While a lot of Raptors fans’ time is spent worrying about a lack of respect within the NBA – whether it’s the media, the officials, opposing players, etc. – two players that a lot of Raptors fans probably undervalued thesemlves heading into the season are the two guys responsible for keeping this team respectable while Kyle Lowry remains out of the lineup, as Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan had as impressive a week as we’ve seen from either, and people have taken notice.
Calderon averaged 13 points and 13.5 assists in 40 minutes per game over four games this past week, which included his first career triple-double, one of only four recorded in the NBA so far this season. I’d even go so far as to say that since the Raptors pulled out a couple of wins in the process, Calderon might have even got some Eastern Conference Player of the Week consideration (LeBron won it for the second time in three tries this season), though I also thought Kyle Lowry would when he was one of the five best players in the NBA during opening week.
A quick twitter search for “Jose Calderon” today returns links to people writing glowingly about the veteran point guard and statements of Calderon being among the most underrated players in the game. While we all have our qualms with Calderon’s flaws – specifically his defence – no one can deny that he has stepped up when the Raptors have been dealt injury blows in the past, and this recent stretch has been no different. In six starts since Lowry went down with an ankle injury in Oklahoma City, Jose is averaging nearly 13 points and 12 assists per game while shooting over 45 per cent from the field and a ridiculous 57.7 per cent from three-point range. He’s also adding a steal per game during this run and has displayed some surprisingly improved defence at the point of attack.
Calderon’s run might not be sustainable, but if the Raptors can get Lowry back quicker than initially feared and are still in tact with a manageable record at that point, Jose’s recent performance will be justifiably praised later this season. I’m sure we’ll all be complaining about his defence, his lack of risk taking or something else about him in the near future, but for now, let’s just enjoy Calderon’s play.
As for DeRozan, I don’t have to remind you that I was among the staunchest critics of his four-year, $38 million extension, which I thought (and still believe) was premature. A 10-game stretch of good basketball is nowhere near a large enough or consistent enough example to convince me to change my tune on the contract just yet, but I have to admit, DeMar has both seriously impressed and encouraged me over the last few weeks.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has also taken notice, talking about how DeRozan has improved a lot in various areas of the game and that he has become “a total basketball player.” Rivers also adds that people sleeping on DeRozan has nothing to do with him playing in Toronto but rather the fact that he plays for a losing team in general. An indication that DeMar is getting recognized is his place in John Hollinger’s early season surprises, even more impressive when you consider that DeRozan didn’t exactly endear himself to Hollinger earlier this year.
DeMar’s not only scoring more efficiently (DeRozan’s one of only 10 players in the NBA right now averaging 19 points or more on 45% shooting or better), but he’s also rounding out his game with solid rebounding from the wing, much more focused defence and an all around improved awareness on the court.
If there was one thing DeRozan supporters could argue when the contract was signed, it was that DeMar had a chance to establish himself as one of the NBA’s best young shooting guards. The reason being, of course, that other than James Harden, there are no clear cut future stars at the two-spot currently playing in the NBA to take the torch from aging players like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili, Joe Johnson, etc (I realize that Kobe is having an aswesome, age defying season right now, and in no way am I writing him off, but he doesn’t have many years left in the tank).
Well take a look at the Eastern Conference right now, and you’ll see that DeRozan leads all Eastern shooting guards in scoring, free throw attempts per game and minutes per game, while also ranking in the top-three among Eastern shooting guards in rebounds per game, rebounds per minute and rebound rate. Open it up to all shooting guards in the NBA, and DeMar still ranks in the top-eight in these rebounding categories while ranking fifth in scoring.
All that, and DeRozan remains a 23-year-old work in progress in the first month of his fourth professional season. In other words, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
So no, I’m not ready to say that the contract was a worthwhile gamble or that DeRozan has “figured it out” from here to eternity and will suddenly blossom into the superstar we’ve all been craving in Toronto, but I will say that he’s showing us signs of taking a giant leap forward as a complete basketball player, and that has to be encouraging for Raptors fans, regardless of what you previously personally believed about DeMar.
A month ago, if you had asked me who people would be praising on this team, I would have said Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas (both of whom obviously deserve their own credit). Had you asked me about Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan, I would have immediately talked about trading the former and losing faith in the latter, and I know I’m not the only Raptors fan who felt that way.
It’s still early and it’s too easy to feel good about certain players in November, but I’d say both Calderon and DeRozan have quieted those talks for now.