photo by Nida Alibhai

A third quarter performance in a game where the Raptors lost was another example of why I believe in DeMar DeRozan.

Playing the entire quarter of the Raptors’ 120-110 loss to the Lakers, DeRozan made six of his seven field-goal attempts and also went to the free-throw line seven times, connecting on all of his attempts. He scored 19 points in 12 minutes and provided the team with the scoring they needed with Andrea Bargnani out of the lineup.

After that 19-point quarter against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, the former attendee of Bryant’s basketball camp received some praise from the five-time NBA champion.

“I love DeMar,” Bryant said after the game. “I have known him for a long time, obviously with him coming to my camps and things like that…I think he did a great job. He just needs to continue to work on his game, continue to work on his jumpshot and I think he’ll be fine.”

Many Raptors fans, though, are wondering if they should be thinking otherwise.

Why can’t he put together a full game, even a couple of quarters like this each game? Why does he seem to have a great game followed by a handful of average games?

DeRozan is a 21 year old who was drafted after a sensational Pac-10 tournament. He was drafted more on future potential than his ability to perform now. Would he have benefited by staying in school another year, developing his ball handling and improving his shot? Perhaps, but that’s no longer reality. His reality was an opportunity to ride the wave of that buzz he was getting after winning the MVP award from the Pac-10 tournament and make his childhood dream come true while also making the lives of his family members –including his mother who suffers from lupus– a lot easier.

How many of us wouldn’t do the exact same and jump at the chance to make a lot of things easier? If you think you would play things safe and take the cautious route, I’ll bet that you already have health care and have not spent some of your teenage years watching your mother in pain as she makes sure to make it to each and every one of your basketball games to support you.

DeRozan is now a starting shooting guard in the NBA. In his second season, his handles need to be better. He should be hitting open shots with more regularity. He has to learn to stop having those stretches where he stands around the three-point line on offense, being a spectator. Sometimes he drives into traffic without really knowing where he’s going or what he’s going to do. Other times he gets stripped in the open court.

This is the bad.

DeRozan is young and he works hard. He asks for help. He takes criticism from his coaching staff and suggestions from his teammates. There is no ego, sense of entitlement or assumption that he knows what’s best. DeRozan knows better than anybody how inconsistent he has been and how many things he has to improve on. He’s working on his jumper, slowly becoming more of a willing passer, starting to attack the rim more and is beginning to learn how to force refs into give him calls. He’s a tremendous athlete with lots to learn and so much more room to grow.

This is the good.

As frustrating as it can be to wonder why he can’t piece these brilliant quarters, games and glimpses of this great potential together, it would be even more frustrating to have a young player with the talent but without a solid head on his shoulders. If I’m taking potential, I want potential that is likely to be realized. With DeRozan’s work ethic, a solid support system around him and a maturity beyond his years, he’s got everything he needs to develop into a solid player.

I don’t always agree with NBA players. This time, though, I’m going to side with Bryant.