Throughout all team sports, especially at the professional level, there’s always at least one individual player who acts as the unofficial face of the franchise, and the minute Chris Bosh bolted for south Florida, DeMar DeRozan was forced to become that player for the Toronto Raptors.
Now only a couple of weeks away from making his debut in the NBA Playoffs, DeRozan has averaged 22.8 PPG, 3.9 APG and 4.4 RPG during his first season as an All-Star. But while he has undeniably progressed into one of the league’s top-10 scorers this season, things didn’t always look as though they’d turn out this way.
Selected by the Raptors with the ninth overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, DeRozan came to Toronto as an unheralded rookie who was mostly unknown to basketball fans in Canada due in large part to the fact that he played his college ball in the west coast. But in order to care for his ill mother, the former college standout would have to adapt to his new, and much colder surroundings on the fly.
With totals of just 8.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG in over 21 minutes of floor time, however, the soft-spoken guard struggled to assert himself on the court in his first year as a Raptor during the 2009-10 season. Despite the presence of Bosh, Toronto finished 40-42 and ninth in the Eastern Conference.
As a rookie, DeRozan teased Raptor Nation from time to time with flashes of greatness that generally took place above the rim, and couldn’t help remind those in Toronto of another high-flyer that once wore purple named Vince Carter.
Outside of DeRozan’s ability to land on the highlight reel however, there were more serious matters to attend to, and as he was leaving the only NBA team he’d ever known, Bosh handed the keys to the franchise to the unassuming 19-year old in the same manner that Carter had given them to a promising young forward six years earlier.
Over the three seasons that followed, DeRozan dramatically increased his offensive output as Toronto’s undisputed leader and hit what was then a career-high with 18.1 PPG in 2012-13. Aside from his development though, the Raptors were one of the NBA’s worst, and things didn’t look any more promising prior to the start of the current campaign.
Yet, here we are, Toronto now putting the finishing touches on a season in which DeRozan became elite, and one that every Raptor fan will remember regardless of what happens in the playoffs.
It’s been six years since Toronto last saw the postseason, and despite Kyle Lowry‘s role as a leader on this young team, it’s DeRozan who first comes to mind when you think of the Raptors; and playoff inexperience aside, the franchise will only go as far as he can take them.
Ty is a writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldty