In a top heavy free agent class, the teams that pick up the top five players will be looking good, but beyond that first tier, it's a crapshoot. One player that the Celtics surely have their eyes on is Toronto shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who at 26 is part of that upper tier, and he's just entering his prime. He'd fill a major hole on the roster- a taller shooting guard that can score almost 25 points a night.
DeRozan, who's listed at 6'7, 220 pounds, is from Compton, California. He played his high school years for Compton High and was rated number six overall prospect during his senior year by Scout.com. DeRozan, like most top recruits, played all four years at the varsity level and was dominant throughout. As a senior, DeRozan led Compton to a 26-6 record and a second straight Moore League title. He was named the MVP of the Moore League and he was also named to the McDonald's All-American team, the highest honor a high school senior can receive.
DeRozan had options coming out of high school, being recruited by Southern California, Arizona State, California, Florida State, UCLA, and Washington. Ultimately DeRozan chose Southern California, in part because his friend, rapper/actor Romeo Miller, otherwise known as "Lil Romeo" of ICDC fame. DeRozan had an excellent freshman year, starting all 35 games while averaging 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 0.9 steals. DeRozan was remarkably efficient, shooting 52% from the field, although most of them were from two. He needs to improve shooting threes, an issue when he was coming out of USC and still something he needs to improve as he heads into his eighth year in the NBA.
After one year at USC, DeRozan decided to leave college and declare for the NBA Draft. Most college players leave early because they think they're ready and they don't want to get hurt before they cash in, but DeRozan's mother has lupus, and having the ability to take care of her financial burdens from her health issues was just impossible to pass up. DeRozan was a known commodity in NBA circles, so it wasn't much of a surprise when the Toronto Raptors took him with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, guaranteeing him his giant payday that clearly his family needed.
As with most rookies, it took DeRozan time to get his feet under him, but he still started 65 games and appeared in 77. He averaged 8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 0.6 steals in just 21.6 minutes per game, which is decent for a rookie, but that was just a precursor to what he was about to do. As expected, a jump from 21 to 34 minutes per game coincided with a jump to 17.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and one steal per game. DeRozan went wire to wire, starting and playing in all 82 games.
DeRozan continued to average right around 17 points per game through 2013, but in the 2013-14 season, he took his game to the next level. DeRozan jumped up to 21.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and one steal per game. Sometimes it takes a player, especially one that comes into the league at 19, time to adjust to the pro game and become more assertive with their team, and that is exactly what occurred with DeRozan. He would defer and let others shoot for the first four years, and then at age 24 he took off. He is coming off his best statistical season, a good sign for a player entering his prime. DeRozan averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, one steal, and just two turnovers per game in 2015-16, an impressive stat for someone who plays 36 minutes per night.
The Celtics would not be getting a three-point shooter in DeRozan, but they would be getting maybe the best slasher in the league, and as his game is progressing, so is his on-court vision. DeRozan averaged more assists last season than any other, and it wouldn't be surprising if this trend continued. He did struggle in the playoffs last season, and he's had his struggles this postseason too, but he dropped 34 points in Game Five of the first round against the Pacers and 30 in the Raptors Game Seven win.
As we discussed, DeRozan is not going to hit a lot of threes, but he did shoot the most two-point field goals in the NBA last year, making him a bit of a throwback, but still a nightmare for opponents to defend. As DeRozan's court vision is improving, his shot is too; he only took 139 threes last season, but he hit 47 of them, good for 34%, the highest in his career, college and pro. With his game still progressing and the ability to stay on the floor (509 games started, 521 played, 74 games per season) DeRozan is ready to opt out of his deal and test a free agent market that is sure to be kind to him.
DeRozan is a player that Danny Ainge has long coveted, and now with the possible chance (it's happening, but he can't exercise the option until the season is over) to sign him without having to give up compensation, it has to be tempting for Ainge to make the full-court press and offer a max-deal for the former Trojan. Some may think it's a lot to offer, but with a still evolving game and just 26 years old, it makes sense to try and bring him to Boston; it weakens a division rival, and it gives you one of the best offensive players in the NBA.
As nice as it would be to see DeRozan and Durant on the same team, it most likely isn't happening. The point is, if Boston knows they are out on Durant, they'll most likely put a full-court press on DeRozan. DeRozan would make either Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart expendable, but that's a story for another day. The bottom line is this- the Celtics need to improve their offense in a big way, and there are two players in free agency that can do that for you. The first guy is most likely a pipe dream, and the second guy is a player who's steadily improved and is going to draw max offers.
Boston's best chance is going to end up being door number two- Demar DeRozan.
NBA Statistics Provided by Basketball-Reference.com
College Statistics Provided by Sports-Reference.com/College Basketball
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