Like Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh before him, Toronto Raptors‘ forward DeMar DeRozan is undeniably the face of the franchise.
Regardless of whether or not he ever wanted the title, the soft spoken 24-year-old has been given the role. And as the Raptors inch closer to their first playoff berth since 2008, the young slasher will be carrying the entire city’s postseason hopes squarely on his shoulders.
But while Stoudamire, Carter, and Bosh all began their careers meeting (and in some cases exceeding) their respective potential, DeRozan’s first year as a pro was much less indicative of what was to come.
A native of Compton, CA, DeRozan enjoyed a successful high school career that featured games against the best that the city of Los Angeles had to offer before enrolling at the University of Southern California in the fall of 2008.
After just one season in the Pac-10 however, a desire to give his ill mother the best care possible and financially support his family led DeRozan to declare for the 2009 NBA draft. And with the ninth pick, the Raptors selected DeRozan who immediately bought himself a winter coat.
Unlike the other three faces on the Raptors’ Mount Rushmore however, DeRozan struggled to find his rhythm as a rookie and averaged just 8.6 PPG despite playing almost 22 minutes a contest and earning 65 starts. During the next two seasons, the quiet guard’s progression led to averages of 17.2 PPG and 16.7 PPG respectively, but outside of his statistical improvements, the team was an Eastern Conference bottom feeder.
Now in his fourth season, DeRozan arrived too late to earn any experience during Toronto’s most recent playoff appearance in 2008. Coupled with the fact that he’s been on a losing team for the majority of his brief career, there are those who wonder how he’ll handle the Raptors’ expected return to the post season.
Fortunately for the Raptors, pieces of playoff experience gained from Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Landry Fields, and Patrick Patterson will at least give Toronto an entry-level understanding of the challenges ahead.
A career 16.4 PPG scorer, DeRozan has answered the skeptics by totaling nearly 23 points a game this season, and since the departure of Rudy Gay in December, has proven that he is more than deserving of his title as team leader.
In the midst of his best season yet, DeRozan’s inclusion into this year’s All-Star game as the only Raptor was much more than what it seemed on the surface. It was a direct reflection of his current status as the face of Canada’s lone NBA franchise, and an accurate indication of how he’s become synonymous with the Raptors during four years in purple and red.
No, he’s not Stoudamire, Carter, or Bosh in any way, shape or form.
But more importantly, he’s not Jonathan Bender, Joey Graham, or Rafael Araujo either. Instead, he’s simply a young man with a tremendous amount of ability who will soon be facing the toughest test of his career. And for Raptors’ fans fortunate enough to have had a front-row seat to his emergence, that should be enough.