Most of us are not the same person that we were five, 10 or 15 years ago. The same is true of DeMar DeRozan. He has gotten better throughout every stage of his career, to the point where he is arguably having his best season at age 32.
To see how far DeRozan has come, it’s useful to examine where he started. Consider these DraftExpress scouting reports from DeRozan’s days at USC back in 2008. They call him a poor free throw shooter who doesn’t get to the line much, is unable to create his own shot or get to the rim, and is the owner of the worst assist-to -turnover ratio among all of their shooting guard prospects.
That sounds like the exact opposite of who DeRozan is today, and it’s a testament to how hard he’s worked on his game. He’s among the best in the league in all of those categories and in the fringes of the MVP conversation.
Players aren’t supposed to keep improving as they hit the wrong side of 30, but that’s exactly what has happened to DeRozan. He was criticized throughout his early career by much of the analytics crowd for being an empty-calorie scorer who negatively affected winning by most advanced metrics. This year, DeRozan has proven the nerds wrong by using their own tools against them.
Per Cleaning the GlassDeRozan’s on/off numbers are among the best in the league. Estimated Plus-Minus, which is considered by many to be the best all-in-one metric, rates DeRozan’s current season as tops in his career. Other all-in-one statistics show a similar trend.
From a bucket-getting perspective, DeRozan hasn’t changed too much. But the league has transformed around him, eschewing long 2s for 3s. He’s a throwback in that most of his points from him still come from inside the 3-point line. His 919 mid range shots per Cleaning the Glass are by far the most in the league, and he’s connecting on a career-best 48 percent of them.
DeRozan also remains elite at getting to the line. He has maybe the best pump fake in the entire league, and he’s still getting guys to jump into him every single game. Many of his peers of him have seen their free throw attempts drop with the implementation of new rules that discouraged foul-baiting this season, yet DeRozan’s attempts have gone up. His explanation of him? I don’t flop.
DeMar DeRozan on continuing to get a free-throw line at high rate despite adjusted NBA rule: “I don’t know … I don’t flop.”
With a laugh, he adds that’s not a knock on anyone else.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 26, 2021
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DeRozan’s scoring may be pretty much the same, but other parts of his game have drastically changed. It was after he left Toronto in the summer of 2018 that he shifted to a point-forward role and turned himself into a terrific playmaker. I have told ESPN’s Jamal Collier about that evolution.
“[Coach Gregg Popovich] challenged me to the point of understanding the game in the complete whole. How to be a point guard. How to be a playmaker. How to dictate the game. How to move without the play. How to play without the ball. How not to turn over the ball.”
DeRozan has averaged 8.4 assists per game during his Spurs and Bulls tenure, a big jump over his 4.7 per game average in his first nine seasons with the Raptors. He’s had the ball way more in his hands than him, driving into the lane and spraying it out all over the court to open teammates
DeRozan was already shifting into a more well-rounded player after those Raptors days, when few were watching. But what has really unlocked him this season is that he’s playing with better teammates than he had in San Antonio. With some help to relieve pressure and get more space for him to operate, he’s had a career year. That has led to a lot of wins for the Bulls and national praise for everyone in the organization.
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DeRozan has had the lion’s share of that praise despite putting up eerily similar numbers to LaVine, who is having a fantastic year in his own right. That’s because DeRozan’s biggest moments of him have been some of the flashiest and most clutch in the entire league. He became the first player in NBA history to hit game-winners on consecutive nights earlier this season.
Those were the two cherries on DeMar’s clutch sundae. He has a compelling case for being the best fourth-quarter player in the NBA. His 315 fourth-quarter points as of Jan 24 are the highest total in the league, and he’s shooting a ridiculous 52 percent from the field, 47 percent from 3 and 86 percent from the line in the final frame. The Bulls have been one of the best clutch teams in the league by following a simple formula of running almost all of their late-game offense through DeRozan.
DeRozan was named Third Team All-NBA in 2017 and Second Team in 2018. He’s never had the honor of making the First Team, but he has a great chance to do so this season.
To anyone who has been paying attention, it’s impossible to classify DeRozan as a losing player any more. After facing intense scrutiny in the offseason for the three-year, $85 million deal that many classified as a ridiculous overpay, he’s having the last laugh. This is not the same DeRozan who many remember from his Toronto days. He has steadily improved year by year, and he has completely shifted the narrative.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.