DeMar DeRozan is a pretty funny guy.
His frequent photo and video bombs with fellow All-Star pal Kyle Lowry have become well known to fans in Toronto over the years.
But those antics have recently taken a back seat to his “ghost handshakes,” which are becoming known league-wide.
The ghosts were back at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday wearing invisible OVO jerseys (although only DeRozan would know) during the Raptors’ second Welcome Toronto game against the Lakers.
DeRozan’s ghost friends must have brought some sort of luck to the home team because the Raps had a big scoring night in their 123-111 win over L.A.
Toronto’s bench mob combined for 61 points, including a career-high 25 points from not-so-invisible Fred VanVleet, and 13 points from C.J. Miles.
It could definitely be an advantage to have a few extra players on the court, even if they’re invisible. The first time DeRozan brought his ghost friends onto the hardwood was Nov. 9 against the Pelicans, a game Toronto won by four points.
And fans didn’t know what to think. Is he a creature of habit? Was he mocking his teammates? Was he trying to look like an NBA 2K glitch? Is he losing his marbles?
Even “Shaqtin’ A Fool” had something to say about it.
And by the next time the Raptors had a few invisible players on the floor with them, Toronto’s fans joined in on the high-five jokes.
DeRozan and all his invisible teammates won again on the night of the next ghost sighting, a 129-113 victory over Houston on Nov. 14.
That gives the Raptors a 3-0 record when the ghosts come out, so it looks like there’s a definite advantage to having a few extra friends on the court.
Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey didn’t want to push guard DeMar DeRozan into taking more three-pointers even though it was obvious the game relied more and more on three-point shooting.
“He’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the history of the game, so we never wanted to say, ‘Never take those,’ ” Casey said.
DeRozan was hesitant to take more threes because “I was comfortable and felt I was great at what I did. But I didn’t want to be forced. I didn’t want to take away something I was great at instead of looking at it like ‘I can add this to that,’ ” DeRozan said.
But both concluded that DeRozan needed to expand his game. “I critique myself and ask how I can be better at something I didn’t feel as comfortable with,” DeRozan said.
So DeRozan, who said he works on his three-point shot every offseason, took another look at his long-distance game. “I shot a lot of long twos where I had one foot behind the line and one foot in front of the line,” he said. “I said, ‘Let me take this easier the shot that will get me an extra point.’ It was just getting more comfortable with it. I understand now how it can help me.”
This season, DeRozan is shooting twice as many threes (3.2) as his career average but more important than that, he is shooting a career-high 36.4% on threes.
In his past 10 games, DeRozan is 28-for-56 on three-pointers, including 6-for-9 in a 45-point effort against Philadelphia, 5-for-9 in a 52-point performance against Milwaukee and 5-for-8 in a 35-point game against Chicago.
“I wanted to simplify the game and make it easier on me to be a complete player,” DeRozan said. “Seeing the way the league was shifting, seeing what I was good at and seeing what I could be better at. I was just trying to put all that together and master a new craft.”
DeRozan’s proficiency has helped the Raptors to a 28-11 record – good for second place in the Eastern Conference, just three games behind Boston and 2½ games ahead of Cleveland. Toronto and Golden State are the only two teams in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency.
DeRozan, 28, averages 25.3 points, five assists, 4.3 rebounds and is shooting 48.6% from the field. At 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a career-high five assists per game, DeRozan is having his best all-around season and is a lock for his fourth All-Star Game. He’s also producing at an All-NBA rate while his dad, Frank, battles serious kidney-related health issues.
“He’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever been around,” Casey said. “Dirk Nowitzki used to come to the gym at night. Used to have to lock the door to keep him out. DeMar DeRozan is the other guy. He’ll watch the NBA games, and then he’ll go late at night and work on his shot.”
Not only is DeRozan shooting more threes, he also has cut down on mid-range jump shots and long twos. Last season, he attempted 10.1 mid-range shots per game and made 41.2% compared to seven mid-range shots at 47.2% this season, according to NBA.com/stats. He also trimmed his long twos per game in half.
The growth of DeRozan’s game would not have been possible if the relationship between player and coach weren’t so strong. Casey was patient with DeRozan’s three-point development.
“You can’t force it,” Casey said. “Players want confidence in themselves. We can have confidence, but until that player feels that confidence and have success at doing it, it’s not going to happen. We can want him to shoot threes all we want to, but it’s up to him. We talked about it over the summer, and he’s done an excellent job of mixing his game up and having a variety of things he can go to offensively.”
Said DeRozan: “One thing about Coach Casey he always let me be me. It’s great to have a coach like that. He gives me confidence and has trust to let me play my style of game. It makes you want to play that much harder when you have a coach like that. Then, it’s on me to figure out ways to get better and not just stay the same. He understood that in me as well.”
That bond extends beyond the court. The two attended a Finals game together last season, and when Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens visited Toronto, Casey invited DeRozan to lunch so he could talk with Wilkens.
“We went through tough times,” Casey said of a 22-43 season in 2011-12 and some disappointing playoff losses. “It’s almost like a son. You watch a young man grow up. He was one of the players who came to my press conference when I got this job. You have that special bond. It’s not like we hang out all the time. But the closeness is there. I have a proud feeling for him – to see him grow into the All-Star he is.”