The San Antonio Spurs are lucky to have him. He proved it again on Saturday night in a Boxing Day clash against his old team that the Raptors dropped 119-114 to fall to 0-2 on the season.
Toronto surrendered a 9-0 run after a controversial offensive foul on Pascal Siakam with 1:20 to play, which proved to be the pivot point.
But DeRozan was a big reason the Spurs (2-0) got over the hump after the Raptors stalled out, as he scored 10 points on four shots in the final 4:35 and kept an offensive rebound alive that led to the Spurs’ go-ahead basket by LaMarcus Aldridge with 30 seconds left.
DeRozan did a bit of everything to improve to 3-2 against the team he spent the first 10 years of his career with.
“He played his butt off. He pretty much won the game for them — 27 points and eight assists and he kinda picked us apart,” said Kyle Lowry, his old teammate and close friend. “I think throughout the years I’ve known him, played with him, played against him in the last couple, I think he just continues [to grow] … he’s become more of a playmaker, and I think that’s his strength right now, is still being able to score but he’s able to play make for everybody else and make life easier for the other guys, like role players, and getting guys the ball where they need it and getting them open looks and giving them confidence to be good.”
Forget James Harden — the disgruntled Houston Rockets star that some corners of the Raptors fan base dream Toronto could somehow swing a deal for.
DeRozan would be a smoother fit on and off the floor and far cheaper to acquire, given he’s in the final season of his contract. Matching salaries might be a problem — DeRozan makes $27.7 million this year — so making a trade without surrendering one of Toronto’s core pieces would be nearly impossible.
If not an in-season trade maybe, DeRozan becomes a target in free agency. But the point stands: this version of DeRozan would fit the Raptors’ needs well.
No regrets about trading him in the first place, obviously. The rules of engagement are such that a championship justifies the means, and dealing the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer (not to mention Jacob Poeltl, who accompanied DeRozan to San Antonio) for Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2018 will never stop making sense as long as that banner hangs in the rafters of Scotiabank Arena.
But with Leonard taking off for the Los Angeles Clippers at first chance, and the championship core getting whittled away further this past summer with the departure of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors are trying to win with a roster that has some holes and some unfamiliar pieces.
“I think it’s an adjustment for the new faces,” said Lowry, who finished with 16 points and 10 assists but missed a wide-open elbow jumper that would have put the Raptors ahead with 22 seconds left. “I think it’s more than one thing. I think it’s two games, [a short] pre-season, I think it’s a lot of things that goes into that, everybody making adjustments trying to figure it out.
“Your defence should be a little bit more ahead of your offence right now, and we’re just kind of even right now with everything, and it’s a brand new situation for everybody, but we’re 0-and-2 and I haven’t been this record in a long [expletive] time … so, we’ve got to figure it out sooner or later for our team.”
The Raptors struggle to get to the paint and struggle to get to the free-throw line and, as a result, they struggle at times to score in the half-court. Last season they ranked firmly in the middle of the pack in half-court offence, and it came back to haunt them when the Boston Celtics took away their No. 1-ranked transition offence in the second round of the playoffs.
DeRozan can play fast or he can play slow, and he showed his stuff early against his old team in a game that got off to a blazing pace.
By the time the track meet paused at the end of the first quarter, Toronto was leading 39-33 — but DeRozan had scored 16 points on seven shots while assisting on a pair of Spurs threes. He was able to access the Raptors’ paint at will and either twist his way into an old-fashioned three-point play or rocket the ball out to the perimeter for open looks as he collapsed the defence.
The Raptors are hoping to get more similar savvy offence from, say, Pascal Siakam, who is showing signs. Siakam finished with 16 points, eight assists and 15 rebounds against San Antonio — but also five turnovers.
He’ll continue to improve in his second season as a primary option, and the Raptors have upside elsewhere: OG Anunoby chipped with some key triples in the second half, and late-blooming Chris Boucher showed the Raptors rewarding him with a $6.5 million contract for this season might have had merit as he exploded for 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots, while Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 27 points.
But this version of DeRozan is the finished product. He may not take threes, but he converts twos at a high rate – 51 per cent last season – because he’s learned how to back off on tough shots in the name of getting the ball to teammates for easier looks.
“I’ve been impressed with a couple of things,” Nurse said of DeRozan. “I think he goes to the basket with a lot more speed, I think he goes right and left much more equally distributed than he used to; he’s quick going left now too … But I think that the other thing is he is a really good passer; he’s really become a better passer year in and year out so he doesn’t have settle for too many of those tough, tough mid-range shots, but he can score man. He’s always going to score 20-plus for a season, per game, and that’s not easy to do.”
DeRozan’s high-water mark as a scorer was the 2016-17 season, when he put up 27.3 points a game. His assist total jumped from 3.9 a game to 5.2 the next season (as his scoring average fell to 23 points a game) and then 6.2 in his first season in San Antonio.
He’s one of four players to average at least 22 points, five assists and five free throws made over the past three full seasons with 200 games played. The others are James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.
“He should get a lot of credit for that, for being able to adapt and going from a guy, 27, 28 a game down to what, 22, 23ish range now, and getting that assists up there,” said VanVleet, who saw a potentially game-winning three rattle out with two seconds left.
VanVleet was a rookie when DeRozan put up 27.3 points per game – the second-highest in franchise history. “Some guys in the league you know you can send a lot of help ’cause they’re not gonna pass unless they absolutely have to. DeMar is not one of those guys.”
The culture fit would be easy, too. Harden loves the nightlife and has put partying without masks ahead of his professional responsibilities twice already, getting himself fined and contributing to the postponement of a game — and the season isn’t even a week old.
DeRozan trained in Montana this past summer precisely because he didn’t know anyone there and had no parties to go to.
He helped set the tone for a culture the Raptors have continued to benefit from.
“He’s one of those pivotal guys in my career, on and off the court,” VanVleet said. “Gave a lot of game and wisdom and tough love, and taught me a lot, just from watching him, watching him prepare every day, watching him practice every day, watching him work out every day, and then seeing him perform on a night-in, night-out basis. He’s really, really, really high on my list, just as a friend and guy that I’ve grown close to over the last few years. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Anyone who’s ever met him does. And he can play, too, as he’s showing no sign of slowing down at age 31. On the contrary, his game is still evolving and even improving.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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