By itself the number 6.2 may not seem like a big deal, but it could be for the Toronto Raptors going forward.
The 6.2 represents the number of times per game DeMar DeRozan has gotten to the free throw line since the all-star break.
Even head coach Dwane Casey, the guy who has been imploring DeRozan to “body hunt” and “invite contact” was caught off guard by the increase in DeRozan’s visits to the charity stripe.
It’s a key part of any scoring wing’s game and has been inconsistent for DeRozan through the first 2 1/2 seasons in the NBA.
But now it’s becoming more the norm for DeRozan. His average for the season ranks him 20th overall in attempts but in the second half alone he is in the top 12 in the league.
At first glance it would appear getting to the line is all about making up your mind to drive to the basket and force would-be defenders to foul you or get dunked on.
But as Casey, the man who has been pushing DeRozan to be more aggressive in his journey to the basket pointed out, he’s not looking for a one-trick pony either.
There’s a fine line where a player needs to find just the right balance between open jumpers and throwing his body into bigger men in the hopes of getting a call. Casey is loving the fearless DeRozan but he’s also enjoying him knocking down open jumpers and doesn’t want to give up either.
“That’s something that has been great,” Casey said of the attacking DeRozan. “That’s something we have been emphasizing with him and the more he can do that — go in and create contact, get fouls and get to the free throw line, it’s only going to open up his jumpshot and shooting game.”
Casey said the desire to attack men who are often 4-6 inches taller and can outweigh DeRozan by as much as 50 pounds isn’t something that is easy but it is something DeRozan has become more comfortable with and just as importantly better equipped to handle.
“A lot of it is not having a fear of contact,” Casey said. “That’s going in there creating contact. He has really been working with (director of sports science) Alex McKechnie in the weight room. He’s got six more pounds of (bulk) that has really helped him. He has been working on his balance and I think all those things added together creates a confidence in his body, a confidence that says I’m going to go in here and deliver contact and not be afraid of getting hit and to DeMar’s credit he’s doing that.”
In the first half of his rookie season, DeRozan averaged 2.6 trips to the free throw line. There’s the inevitable second half fatigue that hits a rookie who is playing 82 games for the first time in his life and adjusting to the travel and the reality that he’s playing against seasoned veterans with more experience, more size and more know how on the basketball court than he’s ever experienced before.
DeRozan’s free throw attempts have gone up in all four halves of the past two seasons. In his sophomore season he had 4.8 trips to the free throw line before the all-star break and 5.1 after.
This season he got to the line 4.9 times a game in the first half and has now upped that to 6.2.
“I’m just going in there praying I get a call,” DeRozan said.
And that’s the other element of this progression. Just being fearless enough to venture in there isn’t necessarily enough. You are also relying on the officials to see the contact and call it. Getting those calls is something a player earns over time and it’s only this season, and sometimes not even yet, that DeRozan is getting the benefit of those calls.
Certainly the approach DeRozan takes in his third year in the league is different than it has been.
“When I drive I look at the defender’s feet and then I try to hit them before I let the shot go,” he said. “Before I would go up and shoot a floater or something and then try and get hit. Now I try to hit them first before I put the shot up and then hope I get the call.”
Now in his third year, DeRozan goes in with a plan rather than just naked aggression.
“You just read how they are coming at you and you adjust,” he said. “It’s like when you’re in a fight and someone is going to throw a right at you and you try to counter it. That’s what I do when I’m driving, just find counters so I can get to the basket and at least finish and then at the same time get a foul too.”
And for DeRozan the earlier in a game that he can do that, the easier it is to get into a rhythm.
“I just try to get to the line. When I do that it helps me get going,” DeRozan said. “I don’t have to rely on so many jump shots and just get to the line and that’s a quick six to eight or 10 points on a good night. You get a couple of layups and the next thing you know you have 14 or 16 points.”
And before you know it the Raptors are on their way to developing the first elite scoring wing since Vince Carter wore a Toronto jersey.