Most of us are not the same people we were five, 10, or 15 years ago. The same goes for DeMar DeRozan. He has improved through every stage of his career, to the point where he is having arguably his best season at 32 years old.
To see how far DeRozan has come, it’s helpful to examine where he started. Consider these DraftExpress scouting reports from DeRozan’s days at USC 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 owns worst assist-to-turnover ratio among all his shooting guard prospects.
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That sounds like the exact opposite of what DeRozan is today, and it’s a testament to how hard he’s worked on his game. He is among the best in the league in all of those categories and on the fringes of the MVP conversation.
Players aren’t supposed to keep getting better when they hit the wrong side of 30, but that’s exactly what happened to DeRozan. He was criticized throughout his early career by much of the analytics crowd for being an empty calorie scorer that negatively affected winning by more advanced metrics. This year, DeRozan has proven the nerds wrong by using their own tools against them.
According to Crystal Clearing, DeRozan’s off-and-on numbers are among the best in the league. Dear Plus-Minus, which many consider the best all-in-one metric, rates DeRozan’s current season as the best of his career. Other comprehensive statistics show a similar trend.
From a bucket-getting perspective, DeRozan hasn’t changed much. But the league has morphed around him, eschewing long 2s for 3s. It’s a setback in the sense that most of his points still come from inside the 3-point line. His 919 midrange shots per Glass Cleaning are by far the most in the league, and he’s hitting a career-best 48 percent of them.
DeRozan also remains elite at getting to the line. He has perhaps the best fake bomb in the entire league, and he’s still making guys jump on him every game. Many of his teammates have seen their free throw attempts drop with the implementation of new rules discouraging foul attacks this season, but DeRozan’s attempts are up. His explanation of it? He does not fail.
DeMar DeRozan on continuing to get to the free throw line at a high rate despite the NBA’s modified rule: “I don’t know… I don’t fail.”
With a laugh, he adds that that’s not a knock on anyone else.
-Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 26, 2023
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DeRozan’s score may be about the same, but other parts of his game have changed drastically. It was after he left Toronto in the summer of 2018 that he moved into a winger role and became an excellent playmaker. He told ESPN’s Jamal Collier about that evolution.
“[Coach Gregg Popovich] it challenged me to the point of understanding the game in its entirety. How to be a point guard. How to be a playmaker. How to dictate the game. How to move without the game. How to play without the ball. How not to lose the ball.
DeRozan averaged 8.4 assists per game during his tenure with the Spurs and Bulls, a big jump over his average of 4.7 per game in his first nine seasons with the Raptors. He has had the ball in his hands a lot more, driving into the lane and spraying it all over the floor to open up teammates.
DeRozan was already becoming a more complete player after those Raptors days, when few were looking. 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 ease the pressure and have more room to operate, he’s had a career year. That has led to many wins for the Bulls and national accolades for everyone in the organization.
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DeRozan has gotten the lion’s share of that accolade 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 have been some of the most flashy and exciting in the entire league. He became the first player in NBA history to post game-winning shots on consecutive nights earlier this season.
WATCH THIS OVER AND OVER
DEMAR DEROZAN WINNER OF THE GAME @NBCSChicago | @DeMar_DeRozan | #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/nd7NcXDkvq
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 31, 2023
DEMAR DEROZAN IS UNREAL. @DeMar_DeRozan | #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/CM1k7yQVy1
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 2, 2023
Those were the two cherries on DeMar’s ice cream clutch. He has a compelling case for being the best fourth-quarter player in the NBA. His 315 points in the fourth quarter 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 end frame. The Bulls have been one of the best key teams in the league by following a simple formula of running almost all of their offense late in the game through DeRozan.
DeRozan was named an All-NBA Third Team in 2017 and a Second Team in 2018. He has never had the honor of making the First Team, but he has a great opportunity to do so this season.
For anyone who’s been paying attention, it’s impossible to classify DeRozan as an underdog. After facing intense scrutiny in the offseason for the three-year, $85 million contract that many classified as a ridiculous overpayment, he’s getting the last laugh. This is not the same DeRozan many remember from his days in Toronto. He has steadily improved year after year, and has completely changed the narrative.