DA's Morning Tip

Morning Tip Q&A: DeMar DeRozan

Toronto's All-Star two-guard continues to succeed while bucking the trends

David Aldridge

Jeff Malone was automatic.

Downscreen, pindowns, elbow jumper, baseline pullup, get back on D. He was the first NBA player I covered on a regular basis who was truly prolific at scoring, and he did it with absolutely no flair or excitement.

In an era with the Human Highlight Film, Showtime and Larry Legend, Jeff Malone was peanut butter and jelly. But that boring sandwich was good for 17,231 points in 12 NBA seasons. And Malone shot 27 percent on 3-pointers. In his time (1984-1996), it just wasn’t a regular part of the NBA game. There were a few people who were very good at it, like Dell Curry and Dale Ellis and Reggie Miller, but they were considered specialists.

The game, of course, is different today.

This is not an anti-3 screed; I get that a 3-pointer is worth 1.5 times as much as a two. I can add. This is only a plea that an open 16-footer, taken by someone who can make it regularly, is not a bad shot in the game of basketball. It may not be an optimal shot in terms of points per possession, but it’s not a bad shot.

And this is where we join the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan, Jeff Malone 3.0.

DeRozan is a VCR in a Netflix and Chill world. At 27, DeRozan has established himself as one of the NBA’s top two guards, despite not making the 3 a regular part of his game. In seven-plus pro seasons, he’s a career 28 percent shooter on 3s. This season, he’s shooting fewer than two a game. Yet somehow, the two-time All-Star is fourth in the league in scoring (27.8 points per game) and, with fellow All-Star and backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, again leading Toronto to new heights.

DeRozan started the season on a history-making pace, averaging 33 points in his first dozen games. He’s slowed down a little since, but the Raptors haven’t; they’re comfortably settled in as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, behind Cleveland, which beat them in the conference finals last season.

Despite not making the 3 part of his repertoire, DeRozan is still shooting 48 percent from the floor, making his living coming off of pindowns and downscreens, next to automatic from the elbows and baseline (he does have significantly more hops than Malone did). He is stronger, after augmenting what were already stringent and strenuous offseasons with even harder workouts in Rio in August — before practicing with his U.S. Olympic teammates — with his basketball trainer, Chris Farr, and his personal trainer, Jason Estrada.

Back in Toronto, DeRozan and fellow Olympian Lowry, who have both raised their games significantly since the Raps were swept in the first round in 2015, are the unquestioned leaders of the Raptors. But DeRozan is about to step out on his own — he is just 35 points short of Chris Bosh’s franchise record for scoring (10,275 points). If there is a God, points 10,275 and 10,276 will come on an 18-footer.

Me: You look pretty good for a 1982-type player.

DeMar DeRozan: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.

Me: I know the mid-range is just your natural game, but how have you resisted the trend, when everybody tells you you’re playing the wrong way, that you should step back a foot and then shoot?

DD: I never followed trends. I always did what I was comfortable with, what I grew up watching, what was always my mindset. I never let nobody dictate how I play, no matter what. I always felt like if you can be great at something, you can be great at it. You ain’t got to follow what everybody else is doing to be a better player. I never bought in to any of the analytics things. I’ve always been a rebellious type of dude when it comes to the work ethic. You tell me I can’t do this, I’m gonna do it on purpose to show you it can be done.

Me: That sounds like a guy that got thrown out of a few gyms back in the day.

DD: For sure. Got a lot of complaints.

Me: You have said you studied some of the old school players who played in the era before the 3 became dominant. Any one in particular make an impression on you?

DD: A lot of guys. For some reason I just played attention to them slow, melodic players. I learned a lot post up moves from an Andre Miller. Not the most athletic point guard, but he always got it done when he got in that post, with them pump fakes, and his creativity. I learned a lot from Gary Payton when it comes to posting up, guys like that didn’t, they wasn’t no Ray Allens going out there shooting 3s. I always paid attention to different positions and tried to apply that to my game, some way, some how, no matter if you was a one, two, three or four.

Me: I also wondered if, growing up in L.A., guys who stood outside and shot 3s were considered soft?

DD: I wouldn’t necessarily say soft, but I was always used to that physical play — getting in there, getting in the paint, finishing over somebody bigger than you. That was always my highlight. I’m going to try to get into your body, get a foul, get this and-one. You see it now. You see a lot of guys get that and-one, get into this big, and just yell. There’s nothing better than that. And I always kept that mindset coming into the league, figuring how I could get better at being aggressive, not settling for 3s. I could easily go out in any game and shoot six 3s, but I feel that’s six opportunities of me getting to the free throw line, getting fouled, getting a higher percentage shot for myself. That’s just always in my mindset.

Me: You’re working in new guys like Bebe this season. Screening is so important for you and Kyle. How is Bebe evolving in that area?

DD: He’s coming along great. I said a couple of years ago he’s one of them bigs that’s rare to find — how long he is, how smart he is when it comes to passing the ball, his awareness at blocking shots. All he needed was the experience. Now, him getting the experience and being able to be out there and finish games for us, getting that feel for screening and everything, it’s making him better every time he’s out there for us… he knows everybody’s tendencies as well. If it’s Kyle with the ball, he knows how Kyle likes to get screens, which way Kyle wants to go, flipping screens. He works hard. He pays attention. He’s one of the most willing learners on the team.

Me: How did you settle on Chris and Jason? I’m sure a lot of people have come at you over the years.

