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NBA Top 10 Dunkers: #4 DeMar DeRozan

Well, if you are good enough to be eulogized in a rappers work, you are surely setting trends in whatsoever you do. Not my thoughts, and definitely not my beliefs, but a majority of fans and players do give in to it. Asher Ruth may have escaped with his scandalous combined referral to Hakeem and Iverson, but there are some rappers who are astute enough to be careful about their allegories and analogies. One of them is Royce Da 5’9”, and the song is Second Place Lyrics. The song is not any significant piece of music, but the analogy to a certain basketball player is in all reality very appropriate; something that I am more than happy agreeing to. The lines in question are:

“You’re in the Matrix, shoulda picked a different pill
You about to see how far that Paul Rosenberg will go
The height of my game is like DeMar DeRozan vertical”

Statutory warning: Do not go about looking for the song, and if you do, don’t blame me for it, or condescend my taste in music. I don’t recommend it, and have no other intention than to prove that in today’s date if you talk about athletic ability in the NBA, the topic just doesn’t end with a certain Dwight Howard or LeBron James.

DeMar DeRozan, a 6’7 guard out of USC is one of the few bright sparks on the Raptors’ roster and comes in at No-4 in our list of the best dunkers in the league.

If you look through his offensive repertoire, then you can easily come to the conclusion that DeRozan is far from being a player who can hold a rostrum similar to a Dwayne Wade or a Derrick Rose. He is no threat on the perimeter, doesn’t shoot the ball well enough and is a liability with the ball in his hands. His defensive prowess is also not a positive, and for many he is just a single one-dimensional player who can do nothing but dunk the ball.

However, if you play for the Raptors, dunking is the easiest way to win their fealties and love. And the city of Toronto loves him, and adores him as the successor to the hyperbolic talents of a Vince Carter and a Tracy McGrady. A vertical of around 40 inches, and the ability and awareness to get to the cup and finish with authority are the trademarks and signature plays that have earned the sophomoric and verdant guard the untenable allegiance from the fans.

And this player would make his first mark amongst the dunking fraternity, with his exploits at the 2010 slam dunk contest. With a legacy like that of Carter and McGrady decorating the ball-club, the pressure on DeRozan was immense. As he sat down tying his laces, the memory of Vince Carter doing his above the ring histrionics was playing on his mind. Now Vince has already been much bedizened for his insuperable high-flying plays and is widely believed to be the best dunker of all time. The reverse 360 wind-mill, the honey dip, the between-the-legs dunk off a bounced pass. People still talk about that dunk, and to have another player suit up in similar colors, the expectations of an entire city and the whole fraternity were at colossal levels.


His first dunk wasn’t much impressive as he had only scored a 44. He needed the next one to be special, and boy did he make it special. A reverse wind-mill one-handed dunk! Now some players might also be able to complete the dunk, but the ease and finesse with which DeRozan dunked is no small feat. He rose up, as if the wishes and hopes of the entire Raptors’ fraternity bolstered his rise and put the wind in his sails. He rose so high that his head almost touched the ring, and as he came down, he swung his arm-over and finished the wind-mill. 50 points was a much easy decision after that.

He would go on to top off the above dunk, with a between the legs effort after catching the ball off the back-board. Vince got his share of nick-names, be it Air Canada, half-man half-amazing or just the inspiring Vinsanity. That night DeRozan showed that he too could take flight, albeit not as high as Air Canada, but still high enough for people to take notice.

And such awe-inspiring and majestic athletic ability is one of the prime reasons why DeRozan is so high in the list. In his short time in the league, he has established himself as one of the most efficient and effective dunkers in the league. He not only has the ability and the athleticism to get to the ring, but also the versatility and the flexibility to do it with style. The presence of a Center doesn’t deter him as he knows that he can go higher and his dexterity allows him to finish at the ring, while absorbing the contact.

Doc Rivers famously remarked about DeRozan: “He is basically a Kamikazee driver.”

The game was indeed very popular, and laid the foundation blocks for some of the most popular racing games of today. Alas, DeRozan can’t think of having an impact anywhere close to that. He is still not quite the finished article, and despite his impressive work ethics and the hours he puts in the gym, he still has a long way to go.

