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Toronto Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan speaks to reporters during the NBA team's annual media day in Toronto Dec. 12, 2011. (Mike Cassese/Reuters/Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan speaks to reporters during the NBA team's annual media day in Toronto Dec. 12, 2011. (Mike Cassese/Reuters/Mike Cassese/Reuters)

DeMar DeRozan assumes new role for Toronto Raptors Add to ...

Tough defensive lessons begin at home, so when Jamaal Magloire had the opportunity to introduce his 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame to DeMar DeRozan, he didn’t hesitate.

DeRozan, four inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter, then had another introduction – to the hardwood floor in the Air Canada Centre’s third-floor practice gymnasium.

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The blow that sent DeRozan flying on Tuesday was typical of the tough defensive mindset new head coach Dwane Casey is trying to instill with the Raptors this season.

“Just practising hard,” Magloire said afterward.

“I’m not trying to hurt anybody, but we have a defensive-minded attitude first and we can’t give up any layups.”

Moaned DeRozan: “I felt like I hit a wall.”

Consider it another National Basketball Association life lesson for DeRozan, who, despite being just 21, is emerging as the centrepiece of a developing Toronto team.

A question, however, remains: Is DeRozan up for it?

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a good pressure,” Casey said between the two Tuesday practice sessions, absent from which was Leandro Barbosa with a sore right knee – the only injury concern so far at training camp.

“As a 21-year-old, it should be the best pressure you can have. You have to embrace it, not let it be a burden to you. I think he’s doing that.”

After Chris Bosh fled to Miami prior to the start of last season, DeRozan served notice in his sophomore year that, offensively at least, he can hold his own.

The only Raptor to start all 82 games, DeRozan’s average of 17.2 points a game exactly doubled his rookie season output.

DeRozan scored in double figures in 68 games, leading the team, and he closed with a flourish, averaging 23.1 points and 4.9 rebounds over the final eight games in April.

“I think he has a chance to be an all-star in this league if he continues to work, work, work,” Magloire said.

Casey said he has been impressed with DeRozan’s offensive abilities and that the 6-foot-7 forward will be asked to post up on occasion this season.

The coach said DeRozan has also shown an aptitude for three-point shooting during training camp (he was a dreary five of 52 from that range last season), and that’s another aspect of DeRozan’s game that could be unleashed once the season starts.

“I don’t know if that’s his strength yet, but he’s really been working hard at them and knocking them down in practice,” Casey said. “Now I guess the test will be knocking them down when the popcorn’s popping.”

“That’s one arsenal added to my game,” is how DeRozan put it.

Casey said DeRozan now needs to use his athleticism at the other end of the court – on defence – where the Raptors struggled mightily during their 22-60 freefall last year.

An assistant in Dallas last year and the defensive mastermind behind the Mavericks’ run to the NBA title, Casey said the key to being a solid defensive player is knowing and understanding your limitations.

“You can’t make it a macho contest, say you’re going to go out and get in Derrick Rose’s grill,” Casey said. “You can’t do that. You have to make sure you think contain and contest and be smart.

“I think defence is a thinking man’s game just as much as offence. And we have to be cerebral when it comes to the defensive end.”

DeRozan remains soft-spoken, but said he is ready to take on more of a leadership role. Defensively, he said, he will improve.

And DeRozan is keeping his goal simple regarding what would be a successful campaign for the Raptors.

“Playoffs,” he said. “Simple as that.”

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