DD: Chris, before I was even drafted, he worked me out pre-draft. He instilled in me to be able to fully believe in myself. He never tried to change my game; he just wanted me to hone in on my skills and everything I was capable of doing and be the best at it. He pushed me in ways, not just a workout coach. He was like a father figure when it came to that, that working out. The relationship we had made it easier for me to get up at six, five o’clock in the morning, go two, three times a day. I knew generally, he wanted the best for me, no matter what. It made it easy. That’s why I stick with him through thick and thin. Jason, I think I got with him my second or third year. He gave me another insight on changing your body, how to really focus in and have that grown man body that I have today, and really push yourself and see how far your body can go, especially in the summertime, learning new things, doing workouts. It’s not about all the weights you can put on the bar and lift; it’s all about the resistance you can take. With that, it made my game even better on the court.

Me: Much has been written about your workouts with them in Rio. How have they helped you this season?

DD: Having them with me on the Olympic team and put in that work, seeing my previous seven years in the league, and really critiquing me and seeing things I can be better at physically, skill-wise, they really just hone in and push me on it, especially being on the Olympic team, being around the greatest 11 guys in the world, and able to have my trainers there every single day doing things, it just put everything in perspective on why you work so hard, and what you want out of the game.

Me: I figure you’re the only person who can still tell Kyle when he’s full of it on something. When do you need to step to him, and when does he need to step to you?

DD: I’m the most easiest going whatever. I’m always the middle man in it. With that, being in the relationship, I think that’s what makes me and Kyle so great. I think I’m the calmer of us. I listen to him; he listens to me. It makes our relationship simple. So it really, it don’t never need to be a conversation where I have to step to him. I may just give him a look, like, come on. He already knows. He already knows. And vice versa — come on, I need you, D. Say no more; I’m with you. To have that type of relationship with your teammate and with your coach, you see it when we go out and play.

Me: Y’all are always under the radar because of where you play, but do you feel especially unwatched this season?

DD: Yeah, for sure, especially what we accomplished last year, showing all we did wasn’t a fluke. We went six games with the NBA champions. We won a franchise record in games. We accomplished so much. And it seems we still don’t get our just due, like it was an accident. We’ve been getting better every single year. And I think that’s been our motivation every time we go out there and play, no matter who we play against. We are a team that should be respected like all the other top teams in the league.

Me: The Raptors have lost just eight games so far. Three are to Cleveland. Are they in your team’s head?

DD: You seen them three games. It came down to the last two, three minutes. And that’s what makes them so great, understanding how to close games, how to execute those last couple of possessions to put you over the top. That’s our next development of being a team like Cleveland, understanding that last possession, how great you’ve got to execute, how bad you may need a stop. We’re getting there. And I think that’s our next step. Once we get there, we’re going to be even more dangerous.

Me: I figure over the years, with the schedule, you’ve been in Toronto a few times for Christmas?

DD: Yeah.

Me: What were those like?

DD: Not bad. You kind of get the Christmas spirit. Me being from the West Coast, you get to see the snow and everything. It’s not bad at all. For the most part I get a chance to go home but the Christmas or two I was in Toronto, it’s not bad at all.

Me: You’re probably going to become the franchise’s all-leading scorer this week. What does that mean to you?

DD: I don’t believe it, me personally. A lot of things I’ve accomplished in this organization has been unbelievable. To be that one on top, and from here on, people are going to be trying to chase that spot. I got a chance to have a great relationship with Vince (Carter), where it all started from. I played with Chris. To be able to pass him, it’s definitely a blessing. Just to have your name ahead of a franchise, leading a franchise in something, it’s unbelievable, man.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Former Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin (@KenyonMartinSr), Thursday, 2:47 p.m., responding forcefully to excerpts from his former coach’s book, Furious George. In the book, Karl singled out Martin and Carmelo Anthony, saying they didn’t have a father in their lives “to show them how to act like a man.” Karl also said that Anthony, while the best offensive player he’s ever coached, was “a true conundrum” to him, “addicted to the spotlight and very unhappy when he had to share it.” Martin went on a Tweetstorm you can view for yourself (decidedly NSFW) against Karl, which wasn’t a surprise, given the often contentious relationship between the two when they were in Denver. (Addendum: we all love the Inside The NBA crew when they’re joking and having fun, but Kenny and Chuck’s takes on this last week were sober, cogent and thought-provoking. Just good television.)

THEY SAID IT

“For whatever reason, every once in a while on the floor, he kind of loses his mind and does something crazy and laughs about it, and Shaq puts it on, and everyone laughs. But I think that couldn’t be further opposite of what he’s like as a human being….he’s a great teammate, he gives us a spark, he’s fun to be around every day and he’s added quite a bit to our team.”

— Steve Kerr, to local reporters, on how the perception of who Warriors center JaVale McGee is via his frequent “Shaqtin A Fool” appearances does not gibe with reality.

“I won a lot of bets tonight — I’m gonna tell you this — I won a lot of bets tonight. I didn’t wear jeans; I wore a sportcoat. I didn’t wear a tie; a bunch of people knew that. And I spoke for more than 30 seconds.”

— Tim Duncan, at the ceremony last weekend in San Antonio in which his number 21 jersey was retired and raised to the rafters of AT&T Center.

“We didn’t take anything away. We were trying to outscore ’em, and we gave ’em everything. We gave ’em the paint, we gave ’em the 3. We lacked discipline. There were stretches when we played well defensively. But you can’t pick and choose, you can’t rest, you can’t take plays off. Until we understand that, it’s going to be up and down.’’

— Tom Thibodeau, after his Wolves gave up 109 at home to the Kings in a four-point loss last week. It was the 19th time this season Minnesota has given up 105 or more points in a game; the Wolves are 2-17 so far in those games this season.

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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