DeMar DeRozan is playing "out of this world" this season.
That sentiment that Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson offered recently about DeRozan's game is a common one throughout the league. The evolution DeRozan -- at 27.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season -- has shown this year is something Gibson has seen develop for years.
Gibson, who played with DeRozan at USC and has known him for well over a decade, always knew his good friend was a great player, but this season's performances have placed DeRozan into the game's elite category.
"I always knew he was going to be a talent," Gibson said. "When I saw him in high school and in college, I've known him for a number of years, I always thought he would be like a Vince Carter-type because he was so explosive. His midrange [game] was always there but he just perfected [it] to a whole new level."
DeRozan recently spoke to ESPN.com about what it's like to evolve into one of the game's best to to sign one of the richest contracts in pro sports, and how he would improve All-Star Weekend.
Describe the popularity you attain as a sixth grader when you dunk for the first time.
DeMar DeRozan: You just become the man on campus ... everybody looked forward to PE every day after that.
When you did it, did you surprise yourself?
DeRozan: Of course. It was surprising. Doing something on adrenaline in front of everybody. It was definitely surprising.
What would you do to make All-Star Weekend better?
DeRozan: (long pause) Make All-Stars do the dunk contest.
Is that financially related? How do you do that?
DeRozan: Probably let the fans vote who they want to see in the dunk contest.
What is it like actually signing your name to a contract worth this much money?
DeRozan: You don't believe it in the moment. Probably later on, after I finish playing, you think about it, it will be more of a shock. Of course it's crazy, but it's more something you don't believe in the moment.
With all the money that's coming into the league, are you guys even a little surprised at just how much it is?
DeRozan: It's always surprising. Especially coming from where I come from any dollar amount over $1,000 is a lot. So when you start adding extra commas, extra zeros, and everything else to it, it's definitely surprising.
Speaking of where you come from, when people find out that you grew up in Compton, California, what's the first thing they ask you?
DeRozan: Is it that bad? Or is it like the movie or something like that? Something of that nature.
And for somebody who has never been there -- what is the response?
DeRozan: Take a trip and you let me know what you think.
Are you a Raiders fan?
DeRozan: No, I'm a bandwagon [fan].
Bandwagon? So who are you following now?
DeRozan: The Patriots.
You think they're going to win it all this year?
DeRozan: Yeah. Whatever team wins is going to be my team.
As a player, when do you know when you've hit another level in your career?
DeRozan: I don't think you know. It's really not something you're conscious of because you're putting in the work in the moment. You expect however you're playing to come along if you're putting in the work. And I think in the long run when you're able to look at your body of work, you'll be able to see the progression you make.
It seems like everyone around the league is taking notice of your game. What do you think has changed most this year in your game, if anything?
DeRozan: I think when you consistently win, everything is put on a pedestal much higher. I think that's all that it is, we're winning consistently year in and year out. My game is slowly developing with that as well, so it's kind of the best of both worlds and not just an individual thing.
How much do you believe the Team USA experience helps a player?
DeRozan: It helps everything. You're around 11 of the greatest players in the league. And to be part of that group, you take so much and learn so much from every individual and just representing your country. And you try to carry that over to your own [NBA] team.
How many times do you hear from fans who say: "You're really helping my fantasy team!"
DeRozan: You hear it all the time. No matter what you're doing. No matter where you're at -- getting something to eat, on social media -- you see it all the time.
You and teammate Kyle Lowry have a close relationship. Your fiancé, Kiara Morrison, played and his wife, Ayahna Cornish-Lowry, played. Two-on-two, who wins?
DeRozan: That's a good question. I never thought about that. I don't know. His wife still plays in leagues and everything. That's a good question. We may have to test that out and see.
You've said if you weren't playing basketball, you would be an NFL quarterback or running back. Why is it that so many guys who play in the NFL think they can play in the NBA and so many guys in the NBA think they can play in the NFL?
DeRozan: It's just [like] how every athlete thinks they're a rapper. Everybody's got dreams and aspirations to do something that they're fans of.