His primary offensive move still remains the off-ball back-door cut to the ring, and trying to get his teammates to get him the ball there. When he does manage to use the screen and curl properly, he is left with an open lane to run into and more often than not, uses his incredible jumping ability, and athletic endowment to pull out some of the most outrageous alley-oops attempts. No wonder the city and the franchise were so disappointed in their failure to sign Steve Nash. Calderon and Lowry are very adept play-makers, but with Nash running the point, LOB CITY could have had some serious competition. A terrier in his movement, his game-play is a kind reminder to the benefits of movement and cuts in basketball. Rip Hamilton would agree no less.


However, even though the novices may go ooh and aah over his awe-inspiring ability and the highlight plays, there are some major deficiencies in his game that he needs to take care of. For someone of his athletic ability and size, his defensive numbers need to improve. He needs to get some more rebounds, help out on the bigs’ and also try to use his agility and quickness to get some steals and force turnovers. On the offensive end, he needs to work on his shooting and play-making ability.

His ability is unquestionable and his work ethic has resulted in him adding more moves and weapons to his always improving repertoire. The improvement he has shown over the past few seasons, is inspiring to say the least, and his efforts have been aptly represented and validated in the stat sheet.

Since his inception into the league, his numbers have been:-

2009-10: 8.6ppg, 21.6 mpg, 49.8% FG%, 2.9 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.6 spg

2010-11: 17.2 ppg, 34.8 mpg, 46.7 FG%, 3.8rpg, 1.8apg, 1.0 spg

2011-12: 16.7 ppg, 35.0 mpg, 42.2 FG%, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg

(Stat reference: www.basketball-reference.com)

This season he has improved his offensive repertoire even more, and is averaging over 18 ppg on 44% shooting while playing for around 37 mpg. The rebounding and steals number however still continue to be abysmal, but considering his work ethic, expect it to change pretty soon.

Maybe his best game of the season so far was the triple over-time loss to the Jazz. DeRozan scored a career high 37 points in that game and showcased that he has come a long way from being the one-dimensional dribble drive player. He showed his much improved post-game as he schooled Foye on the baseline, backing him down till 15 feet, then hitting a spinning fade-away. Vintage Kobe Bryant maybe, his ability to operate on the post has allowed him to explore his abilities as a play-maker even more. His size and strength is a major defensive challenge for rival guards, and with the defense being forced to react and double-team him, DeRozan has done a commendable job in kicking the ball out to the open man and allowing his teammates to exploit the defensive rotation lapses.

However, beyond his baseline shot and newfangled footwork, there is something that separates him from the elite players in the league. The quality which is famously referred to as the clutch gene. DeRozan is not a player who is going to take a game on, and try to impose himself. He is rather too happy biding his time, sedentary with his urgency and drive. He still doesn’t trust himself enough to demand the ball in clutch situations, and when he does get the ball, he doesn’t trust himself in those moments.

In the dying seconds of the game against Utah, he had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game. Isolated, with Millsap guarding him, he used his speed to full advantage by making a quick-step move and shooting a turn-around 20 footer. Something that maybe Kobe would have done, just that he would have done it better.

DeRozan was too quick for his own good, and didn’t sell the quick first step well enough. With Millsap covering him that close, he could have used a semi-jump fake to try and see whether he could get Millsap in the air and earn a trip to the charity stripe. With his turn-around jumper, he never looked balanced and never got the desired lift on his shot. He could have still used the extra second, balanced himself after the turn and then risen above for a much better and well-balanced shot. The way Kobe would do it. The way Jordan did it. The way play-off matches and championships are won.

DeRozan has never been to the play-offs and without ever having post-season experience, his latent talent will never surface. He may still go on dunking the ball harder than anyone in the league, jumping higher than even say LeBron, but all of these will get him nothing better than a mention in Shaq’s compilation of dunks on TNT.

But, the Raptors are still banking on his potential, something they proved by offering him a new 4-year $40 million deal. He still has a long way to go, a lot to do before he can repay the Raptors back for their faith and belief. Surely, a few posterizing dunks can’t be worth the millions.

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