They’re supposed to be the future of the Raptors’ franchise, but can DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems live up to the hype? After every 10-game stretch this season, I’ll take a look at how these under-25 ballers are performing and how their games have developed since last season and throughout this one.
In the stats table for each player, TS% is True Shooting Percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws) and PER is Player Efficiency Rating (a calculation that sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance — 15.0 is considered “average”).
DeMar DeRozan, SG, 21 years old
While DeRozan’s overall numbers don’t show significant improvement from last season, he has shown signs in three games this season — against Sacramento and in his last two games in Orlando and Miami — that he might have what it takes to be an All-Star one day. In those three games, he averaged 23.7 points and went to the free throw line at least 11 times in each game. Unfortunately, he only went to the line 15 times in the other seven games combined and that’s not good enough while he’s still trying to find his shooting range.
That’s going to be the key to DeRozan’s improvement this season — having the consistent drive to be aggressive on the offensive end every game, rather than once every few games. His mid-range game is still shaky and he doesn’t have a three-point shot in his arsenal, so he needs to take it to the rack with reckless abandon. If he can improve his handle and if he can start to make defenders respect his mid-range shot, there’s no reason DeRozan can’t blossom into a 20-points-per-game player in the near future.
Amir Johnson, PF, 23 years old
If you wondered whether Amir Johnson would play a less aggressive style now that he has a long-term deal, the first 10 games revealed that you needn’t have worried. There are pros and cons to this aggressiveness, of course. His blocks and offensive rebounds are up and he’s still converting his scoring attempts around the rim at a ridiculously high rate. Plus, he’s emerged as the best overall defender on the team as he uses his length and agility effectively both in the paint and on the perimeter.
The downside to his aggressiveness (some would say “recklessness”) is that he continues to be foul-prone, which means he’s not on the court as much as his team and his fans would like. Lately, I’ve noticed that he’s been getting a lot of “reputation calls” against him when they probably weren’t deserved — Jack Armstrong called out the officials for a couple of unfair calls against Johnson on Saturday night against the Heat.
Regardless, I don’t think Johnson should change the way he plays because of the overall positive effect it has when he’s on the floor. If that means he’s only able to play 25 minutes per game, so be it. Of course, Jay Triano has to be willing to let Johnson play until he fouls out most nights if he’s even going to average that many minutes.
Sonny Weems, SG/SF, 24 years old
It must be a contract year, because Sonny Weems is serving notice that he wants to be (and be paid like) a starter in this league. We saw his mid-range game come into form in the second half of last season, and now Weems is showing signs that he could be a threat from long-range — highlighted by his game-winning three in Friday’s upset over the Magic.
While I understand that Linas Kleiza has been playing hurt, I don’t think even a healthy Kleiza really deserves to start over Weems based on what they’ve shown this season. At the very least, he should be the sixth man unless Leandro Barbosa returns from his injury and proves he’s still capable of playing at his level from two seasons ago. Weems is defensively superior to Kleiza and Barbosa and he may have also surpassed them offensively, so why hold him back?
Lucky for Weems, he’ll probably be in the starting lineup by default in the Raptors’ next two games. If he extends his four-game streak of scoring in double-figures while making at least 50 percent of his shots, he may force Triano’s hand to tweak the starting five for the rest of the season.
All stats from Basketball-Reference.com.