Well, for such a zany and unpredictable NBA draft, the Raptors certainly minimized the zaniness and unpredictability by selecting DeMar DeRozan ninth overall, as was speculated heavily for weeks all over the internet. Don't let that fact, though, temper the positivity of said pick; DeRozan is exactly the kind of player that the Raptors needed to get out of this draft and he represents one of the most intriguing prospects this team has had in the so-called ‘Chris Bosh era'. For a team that has allowed their wing positions to stagnant heavily in recent years with sub-par talent, the DeRozan acquisition finally returns the team to a more dynamic and promising place than it has been in recent years with regards to that area of the roster. With many more moves still expected by Bryan Colangelo and Co., DeMar DeRozan represents a solid indicator of where the Raptors are headed in the coming rebuilding months.
That, too, should elicit some measure of optimism in Raptor-land.
Ever since mid-season, when Colangelo shipped off his marquee summer get in Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Marion, his moves have followed a simple and recognizable logic: athleticism, hustle and versatility now rule the day. Patrick O'Bryant, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Quincy Douby, Reggie Evans and now DeMar DeRozan all adhere to that trend. Gone are the days of overly relying on heady European imports after that strategy left the team soft, defensively weak and toughness adverse. The club's heavy dependence on those players seemed to willfully ignore the direction of a league dominated by perimeter players with the athleticism and speed to create their own offence, to pressure opposing defences with their individual talents. DeRozan, in clear acknowledgement of NBA reality, truly punctuates the focus of the future and the shift away from FIBA-ball.
The hope in drafting a player like DeRozan is that he can develop his prodigious natural gifts into game-changing skills. While he isn't as polished as he's going to need to be to really impact this team, he's also not as raw as some want to classify him as. Some liken him to former prep school phenom Gerald Green, but Green was far behind DeRozan developmentally when he was drafted by Boston in 2005. DeRozan already has a very solid mid-range jump shot, and he is far more adept at creating offence for himself than Green is to this day. He is a solid rebounder for a wing (he averaged 5.7 boards per game last year at USC) and while his defence isn't truly disruptive yet, he's preached a dedication to learning the craft since the draft process began three months ago. He's still got a lot of polishing to do with regards to ball-handling and three-point shot, but both of those areas are easily addressable with repetitions in practice.
However, DeRozan's impact extends beyond such academic considerations. He represents something grander for a team that has demonstrated so little promise, even when they were successful of late. His scoring instincts, his athleticism, his potential – they represent intriguing intangibles that this team has lacked for a very long time. Even when Andrea Bargnani was drafted first overall, he didn't cull the same kind of aura as DeRozan does. That was partly due to the fact that he played the same position as the team's best player, and it was partly due to the fact that his arrival basically signaled the departure of fan-favourite Charlie Villanueva. DeRozan has a position all to himself (though it will of course be fleshed out before opening night, and he'll probably start the season in reserve of Carlos Delfino), and one can sense around him an organization trying to position itself to best develop his immense talent as quickly, while also as diligently, as possible. Some like to consider him a high-risk pick, and in a sense that is an accurate way to describe him in that there is a high risk that he never fully realizes the extent of his talent. However, in a draft so thoroughly lacking in dependable assets, DeRozan's high reward potential (the natural antithesis to the 'high-risk' moniker), combined with the risk involved in selecting just about every other asset in his draft range, make his selection far less risky by comparison. DeRozan also marks the first Raptor that would seem to directly benefit from having Alex English, one of the best scoring wings in the history of basketball, as one of his assistant coaches.
The elation that DeRozan has been barely able to contain since getting drafted is palpable and understandable. He knows that Toronto represented his best-case destination in the top ten given their positional needs as well as the fact that he won't be tasked with single-handedly resurrecting a franchise in his first year on the job. He'll instead slide in effortlessly into what the club is trying to do going forward, knowing that the real pressure falls on Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon to reverse this team's fortunes, and that is what made his selection such a no-brainer.
Of course, all of this is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows, when the games actually count in the fall, if DeRozan will actually pan out, and if his talents will support or betray him? Who knows how he'll fit into the roster once it's been remade this summer? Right now, though, that doesn't matter. Right now the Raptors have actually drafted a player that doesn't demand hours of head scratching to figure out. Finally the team didn't draft a player when a clearly superior talent (with better fit in the roster) was still available on the board. Everything that comes hereafter will come as a result of work, both by player and by coach, to maximize the potential on hand. Today, though, there is just the promise of a player who could be a very special addition to the Toronto Raptors basketball club.