DALLAS - Though the Raptors have started the season at 1-4, there have been some bright spots through five games.
The play of DeMar DeRozan ranks right near the top.
Instead of struggling with the pressure that comes with signing a big new contract, DeRozan has taken his game up another level so far, just as the team expected him to.
In about three minutes fewer per game than he has averaged over the past two seasons, DeRozan is averaging career highs in points (17.8), assists (2.2), steals (1.0), rebounds (4.4) and free throw percentage and attempts per game (83.3%, 6.0 attempts a night) and he has halved his turnover average from a season ago.
DeRozan tied his career high for assists with seven in Dallas on Wednesday and already has two games with at least 20 points and six rebounds after only managing that feat 11 times over his first three NBA seasons, including just three times all of 2011-12.
There’s a long way to go, so the numbers don’t mean a ton yet, but the way DeRozan is playing does. He doesn’t look like the guy who struggled through a forgettable shortened year.
Even opponents are noticing.
“He’s more confident. I think that’s the biggest thing. You can tell when you play against a guy in his confidence and he was confident in his moves,” said Vince Carter, who had a good battle going with DeRozan all night on Wednesday.
“He was confident in his decisions that he made and I think that just comes with repetition, and of course, years.”
Kyle Lowry’s influence hasn’t hurt either. Lowry, the do-everything point guard acquired in the off-season from Houston, sets an example by constantly attacking the glass.
“He’s given the rest of the players a swagger, he’s given DeMar a swagger,” head coach Dwane Casey said of Lowry, who continues to get treatment on his sprained right ankle.
“He gives us a little more of an identity the way we want to play.”
It was a good sign that DeRozan was able to have a stat-stuffing game on Wednesday even with Lowry out of the lineup.
Lowry knew DeRozan had talent, but seems surprised at how well he has started the season.
“He’s really good, it makes my job a lot easier,” Lowry said.
“He’s come into his own a little bit. His post game is really working well, he’s shooting the three-ball a little bit better being more comfortable, being aggressive, and that’s what we need from him.”
When DeRozan signed his extension, the thinking was he needed to show more. He couldn’t just be a mildly efficient scorer who didn’t do much else.
Though his defence still needs work, DeRozan appears more engaged in every area of the game.
“DeMar has taken that step forward and he’s got to continue to keep taking those steps forward to continue to be the player he wants to be,” Casey said.
AROUND THE RIM
There was no update on Thursday on Lowry, who remains day-to-day ahead of Saturday’s game against Philadelphia … Quincy Acy made his NBA debut late in the third quarter. In his hometown of Dallas and with family sitting courtside no less.
Acy gave the team some good energy as the Raptors hung around. Once Lowry returns, Acy will likely head back to the inactive list … Casey wanted to see what his team had in terms of heart after Tuesday’s disaster in Oklahoma City. “I think we’re a resilient team. Every time the team has had a stinker like that, they’ve bounced back. Tomorrow will tell,” he said before the Dallas meeting. Afterwards, Casey was pleased that his team responded, overcoming a bad start to give Dallas a game.