Hard work puts DeRozan in the zone

DeMar DeRozan during a Toronto Raptors basketball practice at the Air Canada Centre in downtown...

DeMar DeRozan during a Toronto Raptors basketball practice at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto Dec., 29, 2011. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

NEW YORK - Watch DeMar DeRozan shooting three’s these days and it’s as good an advertisement for Dwane Casey’s methodology as a full-page ad in one of Toronto’s dailies.

Watch him shoot the ball from anywhere on the court these days and you can’t help but marvel at how far he has come in one calendar year.

A season ago DeRozan’s jump shot was very much an evolving part of his game.

He could and can dunk with the best of them, perhaps better than anyone including the immortalized Blake Griffin and would have proved it had our neighbours to the south not fallen for that over-hyped jump over the hood of a car, but the staple of the young, rising star’s arsenal was inconsistent.

The jumper wasn’t there many nights and the long-range three was a once every 15 games or so kind of thing.

For the 2010-2011 season, DeRozan shot 46% from the field and was 5-of-52 from three-point range for the year.

Through five games this year, DeRozan has already matched his three-point output with five three’s in eight attempts following a perfect two-for-two night in New York Monday night when the Raps upset the host New York Knicks.

From the field so far this season, DeRozan is shooting 47% which is only a tick better than what he finished at last year but he’s also being asked to take more shots and be a bigger part of the Raptors’ offence, particularly in crunch time.

His secret to improving isn’t a secret at all really. It’s the same formula Casey is using to get the entire young Raptors squad up to snuff.

It comes down to putting in the work and DeRozan sounds surprised when asked how he went about improving his long-range shooting.

“Work. That’s all it is,” DeRozan said sounding like someone had just asked him what colour the sun was. “Just working on it. Last year I wasn’t hitting them but I worked on it and definitely extended my range. I think last year I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I was timid about shooting it. When I’m shooting it now I shoot it with confidence like I know it’s going in.”

The same goes for his mid-range jumper which started to come around about this time last season, albeit much deeper into the schedule which in 2010 actually began on time.

His confidence got a huge boost during a New Year’s Eve game last season in Houston when he went off for his career high 37-point night.

The same confidence is now there at the three-point line.

It’s all part of the plan to put DeRozan in the conversation when talk turns to the upper tier shooting guards in the game.

At the age of 22, DeRozan still has plenty of room to grow and his work ethic, as long as it remains consistent, should help him maximize his great potential.

Count Casey among those impressed with DeRozan’s efforts to make himself a better player.

Having players not afraid to put in the time, particularly the marquee players on his roster, can only help when it comes to setting the right tone.

And Casey isn’t shy about saying he is asking plenty from his team.

But he makes no apologies for the extended practices and extended shootarounds that are taking the place of some practices in a year when a condensed schedule does not allow the practice time a team normally has.

Like DeRozan with his shot, there are things that need to be worked on and that takes time. In a year where the conditions are far from ideal for changing the mindset of an entire roster from primarily offence to primarily defence, Casey needs every little bit of help he can get.

“It’s one of the toughest things you have to do in sports whether it’s football, baseball, or basketball is to change an offensive-minded team into a defensive-minded team,” Casey said. “We had to do it in Dallas. Avery Johnson started the process and we kind of came in during the middle of it. It’s tough because your superstar like Dirk (Nowitzki) in Dallas was a great offensive player but by the end he’s talking defence. That’s the process we are going through here. It’s not always pretty but I’m selling it every day and the guys are buying it right now.”

Having players like DeRozan who are used to putting in the hard work can only make the process a bit easier.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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