DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors.
In the star-laden universe that is the NBA, real prominence means that people plug the player first, and the team second.
Perhaps in no other game does the personality of the team’s best player dictate how that team is perceived.
So the question is: is it DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors or the other way around?
“As long as my name is mentioned, I don’t care,” DeRozan said. “As long as I’m with the Raptors and they say I’m part of that team, that’s great.”
Signed to a four-year contract extension just minutes before the season opener, DeRozan has been one of the bright spots in a rough 1-4 start. His 17.8 points and 4.4 boards per game put him on pace (albeit a very early one) for his best season ever.
What seems different about DeRozan is his level of compete. He has begun retrieving the ball more enthusiastically and while the Raptors have struggled with their defence, DeRozan has been fine.
“He’s competing,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “That (two guard) is one position I’m not concerned about. He’s doing a great job of letting the game come to him. He’s not in a hurry. I thought last year when he got the ball in the post he became a little anxious. Now he’s taking his time. Nothing bothers him. “
DeRozan’s improved play on the glass should not surprise. After all, he’s six-foot-seven with a vertical that should allow him to scrape against the scoreboard.
“I think it’s more of a mind thing,” he said. “In college I was a good rebounder (5.7 boards a game as a freshman at USC). My first year in the NBA I think I kind of got away from it mentally. It’s just being more aggressive and let someone else shoot.”
“He got beat by Dahntay Jones one time pretty bad (in the Raptors loss in Dallas) but other than that he’s been consistently rebounding the ball and physical in the paint,” Casey said.
DeRozan insisted the contract was neither incentive nor distraction.
“I don’t look at it that if I have a contract I have to play better. I just want to be the best player I can be. I’m grateful to have the extension but I’m just going out there and play my heart out.”
The decision to become a better rebounder, he said, was equally straightforward.
“I just realized I’m too big a guard not to rebound better. It’s as simple as that.”
If DeRozan doesn’t care about being the player other teams consider first when they think about the Raptors, he wouldn’t mind inspiring a little fear.
“I just want to be a name to be reckoned with at the end of the day,” he said. “When teams play us, I want them to worry about me because I’m a consistent threat.”