On the set of his early February NOW cover shoot, NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan is soft-spoken, obliging and easygoing. The Toronto shooting guard doesn’t ham for the camera, but he’s kind of a natural – or, more likely, he’s accustomed to how this works after a lifetime of being photographed. Does he mind taking his shirt off so we can see his tattoos? Sort of, but he hesitantly agrees to be shot from the back.
DeRozan is the Raptors’ captain and leading scorer. He is also, at five seasons, tied with fellow Angeleno Amir Johnson as the current longest-serving player. At the All-Star break, he’s averaging 22.4 points (10th-best in the league), 37.7 minutes (fourth-most), 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Because of these stats, and the Raptors’ solid play of late, DeRozan spent last weekend in New Orleans.
Making conversation, I offer a “Congrats on All-Star” between flashes. He’s gracious. “Only… the third Raptor?” I ask without thinking much. “Fourth. Antonio,” he says automatically.
I’m not the first basketball fan to leave Antonio Davis off the too short, too obvious mental list of the franchise’s finest players: Vince Carter and Chris Bosh (Tracy McGrady, too, but he wasn’t an All-Star in Toronto). But ask DeRozan almost anything about the game and his answers are instantaneous.
“He is a basketball junkie,” says Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, currently in his third year with the team.
Chatting after practice one day, Casey recalls an early DeRozan encounter in an ACC elevator. He casually asked the then third-year player if he’d seen a particular game the previous evening.
“He knew the game verbatim. He’s a basketball nerd. That’s what it takes to make a good player. You could ask Michael Jordan about any game. In this league, you have to be a student of the game, and that’s what DeMar is.”
The Portland Trail Blazers point guard made that much clear in the Chicago draft combine in the summer of 2012, when he was the only one of the top 10 prospects on hand who chose to take part in all the drills rather than duck the competition for fear of hurting his standing.
Nearly two years, a Rookie of the Year honor and All-Star berth later, Lillard is taking the same approach when he heads to New Orleans for the All-Star celebration next weekend.
Lillard will become the first player in NBA history to take part in five events during the All-Star festivities that run from Feb. 14-16: the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge Friday night, then the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest on what’s deemed State Farm Saturday night, and the All-Star game Sunday.
As has always been the for the little-known prospect out of Weber State who has done such big things since making that strong first impression in Chicago, he said he’s simply taking advantage of the opportunities that come his way.
“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports by phone.”So I just felt like it was something that had never been done, and I’m capable of doing all the things that need to be done in all the competitions, so I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?”
Being invited to compete in the three Saturday events is certainly a testament to Lillard’s skill set, as he has sneaky-but-serious athleticism that will be on display during the dunk contest, impressive shooting range (40.5% from beyond the arc this season) that will come in handy during the three-point contest, and ballhandling skills that will serve him well in the skills challenge.
As Lillard knows, though, there will be some who question his decision to take on so many tasks during this time that serves as a much-needed breather for most of his colleagues. And as is typically the case when it comes to Lillard, he’s not concerned with the critics.
“The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and three-point shooting is about two minutes,” said Lillard, whose Blazers (35-14) are the surprise team in the NBA this season. “And it’s not like the rookie-sophomore game is a real regular season game, so I mean I’m looking at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things. People think there’s more energy being exerted than there actually is. It’s really not that much when you think about the time that you actually spend doing it.”
Since the Toronto Raptors traded Rudy Gay away late last year, players and fans alike have started paying attention to the Canadian team thanks to one player in particular: DeMar DeRozan. It’s not that the shooting guard hasn’t always been there, pushing and motivating his teammates—it’s just that it’s easy to fly under the radar when you’re always putting in extra effort like he does, studying game tape at home and working out at the gym in his spare time. Maybe the humble 24-year-old with a rep for loyalty won’t say it, but his diligence is paying off.
DeRozan played a career game against the Dallas Mavericks last week, clinching a 93-85 home win and scoring a personal high of 40 points. The player has also helped carry his team forward through a hot streak that’s turning heads. In the process, the purist and born competitor may have foiled what some say was an attempt by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to move the team down in the standings. Instead, the team is currently placed fourth in the East, making playoffs a possibility.
Now, the rest of the NBA is starting to see what Raptors fans have known all along—that DeMar’s an all-star. He received 131,228 fan votes in the ballots, and it’s easy to conclude that he’ll have even more support when reserves are picked later this week. We caught up with DeRozan the night of his career game for a quick courtside chat about the hard work he had to put in to reach his prime.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nuggets reserve point guard Nate Robinson is hosting a Super Bowl party Sunday, and Broncos fans aren’t invited.
It’s not that the affable nine-year NBA veteran dislikes the Broncos or their fan base. It’s just that Robinson, who was born in Seattle and played for the University of Washington, has been a Seahawks fan since birth. Oh, and an Oakland Raiders fan too. His father, Jacque Robinson, was born and raised in Oakland.
So forgive him, Denver.
“I’m having a small party, but really, just my kids (Nahmier, Ny’ale and Navyi) are coming down,” said Robinson, who said he is an unabashed fan of the Seahawks no matter where he works as a point guard. “Even though I’m with the Nuggets, I can’t go against the grain. I’m going with Seattle.”
Not since the days of Chris Bosh have the Toronto Raptors had anyone worthy of getting an All-Star nod. Enter DeMar DeRozan, who is making a strong case to represent Canada in New Orleans come February.
His raw averages in the standard categories are all career-highs: 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in a staggering 37.9 minutes per game put him in the argument as one of the best shooting guards in the league. Granted that position isn’t incredibly deep, but his averages don’t lie.
His shooting percentages hurt his case slightly because the increase in production hasn’t been followed by a subsequent increase in his percentages this season. But a closer look into those numbers show he has another career-high in terms of usage percentage with the 15th highest rate in the league at 27.5 percent. That increased workload has led to defenses keying in on him, which in turn provides some explanation for the lower field goal percentage this season when compared to the season prior.
Like most good scorers, DeRozan gets a good amount of points from the free throw line. He has learned to use his slashing ability more, instead of relying on his still-developing jumper. The USC product makes great use of the ball fake off the bounce, luring clumsy defenders into the air to help him get to the line where he shoots a reliable 78.5 percent. He takes the eighth most attempts from the charity stripe in the league and eases in 5.3 of his 21.3 points each game.