There are two real negatives to my seat behind the baseline. One, the chair is just killing my back. Two, the distractions. So many people are around, I end up spending my time seeing who I recognize and who is in the building than watching the games.
Tonight, with a third look at the Raptors and an uninspiring Blazers roster looming, I decided to focus on just one player. So, I grabbed my notebook, headed into the stands, and glued my eyes to DeMar DeRozan.
I was surprised by what I saw. Actually, I'm not surprised by what I saw, I'm surprised by conclusion. DeMar is a very good offensive player and he seems completely lost and disinterested defensively. Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would not only like a player who plays like that, but that I would become a fan.
After watching DeMar for a game, I became a fan. Then, against all odds, I got to interview him. Join me. Become a fan yourself.
I'll admit right up front it took me awhile to develop the discipline to keep watching DeMar and not follow the ball. I have been following the ball for so many games here that it is a hard habit to break.
The Ugly - Defense
DeMar is not good defensively. I don't think this is really a surprise to anybody. He's played one year of college and is only 19 years old. The thing that first jumped out at me, though, was an apparent lack of defensive effort. The Raptors seemed to always put him on the least offensive of the Blazers wings. When I first tuned in, this was Bobby Jones.
For most of the plays, DeMar was on the weakside of the court (the non-ball side). His help defense was non-existent. He seemed content to be happy to watch. When shot would go up, he would take a step toward the basket and stand BEHIND the other teams big. He wouldn't help box him out. It was like he was loitering.
When a player drove he never stepped in. He would occassionally reach for a ball. Any defensive rebound he got was because it fell to him. He had 4 defensive rebounds and I remember two of them hitting the floor before he picked them up.
He didn't fight through picks and any screen resulted in open looks for his man. When his man did get the ball, he didn't hustle to contest shots. He seemed to content to only take away the drive.
All in all, this whole side of the court lacked effort. It wasn't the lack of knowledge or mistakes that stood out, it was almost an indifference.
The Bad - Offense
When the play wasn't being run to get him a shot, DeMar didn't really move. He was content to watch. While he usually did a very good job of getting back on defense, when he went cut back door for a failed alley oop, he didn't hustle back on the break and trotted up the floor.
Overall, I didn't think he did a good job of moving to the open spots on the floor to receive the ball. In the end game, when the Blazers were trapping the Raptors, he stood at the other end of the court with his hand up. He didn't make an attempt to lose his man and get the ball.
The Good - Offense
When DeMar does have the ball, he shows everything you want. He's silky smooth off the dribble with either hand. He occasionally over-penetrated, but usually got a foul and a trip to the line. He showed a very nice ability to get to the rim. He also could pull up off the dribble and hit the 17 footer.
Two things really turned me on to DeMar. One, his shot selection was damn near immaculate. He isn't a chucker, at least not in this game. He didn't force up shots as much as a lot of young guys do. He seemed to do a great job of taking what was there. Another thing most young guys his age do is become infatuated with the 3-point shot. He has only taken two in three games and he made one of them. Two, was his unselfishness. On a couple of fast breaks he had the opportunity to attack the basket to pad his stats or go for the highlight-reel play. Instead, he made the right pass to a trailer or guy filling the other lane.
Yes, I realize I have not painted the most flattering portrait. I can't name one player who has done what I have described on the defensive end and away from the ball that I would like. Part of this is because whenever I hear of a player who plays this way, I also add in some other traits. Lousy body language. Selfish. Prima donna. Clueless. Pampered. Poor shot selection. Ball hog. Etc. DeMar showed none of these.
His attitude is fantastic. He never sulked. He never got down. I didn't like the effort so much, but I like the attitude. I liked the unselfishness. I liked the teamness he brought. I think he has a pretty good basketball IQ and that it will get much better as he learns to apply himself.
After watching him play, I got the impression that he isn't an explosive player. He didn't wow me with his hops or his quickness. However, I think it may be because he is so strong and smooth, he's listed at 6' 7" and 220 pounds, with the ball that you don't realize that how quick he is. Kind of like the way Eric Dickerson used to run the ball for the Rams. He didn't look fast or explosive, but he got through holes and nobody ever caught him.
My after game interview helped to explain some of what I saw. He said the coaching staff hasn't given him things to focus on. They want him to go out and play, then they would figure out what to work on. It isn't a hell of a lot to go on, just one game, but I really liked what I saw from him. He's got a long way to go, but I think he has what it takes to do it and I will enjoy watching him get there.
Listen. DeMar DeRozan