Quietly putting together an MVP-caliber season, meet Toronto’s superstar DeMar DeRozan. The proverbial “King of the North”, DeMar DeRozan has led the vaunted Toronto Raptors into the 2nd round of the playoffs for a duel with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 6-7, 220lb shooting guard has been a dominant force this season – even during significant adversity. When Kyle Lowry went down with a wrist injury in early February, DeMar shouldered the load leading the Raptors to a 14-7 record with key wins against playoff caliber teams, including the Celtics and Wizards. During that stretch, DeMar averaged 27pts on 47% shooting with a +/- of 58. Not bad when your second leading scorer goes down.
What makes DeMar’s game so impressive – and simply dominant – is that he’s adaptive. He’s a nearly impossible cover for any defender as Tony Snell (6’7, 217lbs) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11, 222lbs) found out over the last week. Depending on who guards him, DeMar can play bully-ball and bury opposing players in the post. Or, with larger defenders, he can take them off the dribble, hit a pull up jump shot or dunk it in your face.
DeMar is not completely invincible though, as Game 3 was certainly not a stellar performance - DeMar scored only 8pts, all free throws. However, those games are certainly few and far between as he’s only scored fewer than 15pts 7 times all season.
Of the 3 meaningful regular season games between the Raptors and Cavs this season – they played each other in the last game of the season but neither team played starters – the Cavs won all 3 games by an average of only 3.7pts. All 3 of those games were also before the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka. In those games, DeMar averaged 29.7pts, 5.7rebs and 3.7assts. Simply put – he’s a problem for the Cavs.
The Cavs haven’t been able to find a defender to slow him down. In those 3 games, the best Cleveland defender has only posted a DFG% (Made defended field goals rate) of 30%. That defender? LeBron James, usually guarding the least offensively gifted players. The coverage of DeMar has normally fallen on JR Smith, Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert, who haven’t been great defensively themselves.
This is why the Cavs should be worried. While the Cavs have had regular seasons success against the Raptors, as everyone knows the playoffs are a completely different season. In the playoffs, games are decided in the 4th quarter. Games get tighter and efficiency (both offensively and defensively) matters. As we’ve seen in the Raptors – Bucks series, no lead is safe in the 4th quarter (even a 25pt lead). Teams need players that can close out games, steady the ship when things seem lost, and deliver the defining blow when needed. The Raptors have one, maybe even two, of those guys.
Throw in the fact that the Raptors were the NBA's 8th best team in Defensive Ratings (Points per 100 possessions) - the 4th best after the all-star break - and the Cavaliers should be thoroughly concerned.
DeMar has the ability to carry a team even against the league's best teams. His versatility, both defensively and offensively, are comparable to the greatest in the league, including LeBron. Don't mistake his soft-spoken attitude for passiveness Cleveland, or you might find yourself bounced from the playoffs earlier than expected.
TLDR; DeMar DeRozan is going to be a significant problem for the Cavs in the 2nd round.