DeRozan debunks sophomore jinx

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

When the Raptors selected DeMar DeRozan with the 9th pick of the 2009 draft, the team was cautiously optimistic it had found a key part of its future.

Back-to-back 30-point performances in London last week were the latest steps taken by young DeRozan to justify that faith.

As a sophomore, DeRozan has continued his trend of finishing strong.

The USC product made encouraging progress as a rookie, scoring 8.6 points per game on 49.8% shooting, improving down the stretch (57% shooting over the final 24 games of the season) just as he did during his lone year in college.

In seven games since the all-star break this year, DeRozan has averaged 21.1 points and 3.0 rebounds on 48.8% shooting. He has also nailed his last 35 free throws

DeRozan has become — along with leading scorer Andrea Bargnani — a go-to guy in Toronto, far sooner than most imagined — unless they were certain Chris Bosh would leave town the summer after Year 1.

Forced to step up, the 21-year-old has done so by focusing on the two main weaknesses critics saw in his game — ball-handling and shooting ability.

“It just looks effortless sometimes how he has the ability to create a shot ... he wants the basketball and he has the ability to create,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said after practice on Monday.

“His ball-handling has got a whole lot better, his ability to read defences (is) better and I just think his game is really starting to evolve even more than we probably expected it to.”

DeRozan said he feels much stronger than he did as a rookie and that has helped.

“Oh man, I was done last year (at this point of the season). I won’t lie (even though) I wasn’t playing half the minutes like I am now,” he said with a laugh.

“I was tired last year, the rookie wall and all of that.”

DeRozan also said he loves getting the ball in the clutch, which has been happening more often of late. Most teams avoid going to big men down the stretch the way the Raptors have been forced to in recent years with Bosh and Bargnani, because smaller players tend to be able to create more with the ball in their clutches.

“The coaching staff is putting a lot of trust in me, I’m just taking advantage of it,” DeRozan said.

“I love it. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s definitely a challenge.”

Triano said he has had to make DeRozan a focal point out of necessity, but his young charge has responded.

“He’s had the experience of having the basketball in his hands and playing a lot more minutes than we probably anticipated that he would,” Triano said.

Triano added DeRozan’s markedly improved range and accuracy with his jumper has probably been the main reason why he has become the third-leading sophomore scorer in the NBA at 16.5 points per game.

“His ability to shoot the ball has opened up a lot of things. Teams played off of him last year and forced him to shoot. This year, he’s making teams pay with that 18-foot jump shot, which means you have to play up, which gives him room to create.”

DeRozan has taken full advantage.

The trick now will be to continue progressing.


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