into the paint, with the mindset to score, and then when he got cut off, he’d leap into the air, looking around frantically for a teammate to throw the ball to. Turnover.

But now, in his ninth season, DeRozan’s a much more controlled player. The pull-up, the floater, the footwork, the experience in the offense—all have worked to slow the game for him as he moves through it quickly.

With improved vision, he’ll put himself in a similar position, but will be looking instead for the teammates left open as the defense collapses on him in the lane. The jump pass isn’t one of desperation, but a planned means to create a passing lane to an open teammate.

10. The PnR Pocket Pass

An enormous reason for DeRozan’s exquisite play this season has to do with his decision-making and passing improvements. He understands now what the threat of his ability to score can do to create his teammates open looks. In the pick and roll, he’s become an elite ball handler, currently sitting in the 83rd percentile. The zippy, close-quarters pocket pass to one of the Raptors’ rolling bigs has suddenly become a staple of DeRozan’s ever-growing game.

Yes, DeRozan is hitting three-pointers now. But he still works from inefficient spots on the court. Having added so many layers to his game, he now draws defenses there. The pocket pass, and his passing in general, is the final development of a fully realized and extremely potent DeMar DeRozan.

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