Prior to the start of the season, names such as James Harden and Russell Westbrook often came up as possible MVP candidates and fantasy basketball studs.
Harden would see his already super high usage rate skyrocket even more after he was given Mike D'Antoni‘s blessing as the “points guard” of the team. Westbrook was now the man on a mission in OKC, a mission to prove Oklahoma City Thunder fans that he can be a one-man freight train.
Both Harden and Westbrook have lived up to their MVP pedigree and fantasy acclaim so far this early season, but one player few predicted has also been playing at that level.
No one pegged Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan as the one to torch opposing defenses through the first seven games of the season. No one, perhaps, but himself.
While he can’t point to a specific area of improvement, DeRozan has shown an elevated comfort level from last season.
“There’s nothing I haven’t seen,” DeRozan told Chris Mannix of The Vertical. “I know what teams are going to throw at me. No one is going to dictate what I do.”
The Raptors shooting guard was rewarded with a five-year, $139 million max deal in the offseason — a deal that provided a lot of peace of mind in his eyes.
“My mind was never anywhere else but here,” DeRozan said. “I was waiting for the day I could sign so we could get it over with.”
Complacency wasn’t an issue, either.
“That contract, it motivated me even more,” he said. “All I thought of was being better, being greater.”
Once he locked up a deal with the team, the Raptors star did his best to absorb the most out of his experience with Team USA over the summer.
“He studied the work ethic of Kevin Durant, absorbed the confidence of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and took note of how hard Kyrie Irving works at getting better at finishing at the rim,” wrote Mannix. “He learned leadership, something he says he and (Kyle) Lowry strive to be better at every day.”
No one expected DeMar DeRozan’s torrid start – except DeMar DeRozan. The Open Court with @ChrisMannixYS. https://t.co/xd4fG3t28T pic.twitter.com/Ygcg1GL1vT
— The Vertical (@TheVertical) November 10, 2016
DeRozan has simply terrorized defenses across the league to the tune of 34.1 points per game this season, and he's done so without one of the most devastating weapons in the league — the three-point shot.
The Compton native is just 2-of-12 from deep in the young season, but he's already attempted 70 free-throws, knocking them down at an 81.4 percent clip.
“For us to be a good team, we talked about how we have to cut down on losing the games we are supposed to win,” DeRozan said. “Last year there were a lot of games we were supposed to win, and we either didn’t or we had to work too hard late. We didn’t always close out games. We have to understand that when we are up 12 or 13 points, we can’t be fighting for wins in the whole fourth quarter in games we should have closed out two quarters before.”
The Raptors (5-2) will face the red-hot Charlotte Hornets (6-1) on the road on Friday night.