Micheal Jordan. DeMar DeRozan.
Odd, isn’t it? Something does not quite fit. What has DeRozan done to be mentioned in the same breath as His Airness?
Well, everything. So far.
MJ was the last player to begin a season scoring 30+ points in five straight games. The season he did it in? The 1986-‘87 season where Jordan finished with an average of 37.1 Points Per Game, the fifth highest scoring average for a single season in the history of the NBA.
DeRozan has opened his 2016-‘17 campaign by carving up five NBA defences, including the reigning champions Cleveland Cavaliers, for 40, 32, 33, 40 and 34 points, respectively. This, while shooting a wild 55% from the field (he shot 63% in the season opening game vs. the Detroit Pistons) and just one three-pointer. Yes, one.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said the eight-year veteran when informed that he had scored himself into the same conversation as arguably the greatest player ever. “I’m just trying to go out there and win. When you hear something like that, you cannot believe it”
Drafted ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2009 NBA Draft, DeMar DeRozan, a native of Los Angeles, caught the tail end of the Chris Bosh era during the 2009-‘10 season. Bosh, an All-Star who never quite became the franchise cornerstone the Raptors hoped he would, parted ways in a sign-and-trade with Miami Heat to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
While Bosh embraced his new role, reinvented himself and went on to win two championships in the next three seasons, DeRozan and the Raptors were in rebuild mode. It took them two more miserable seasons, muddled with an oversized roster of role players, to finally catch a break on the trade block.
Just as DeRozan was coming into his own, the Raptors landed him a running mate in Kyle Lowry for the 2012-‘13 season. The duo and the Raptors have not looked back since.
Best Raptor ever? Not just yet
Barring an injury, DeRozan will finish this season as the Raptors’ all time leading scorer and atop nearly every conceivable offensive category. It is hard to surpass the overall impact of Chris Bosh who contributed at both ends of the floor, or even Vince Carter who, in addition to his dynamic scoring, left this memory etched in everyone’s mind. The argument can be made, just not yet.
Not that it bothers DeRozan. “I’m just a student of the game,” he humbly reminded us. “I just try and put everything together, be a student of the game while working, always feeling like I’m new to the game, so I can soak up as much as possible. I try to release it once I get out there on the court.”
Kyle Lowry, his running mate in Toronto’s now starry backcourt, gushed, “He’s playing on another level right now. He’s saving possessions, he’s creating possessions. He’s creating offence.”
While Lowry and DeRozan both, had break out seasons in 2015-‘16, it was Lowry that inadvertently (but not undeservedly) became the face of the franchise. This, however, is Lowry’s last guaranteed year on a four-year $48 million deal that has an opt-out option after this season. Armed with tons of money from the television deal, there are more than enough NBA teams that would gladly take a 30-year old All-Star with no discernible history of injury, and who has at least four good years left in the tank.
Lowry is 30 and has most likely hit his peak as a player, which means this season until next summer is when his trade value will be at the highest. Nothing about Lowry’s personality indicates that he wants to leave Toronto, and LeBron “The King” James even endorsed the city’s passionate loyal fans. But we all thought the same, or better, of Kevin Durant, and see how that went.
DeRozan is just 27, and is just as good as, if not better than his running mate. More importantly, his loyalty was rewarded with a big payday this past off season: a five-year deal worth approximately $145 million that took a chunk off the Raptors’ books.
It is obvious the Raptors will have to find a way to pay Lowry immediately. But in the likely scenario they cannot, they have on their hands a 30-year-old two-time All-Star de facto franchise player who has reached his max trade value. The decision to trade Lowry is a bit too obvious, and one they have to take soon to avoid a disaster.
In the meanwhile, let us enjoy this Raptors backcourt thrive, and DeRozan aim for greatness in the annals of NBA history.
The best of the week:
Player of the Week: DeMar DeRozan
LeBron James’ weekly average of 24 points, 9.6 assists and 8.7 rebounds and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 22 points, 6.8 assists, 8.8 rebounds gave me a moment of doubt. But when a player drops 33, 40 and 34, leading his team en route a 3-0 record for the week, it makes a pretty convincing case for Player of the Week.
Performance of the Week: James Harden vs Cleveland Cavaliers.
James Harden is doing everything right this season. And he seems to be having fun doing it. He has learned how to pace himself on offence, is moving the ball better and trusts his teammates enough to get them involved. Houston Rockets’ new head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system complements Harden’s style well, and new running mates Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon provide all the insurance Harden needs to run amok. Despite the loss, his 41 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds in a great performance make the cut this week for keeping it close against a solid defensive team in the reigning NBA champions.
Game of the Week:
The week featured two much awaited matchups. It was hard keeping out the Chicago vs New York matchup that was closer than the 117-104 score line suggests, just as it was easy keeping out the Golden State vs Oklahoma City matchup that was as boring as the 122-96 score line suggests. Phoenix and New Orleans would not make for great viewing if it did not feature stat-machine Anthony Davis and rising star Devin Booker. The game managed to exceeded expectation with Davis putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks and Booker dropping 38 points shooting 60% from the field including a jumper to send the game into overtime.
Team of the Week:
The Cavaliers have not lost a step since their three-game roll to close out the 2016 NBA Championship, continuing to step on the gas pedal and finding themselves as the only team yet to lose a game this season. Cleveland fans, however, have got to be worried about close games with terrible teams (six-point win over the Orlando Magic) and underhanded teams (eight-point win against a severely underhanded Boston Celtics)
- Hanging up his boots: Ray Allen, the NBA’s greatest shooter and the man who hit arguably the greatest shot in NBA playoff history retired after 18 seasons, securing the NBA record for most career three-pointers made with 2973. That is 413 more than the second-placed Reggie Miller.
- New faces, new roles: The legendary Jerry Colangelo has stepped down as chairman of USA Basketball after helping the program and Team USA rise to the top of world basketball again. Colangelo will remain on as Managing Director helping him focus his attention on assembling the right talent for newly appointed Team USA head coach, five-time NBA Champion Gregg Popovich.
- Tradition beckons: The Cleveland Cavaliers will visit the White House and United States President Barack Obama when the team travels to Washington for their matchup against the Wizards.