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San Antonio Spurs 2018-19 Player Previews: DeMar DeRozan has the keys to the franchise

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan defends Rockets guard James Harden (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan defends Rockets guard James Harden (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Rapper Drake and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (Todd Korol/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Rapper Drake and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (Todd Korol/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

New challenges await the San Antonio Spurs this season, just as they await shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. With a talented roster and expert coaching staff, what happens this season is up to DeRozan.

Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan is standing at a crossroads in his career. He’s never known a team other than the Toronto Raptors and has been thrust into a whole new environment by a trade he had no control over.

All signs pointed toward DeRozan finishing his career in Toronto and retiring as the greatest Raptor of all time. He was paired up with his best friend in point guard Kyle Lowry and represented one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. He buddied up with international superstar rapper Drake and was the face of basketball in ‘The Six.’ No matter how the rest of his career plays out, DeMar DeRozan and the city of Toronto will always be connected.

One of the harsh realities of life is that all good things come to an end and this summer, the city of San Antonio and DeRozan both faced that truth. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri decided to make a change and so DeRozan was shipped off to become a Spur.

This season marks a new chapter for the San Antonio Spurs franchise and the career of DeMar DeRozan. Together, DeMar and the Spurs will venture into unmarked territory and face daunting and unfamiliar challenges. Head coach Gregg Popovich is on board with the new addition and will do everything in his power to make DeRozan as comfortable and successful as possible in a Spurs uniform.

San Antonio provides a gateway to the next level of superstardom for DeRozan. The expert training staff, led by Popovich, does a great job of pinpointing the strengths and flaws of each player that comes through the Alamo City. While there are plenty of areas where DeRozan can flourish in this season, there are others where his teammates will pick up the slack. Let’s start off with what he does right.

Next: DeRozan’s strengths

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)

The first positive trait that comes to mind when looking over DeRozan’s skill set is his effortless scoring ability. It’s easy to say “this player is good because he scores a lot of points,” but DeRozan’s scoring is a special case.

Besides his new teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, there are few players who utilize the mid-range as well as DeRozan does. His ability to operate in limited space and rise above defenders for jump shots is generally overlooked, but it doesn’t quite matter how he gets his buckets. What matters most is that DeRozan does so at an efficient rate while also managing to involve his teammates.

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Over the last five seasons, DeRozan has put up an average of 23.3 points per game while shooting roughly 7.9 free throws per game. The instinctive scorer has refined his game as he approaches his thirties so that he operates better in a team-based offense and has increased his assist averages between seven of his eight seasons played. He finished last season as a dark horse MVP candidate and posted with a final stat line of 23 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest. He earned All-NBA Second Team honors for his performance and led the Raptors to the first seed in the Eastern Conference.

For a team that ranked No. 17 in offensive rating and No. 27 in points per game in the 2017-18 season, the Spurs were in dire need of an offensive firestarter before the move for DeRozan. San Antonio replaced some of Ginobili’s craftiness in the lane with DeRozan’s ability to fight though contact and score on the drive. He’s not a frequent euro-stepper like Ginobili, but he does a fantastic job of finding and creating lanes to the basket by contorting his body and finishing through traffic.

Pop on DeMar DeRozan's transition: "He’s turned out to be maybe the best passer on our team, frankly."

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 10, 2018

Adding an unrelenting scorer and willing passer at the shooting guard not only filled but exceeded the needs of the team. DeRozan’s fit with the Spurs has nothing to do with his skill set, but with the passion and desire that drives him on and off the court. This is the type of player that the Spurs have relied upon throughout their multi decade run of sustained success.

With that said, DeRozan has a ways to go on the other side of the floor.

Next: DeRozan’s faults

San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and Houston’s James Harden (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and Houston’s James Harden (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

Defense. Defense. Defense.

It’s a phrase that’s been drilled into the minds of Spurs players for decades; well before the Big Three era. With a defensive-minded culture, San Antonio has continued its reign as one of the winningest franchises in all of sports. Offense is often generated from great defense and vise-versa.

Unfortunately, DeRozan doesn’t follow suit. Similarly to many other high-volume scorers around the league, DeRozan slacks on the defensive end of the ball. Whether it’s a matter of effort or inability is a topic of debate, but DeRozan has the physical tools to become a solid defender. He’s deceptively strong and lengthy at six-foot-seven and can keep up with most players at his position.

AND-1 for @DeMar_DeRozan!

He's up to 13 PTS late in the 3Q. #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/9bNEns1XhF

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 11, 2018

He’s never quite been able to put it together on that side of the ball. In an era when 3-and-D basketball is so important, he can’t really do either. DeRozan made an active effort to improve from behind the arc last season, taking a career-high 3.3 per game. He hit just 30 percent of his threes but does a decent job of picking and choosing when to shoot them.

To take the necessary leap to reach the next level of his superstardom, DeRozan needs to improve in both of these areas. He doesn’t necessarily need to make an All-Defensive Team or win the three-point contest, but competence in both of these areas would go a long way.

Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the best way to guide others is by leading them by example. His sustained success in other areas will eventually put him in an interesting conversation when it’s all said and done.

The next three-five years of DeRozan’s career could separate a good legacy from a great one. If he takes the proper steps to develop himself into a more well-rounded player and lead the Spurs back to the playoffs, DeRozan’s name will come up amongst some of the all-time greats.

Next. 2018-19 Player Previews: LaMarcus Aldridge’s time to shine

What happens this season will prove what kind of player DeRozan truly is and who he can become. On the dawn of the new season, now’s the time for DeRozan and take the next step in his pursuit of greatness.

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