DeRozan displays his true worth to Toronto

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Stunning form: DeMar DeRozan (left).

Eyebrows were raised in July when the Toronto Raptors handed DeMar DeRozan the then-second biggest contract in NBA history.

DeRozan was one of the team’s stars and a huge reason why they finished second in the East, reaching the conference finals. However, at the same time, $179 million was an awful lot of money to commit to an often one-dimensional guard who doesn’t shoot 3-pointers in a team whose limitations were cruelly exposed by the Cleveland Cavaliers who beat them 4-2 in relatively comfortable fashion in the conference finals.

Could the money have been better spent in evening out a roster low on shooting and front-court depth and in danger of going stale?

DeRozan even came to signify what many reports dubbed “silly season” with scores of max contracts handed out as the NBA’s salary cap rose in light of the new TV deal. Yet, he is earning every dime of his bumper salary as he became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986-87 to score more than 30 points in eight of first nine games on Saturday night.

The 27-year-old scored 33 in the Raptors’ 118-107 win over the New York Knicks and was serenaded with cries of, “MVP! MVP!” at the Air Canada Centre. “We’re just going to keep riding that coat-tail,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “We’re going to keep letting him do him. We’re going to rally around him and keep helping him be great.”

Only six others have began the season with eight 30+ performances from their first nine games – Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60, 1961- 62, 1962-63), Jack Twyman (1959- 60), Elgin Baylor (1961-62), Nate Archibald (1972-73), World B. Free (1979-80) and Jordan (1986-87).

DeRozan said: “I always find ways I can be better mentally, physically, skill-wise. I always try to find something in the offseason and during the season as well. It comes with experience, growth and maturity. You start to realise what you can do to better yourself.”

How long can it last is the burning question because DeRozan is well above his averages from last season where he was putting up 23.5 points a game. In terms of shooting percentages he’s currently at 52.8 per cent, with his previous career best being 49.8 per cent in his rookie season 2009-10.

Indeed of the NBA’s 20 leading points scorers, only Golden State’s Kevin Durant (57.3) has a better field goal percentage.

“He’s playing at an All-Star level,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Converting, getting bumped, getting hit, still finishing the play.”

Consequently the Raptors have made an impressive start in the Eastern Conference and lie third with a 7-2 record alongside Atlanta. Ahead of them are the Cavs at 7-1 who they face on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena with the match-up providing a further indicator as to how hot DeRozan’s hand is right now.

DeRozan put 32 points on Cavs in a 94-91 defeat in the second game of the season in Toronto on October 29 as the Raptors let a lead slip by missing their last five shots. Toronto will need to sharpen up their efficiency in the final 12 minutes as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is trying to make fourth quarter defence a tenant of their play.

Lue said: “I made it a point of emphasis before the game started that we’re giving them 30 points a game in the fourth quarter. “Let’s not wait until the playoffs to be great defensively, let’s start creating great habits now.”

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