DeMar DeRozan Now a Multifaceted Player
Toronto Raptors teammates DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were recently named the co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month for January. Over 14 games played in January, DeRozan averaged 23.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and one steal, while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He also recorded eight straight games with 20 or more points, scored 30 points or more three games in a row and had a season-high 35 points against the Washington Wizards on January 8.
With an impressive January and what has so far been his best individual season, DeRozan was selected to be an Eastern Conference All-Star for just the second time in his seven-year career. Making the All-Star team in the East speaks volumes about how well DeRozan is playing when you consider that players like Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson and Khris Middleton, all of whom are having great seasons, didn’t make the cut.
The evolution of DeRozan’s game this season has been impressive and multifaceted. DeRozan has always been a gifted athlete and effective scorer, but has had some significant limitations in his game. The biggest limitation for DeRozan has been his inability to shoot from three-point range consistently. In the pace-and-space era of the NBA, most starting shooting guards are at least a threat to hit the occasional three-pointer. However, DeRozan is a career 27.7 percent three-point shooter, though that number is up to 31.9 percent this season. Lacking a three-point shot can be debilitating for a shooting guard in today’s NBA, but DeRozan has improved his overall offensive game to the point that it almost doesn’t matter.
One of the first things that has to be addressed when discussing DeRozan’s game this year is his ability to drive to the rim off the dribble. DeRozan leads the league in drives to the rim per game at 11.8. Specifically, DeRozan has shown major improvements in his ability to go off the dribble and attack defenses working out of pick-and-rolls, which many of the league’s best 3-and-D shooting guards are incapable of doing. DeRozan has been the ball handler in 361 pick-and-roll sets this season, which is the 11th most in the league and five more than even Lowry. DeRozan trails only the most ball dominant point guards in the league like Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas. The only shooting guard DeRozan falls behind in this category is C.J. McCollum, who plays the point guard position frequently. He is also ahead of other notable shooting guards like James Harden and Dwyane Wade, both of whom handle the ball like quasi-point guards.
More importantly than how often DeRozan is the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets is how effective he is. DeRozan is generating .99 points per possession, which is the seventh highest mark in the league (among all players who have been the ball-handler in 30 or more pick-and-roll sets this season) and places him in the 94th percentile. In these three clips, we see how DeRozan has learned how to use picks in various ways to attack the rim. In the first clip, DeRozan passes up on the pick and takes the open lane to the rim. Two defenders converge, but DeRozan is able to split through them and finish at the rim while drawing a foul. In the second, he uses the pick to sneak into the lane, where he patiently uses a pump fake and step through to get an easy layup. In the third clip, DeRozan loses his man on the pick and goes straight into Meyers Leonard, probably expecting to get two free throws.
DeRozan had shown flashes of his ability to attack the rim out of the pick-and-roll in past seasons, but not this consistently or effectively. He is more patient as a ball-handler and takes what defenses give him. When he can’t make a clean drive all the way to the rim, he often will pull up for a midrange jumper – a shot he has gotten quite good at making.
Now that DeRozan can consistently get into the lane, he is bending defenses with his midrange jumper more than ever. The common thought is that midrange jumpers are inefficient and should be taken in small doses. But when a player can knock down shots from that range at a high rate, it forces defense to adjust since most modern defenses are geared towards contesting three-pointers and shots at the rim. As we can see in this shot chart below, DeRozan is taking a lot of shots in the midrange areas. He is shooting roughly league average or higher in most of these areas, but is shooting particularly well at the free throw line area, which is where he often ends up out of the pick-and-roll.
DeRozan’s improved driving abilities are also helping him get to the free throw line a staggering 8.2 times per game, which is another career high. In fact, DeRozan has taken 412 free throws total this season, which is third most overall in the league. Only James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins have taken more free throws this season. Getting to the free throw line consistently is one of the easiest ways to score points and DeRozan is converting an efficient 83.7 percent of his free throw attempts – another career high.
Additionally, DeRozan has been effective in the post this season, which is another offensive skill that sets him apart from most other shooting guards. DeRozan is in the 69th percentile in scoring efficiency of all players that have posted up 60 times or more this season. This places him ahead of notable post players like Thaddeus Young, Chris Bosh, Greg Monroe, Karl Anthony-Towns, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and Jahlil Okafor.
While DeRozan had Aaron Brooks defending him in this particular play, it is encouraging to see DeRozan looking for the ball when he has such a huge advantage to exploit. DeRozan shouldn’t have let Brooks push him so far away from the basket, but DeRozan showed patience, backed Brooks down and used solid footwork to get the bucket and foul.
While DeRozan’s expanded ability to score is encouraging, his improved skills as a passer are perhaps even more significant. DeRozan has never been the best passer at shooting guard, but has shown some skill in that area in recent years. However, this season, DeRozan is actively looking for teammates cutting to the basket, which is leading to easy points.
DeRozan is also running coast-to-coast off of defensive rebounds, drawing the defense towards him and then dumping the ball off to teammates for open shots.
DeRozan is also capable of playing off of the ball, running through screens and cutting to the basket as Lowry runs the offense. Combine his scoring and passing skills out of the pick-and-roll, his ability to score in the post and his constant off-ball movement, and we can see why several teams will reportedly line up to sign DeRozan to a max-level offer this offseason.
At age 26, DeRozan is in his physical prime and has shown the kind of growth that only comes through discipline and hard work. He has turned himself from an inefficient volume scorer into a dynamic, efficient shooting guard who can play quasi-point guard. DeRozan insists that he is comfortable shooting three-pointers and will continue working on that to round out his offensive game. If and when he does so, he will truly be one of the most difficult covers in all of basketball. However, as physically talented as DeRozan is, he is at best an average defensive player and probably worse when you consider that he is often given easier assignments – especially when DeMarre Carroll is healthy. DeRozan could improve in this regard, though it’s not clear just how much he will moving forward.
Some teams that could use a top-level talent like DeRozan at shooting guard this offseason, and who could have at least one max free agent slot, are the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings. That list of teams could change somewhat after the Feb. 18 trade deadline, but what is certain is that multiple teams will take a run at DeRozan. However, the most likely scenario is he stays with the Raptors, where he has developed a strong chemistry with Lowry and where the team’s offense has been tailored to maximize his strengths.
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