May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) advances the ball over the Playoffs decal painted on the court against the Brooklyn Nets in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Nets beat the Raptors 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors: More Upside For DeMar DeRozan?

Listening to the ongoing commentary about the NBA Draft is a little like that being subject to that overconfident salesman that we’ve all dealt with. You could make the case that it’s much worse with the NFL Draft, but that still holds the title of my favorite day of the year, so its ridiculousness gets a pass in my mind. But the NBA Draft isn’t all that far behind and now the public will be sold on all those opaque terms that make the whole experience a fun yet maddening exercise that potentially alters franchises in a way that makes teams sell entire seasons.

And everyone knows the verbiage and hyperbole that comes with this time of year, too. There is enough talk about “upside” and “potential” to make general managers rue the day they ever allowed it to drive their judgment. But you can’t ignore the talk, either; a team with good management knows when the risks outweigh the rewards and don’t get caught up in the frenzy of what-ifs.

All the talk about Andrew Wiggins and his massive athletic potential versus Joel Embiid’s size/skill potential versus Jabari Parker’s potential to make a team markedly better right now, it’s a lot to think about. But it got me thinking about something else:

How much more does my golden boy, DeMar DeRozan, have to give for the young, surging Toronto Raptors?

I think it’s a fair question, given how much emphasis is placed on long-term potential for stardom, especially as far as draft value hierarchy goes.

While I’ve mentioned plenty of times over the course of this season that DeRozan was finally living up to my moniker of Tracy McGrady-lite; he was drafted by the Raptors with the expectation that he had special athletic potential. He was a raw product and underwhelmed a little bit in his one season at USC, but the flashes were obvious. In fact, he showed a lot more in his one season than another uber-athletic Pac-12 guy in Russell Westbrook, who I thought was painfully over-drafted (whoops).

DeRozan’s scouting report is littered with adjectives about athleticism, almost as if he would be something of a novelty in that department when he got to the NBA. An excerpt from “A jaw dropping athletic specimen….Has all but mastered the art of the midrange game….Shows signs of being a pressure performer and taking his game to another level…completely outclassing his competition with a myriad of out-of-this-world athletic displays.”

That was 2009. The 2013-14 season was a banner campaign, even if it came a little later than some expected. But being that he was taken after Jonny Flynn, a good game merely at the end of his career would have made him a steal in comparison, but that’s hardly the point. Can DeRozan, though, still evolve and take his game to another level? Is there even more potential in there?

The improvement every year has to be promising, even if there hasn’t been that massive leap forward. But this last season would qualify as a really nice progression, especially as he had to straddle a scoring/efficient/sometimes sole option line. It was a lot of hats to wear and DeRozan did it with a kind of tunnel vision enthusiasm that rubbed off on everyone else. Perhaps his potential as a leader is the intangible no one measures but the thing that really took DeRozan to another level.

Apparently DeRozan is following Jonas Valanciunas’s lead this summer and working on his post-up game with Hakeem Olajuwon. He wants a higher percentage of his shots closer to the rim next season, which would be good considering that DeRozan is never going to be a good 3-point shooter. He made it an emphasis last summer and did improve, but he is not going to make a leap in that facet. DeRozan acknowledging this should improve his approach and thus his all-around game.

To me, it looks like DeRozan will continue to improve incrementally, but this past season was the big jump. If he happened to stumble upon a 40 percent 3-point percentage season, it may be a different story. But that is hardly likely, and it’s hardly likely that I, or the Raptors, are going to complain about DeRozan’s career or potential arc. All it takes is a little perspective during draft time. But knowing these desperate franchises at the top of the lottery and even more desperate GMs, that may be too much to ask.

Tags: DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors

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