If you told a Toronto Raptors fan that the ninth pick of the 2009 NBA Draft would be the greatest Raptor of all-time, he or she would have died on the floor laughing.
On June 25, 2009, the Raptors selected DeMar DeRozan from the University of Southern California. He was a high motor athlete with ball-hawking defensive instincts and the potential to be a solid two-way player at the NBA level. On July 18, 2018 “The Comp10 Assassin” was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a deal that sent shock waves throughout the NBA. Kawhi Leonard was by-and-large the best talent in the deal, but there is no denying the sheer value that DeRozan had on the Raptors’ franchise.
DeRozan’s career as a Raptor was nothing short of an inspirational and tenacious story. A journey not only culture-defining for him, but for the Raptors.
DD10 started his career as a 20-year-old rookie as a steal specialist in the passing lanes, high energy competitor, and lob finishing specialist in the open floor. Starting off the bench for the first 12 games of his career, DeRozan was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and played a respectable 22 minutes per game while averaging just under nine points per game and shooting 50 percent from the floor. His high-flying ability and explosive athleticism earned him a selection in the 2010 Slam Dunk competition in Dallas that year.
The summer following his rookie season was gut-punching to say the least, as Chris Bosh elected to sign with the Miami Heat. Anticipation for Derozan to come into his own was expected, but for Raptors’ fans they could not have predicted what would unfold.
It was just days after Bosh’s departure that DeMar posted this tweet to put the world on notice.
Derozan’s declaration to the city of Toronto gave the citizens a sense of security . The hope and safety that he would be in the gym everyday to get his shots up at the right times. The relentless insurance that this man would become the best basketball player he could possibly be for Canada’s team. The promise that this man would be the greatest Raptor ever.
The former Trojan’s promise would take time to develop and come true. Derozan averaged 17 points per game in 35 minutes of play per game in his sophomore season. Mid-way through the 2012-13 season, the Raptors traded for swingman Rudy Gay. Gay’s arrival in Toronto created a three-headed monster featuring of he, the now consistent DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry for the franchise to build around for years to come. The team played a brand of entertaining basketball predicated on athleticism, fast-paced offense, and energy from their young yet experienced core. At least, that’s what was assumed.
On December 9, 2013, the Raptors were a middle of the road team fighting for playoff positioning in the first half of the season. They shipped Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a package of role players and salary cap space, a surprising move risking their playoff chances. However, it was addition by subtraction as DeRozan blossomed even more.
By the end of the 2013-14 season, the Toronto Raptors became the Atlantic champs and earned the number three seed in the East. For the former Compton phenom, his first All-Star honors and a spot among the elite players in the NBA was secured as he was averaging 23 points a game for the squad in Canada. He also experienced his first taste of postseason basketball, an accomplishment, but only a milestone for the young and ambitious Raptors.
Two seasons later, history was made. The 6ix played host to the NBA All-Star Game in the Air Canada Centre, an honor worth mentioning as DeRozan and Lowry both earned All-Star honors. The duo came in swinging as both averaged a combined 45 points, 10 assists, and three steals per game. The All-Star break gave the superstar backcourt momentum as the Raptors crushed the hearts of the Pacers and Heat in rigorous seven-game series respectfully. For the first time in franchise history, Toronto reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
The first two games of the ECF displayed the pure dominance of the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers, annihilating the Raptors in landslide victories. If there was any doubt that DeRozan was not a star player, it flew out the window in Games 3 and 4 as he averaged 32 points while shooting over 50 percent from the field and tying the series.
The Raptors did lose the series, but not all was lost. The greatest season in franchise history was due to the longest tenured player in franchise history. DeRozan would proceed to earn two more All-Star selections as well as an All-NBA Third Team honor in 2017 and an All-NBA Second Team selection in 2018.
The trade that sent DeRozan to the Spurs hit him hard as he was one of the only players to re-sign as a free agent. He was loyal. His intuitiveness, competitive nature, poised demeanor, and divine value to the Raptors should earn him a statue outside the Air Canada Centre and a retired jersey.
DeRozan is the Raptors all-time leader in games played, field goals made, and points. The career of the Compton native will forever be cemented in Canadian sports history. His meteoric rise of DeRozan will never be forgotten in the 6ix. The legend of Deebo will guarantee that no Raptor will wear number 10 again.