TORONTO - Following the final game in each of his first four NBA seasons, DeMar DeRozan has stood in front of the media contingent at the Raptors' annual post-mortem gathering, vowing to work tirelessly on his game during the summer and return a more well-rounded player come the fall.
One of his most glaring weaknesses as a young guard in the league was his playmaking ability.
As a 19-year-old rookie in 2009-10, DeRozan averaged less than one assist per game. Among NBA guards that logged at least 20 minutes per outing that season, DeRozan assisted on the lowest percentage of his teammate's field goals (just under 5 per cent, tied with Orlando's Mickael Pietrus, per NBA.com/stats).
He's come a long way since then, making good on his yearly end-of-season promise.
DeRozan's four assists in Sunday's win over the Magic raised his season total to 205, a new career-high, besting last year's mark with 26 games left to play.
"I want to make my teammates better," said the Raptors' guard, who continues to evolve as a distributer, averaging a career-best 3.8 dimes this season. "It just comes with experience and understanding. It's something that I really enjoy doing, getting my teammates involved, looking for them."
The 24-year-old's assist numbers have increased in each of his five seasons and his assist percentage this year (18.6) is more than three-times higher than it was in his rookie campaign (4.9).
DeRozan had recorded five or more assists in just five of his first 222 games as an NBA player, his first three years in the league. Since then he's accomplished that feat 28 times in 136 contests, including 15 during his 2013-14 breakout season.
"That's huge," Dwane Casey said of his leading scorer's improved court vision. "Now he's drawing so much attention from the other teams as far as double teaming, guys helping, they're sinking in and he's making teams pay for it."
"He's one of the best wings right now in the league as far as passing the ball out [of the double team] and he's doing a great job of it," Casey continued. "So that's a big step in his growth process. It's good to see and the more attention he gets the more he's going to have to rely on that part of his game."
A first-time all-star this season, DeRozan has had to adjust to the defensive attention he's getting now that he finds himself on the top of the opposition's scouting report. There's nowhere left to hide, not after the trade of top dog Rudy Gay, but DeRozan has embraced the responsibility.
"The game definitely does slow down," he noted. "You understand every defence. There's not too many defences I haven't seen yet and just watching film and understanding how teams play key players, especially key scorers, once you understand that a lot of things come a lot easier."
As a team, the Raptors are just 14-17 when DeRozan scores 20 or more points, however they're 18-8 when he tallies at least four assists.