DeRozan slowly coming of age

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is defended by Magic guard J.J. Redick at the Air Canada Centre in...

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is defended by Magic guard J.J. Redick at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 5, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:59 PM ET

TORONTO - It was a span of exactly two minutes and 37 seconds in Monday night’s game against the Orlando Magic and in that little window of time DeMar DeRozan showed the Raptors exactly the type of player they hope he will become.

DeRozan’s scoring binge just before the end of the second quarter may not have been his best as a pro, but it was certainly his best of this season.

It began at the 4:43 mark when he scored on a driving layup.

Thirty-two seconds later his jumper missed the mark. Undeterred he came right back and scored on a driving reverse layup 11 seconds later.

Another successful driving layup came 37 seconds after that and was followed by a questionable three-point attempt that failed to find the target at the 2:30 mark.

DeRozan then capped off his best stint of the season making a driving jumper with two minutes remaining in the quarter.

That’s four scores on six possessions over 2:37. You can lament the jumper and certainly question the three-point attempt but a one-trick pony is not going to be as successful as a guy who mixes it up every once in while.

What separated this particular series of plays from the rest of DeRozan’s season is how determined he was to make something happen.

Even with Dwight Howard on the floor for his entire scoring spree and Glenn (Big Baby) Davis clogging up the lane for all but 43 seconds of it, DeRozan attacked the rim with abandon.

He went right at Orlando defenders inviting contact and then playing through it.

DeRozan is by no means at his optimal playing size yet. The coaching staff is going to send him home this summer with orders to live in the gym and come back bulked up so he can absorb and play through even more punishment. But for that span Tuesday night, DeRozan was everything this organization hoped he would be when they drafted him ninth overall three years ago.

If nothing else, it’s evidence the Raptors are justified in looking at this young man as a bona fide game closer. If head coach Dwane Casey has his way, DeRozan will fill that role for the Raptors for years to come.

At least that’s the plan now. When the season began Casey handed out role cards to his players. It’s a way to ensure everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them. Three players — DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, and Leandro Barbosa — received what Casey calls closer cards. These are the guys who will get the opportunities with the game clock running down and the Raptors needing that one bucket to win or tie a game up.

Casey admitted the other day that DeRozan is still very much in the process of becoming a guy who can close out games. It’s an art only developed with time and repeated opportunities at this level. Take a peek down at Miami and even LeBron James still hasn’t mastered the art.

DeRozan, easily one of the most athletic individuals on Casey’s roster is on this list because the feeling is he can use that athleticism to get to the basket and if not score then at least force opponents to put him on the line.

Obviously that portion of Monday’s game was a long time from closing time but it was evidence that DeRozan does have it in him.

There has been plenty of talk this season about how DeRozan has plateaued. Some would even have you believe he has regressed.

What those folks aren’t considering is DeRozan, like every other Raptor who was in the lineup a year ago, is being asked to do more.

It’s no longer sufficient for him to just be a scorer like he was a year ago. He has to defend his position and even his detractors will admit the position he defends is one of the toughest, if not the toughest in the league.

In that regard he is no different than anyone else on the team. They have all been asked to do that and have shown plenty of progress in that area.

Recently DeRozan has started to make gains on the offensive side. He’s been over the 20-point threshold in six of his past eight games. In the 30 games before that he only reached the 20-plus point mark on nine occasions.

So the progress is there, on both ends of the floor, even if some people aren’t seeing it.

And those who still don’t believe he can be that scorer and eventually that go-to guy in crunch time should go back and take a look at Monday’s game. Even his harshest critics will have to admit DeRozan from the 4:43 mark to the 2:06 mark of the second quarter is exactly what is missing from the Raptors this season.

Yes, it was only 2 1/2 minutes of the 38 he played but it’s at the very least evidence that DeRozan is capable of being that elite scorer the Raptors desperately need.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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