One man has been on a mission this season.
DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors’ all-star calibre shooting guard is playing in the best stretch of his career, which will prove mightily when the coaches make their all-star reserve selections this Thursday, and when DeRozan seeks the maximum contract in the off-season.
He’s been a big reason for the Raptors’ success thus far into the season; that’s no surprise.
As the Raptors are on one of the best winning stretches in its recent history – 19-8 since December, nine game winning streak – DeRozan is playing on a superstar level right now. His current numbers for the season: 23.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, are all career-highs, except his rebounding which is a point off of his previous career-high average last season.
DeRozan has always been a great player, but why is it now that he’s been more effective and impactful a player?
First, in the month of December where he was a close call for Player of the Month, logging into January, his production and efficiency ratings were off the charts — for his standards. His stats are sitting at an elite level from December and January; 25.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on 47% shooting.
DeRozan sits at approximately 44% from the field, 4th best percentage in his seven seasons, and like previously mentioned, in December, he’s had a field goal percentage of approximately 47%. That number is better then his career average of 44%, and second to his overall rookie year’s field goal percentage of just under 50%.
What’s the reason for his improved efficiency and production?
One of the best at attacking the rim
Historically through his seven seasons, DeRozan’s shot selection has been a major problem, a factor in the equation for his volume shooting. But, his mentality to score the basketball has changed; rather then take highly contested pull-ups as a main source of his scoring, DeRozan has become one of the leaders in the league in drives to the basket at 12 per game; he leads the league in average scoring off of those 12 drives per game. Closer shots to the basket means a higher chance to score, along with putting the opposition into foul trouble, while releasing defensive pressure (putting good perimeter and interior defenders into an awkward position) and getting to the free-throw line.
Elite free throw numbers
Evolving from the free-throw point, DeRozan is an elite player at getting to the free-throw line, and has consistently been one of the league’s best.
DeRozan is currently third in the league at 8.1 free-throw attempts per game, just behind DeMarcus Cousins, and James Harden. Of the three best free-throw attempt shooters in the league, DeRozan is second in his free-throw percentage at 84.4%.
Although DeRozan’s offence comes mostly from attacking the rim, he’s known for a varied mid-ranged game, and now, a much improved and developed perimeter shot.
In regards to his mid-range work, DeRozan’s field goal percentage still works against him, shooting approximately 41% from the field on pull-up jumpers in between 10 feet and the perimeter. However, the reason why it’s dangerous, is his ability to create from 10 feet and out; a lot of DeRozan’s offence starts in the mid-ranged area, often with his back-to-the-basket, or off screens where he fights to get open for the ball.
This season, and in this recent stretch between December till now in January, his mid-ranged work has created open lanes get to the basket and shot opportunities for his teammates. December, he’s got 4.3 assists, and in January, 3.7 assists, whilst maintaining a solid assist ratio similar to the likes of Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Gordon Hayward.
Playing off his teammates
A domino effect works in DeRozan’s favour. As he creates shots for himself, defenders close in. As the defenders close in, his teammates are forgotten, with all of the attention on DeRozan.
From the perimeter, he’s got a career-high in three-point percentage, 32% to be exact, which is a career-high in seven seasons. But, in the remarkable stretch DeRozan has played through – notably in January and the three consecutive games of +30 points – he’s averaged 44.8% from the three, which has opened up the floor significantly.
Thank you, Kyle Lowry
Another possible explanation for DeRozan’s career year and stretch, is his counterpart, Kyle Lowry. Like DeRozan, Lowry is having his best year. In Lowry’s case, steals, rebounds, points, and shooting percentages have been the biggest increases in contrast to any season he’s played.
Why is Lowry a reason for DeRozan’s success?
Well, because, the pressure is off, and the aggro they attract from defences force the opposition to have to fight an uphill battle. The Raptor backcourt is so lethal offensively, that defences choose the poison of which guy will burn them. There have been instances this season where DeRozan and or Lowry have been used as decoys, in order to create the right offensive play.
The video shows a perfect example of Lowry and DeRozan using their attention to the team’s advantage. Lowry is stationed in the backcourt, forcing John Wall to have to stick with him considering the time left for Lowry to quickly enter the frontcourt, and offer up a shot. That creates a 4-on-4 situation in the frontcourt, where DeRozan now becomes the clear option to score offensively.
“The play was for DeMar to catch it, and get something quick. He had the presence of mind, with a short, very short period of time to make a play, and he did.” – Dwane Casey
Coach Casey cleverly used Lowry as a decoy, playing DeRozan as the final option. He made the clutch play; passing up a possible layup – probability against him considering help defence and positioning – for a wide open Cory Joseph in the corner. In this case, DeRozan became another decoy for his teammates.
“As soon as I turned the corner, I seen his man, you know, come in and help on me. I trust my teammates as much as I trust myself.” – DeMar DeRozan
Improved basketball IQ
That’s the major development of DeRozan’s game. With the example, DeRozan has improved in his ability to read the game as it progresses; it’s been easier considering his backcourt mate attracts the same attention, allowing DeRozan space and time. Essentially, a reason for this remarkable stretch in the last month and a half, is due to the game moving slower for him.
Let’s reflect on what we’ve analyzed: DeMar DeRozan is attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line, leading to easier opportunities, forcing defences into foul trouble, and better shooting percentages. With all the attention he attracts, he creates shots for others, and as the opposition adjusts, the space on the court inevitably opens up.
With regards to his counterpart Lowry, they play off one another, which forces defences to constantly have to switch their attention based on who’s got the hot hand – unless they’ve got two capable perimeter defenders (which has not proven to be totally effective against thus far).
DeRozan’s basketball IQ has developed tremendously in the past couple seasons, with this recent stretch being the most notable evidence of how he reads the game – averaging a career-high in assist percentage, 21.1%, and a career-high in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.80%. Impressive, considering his remarkably high usage rate.
His career stretch is coming at an important time; all-star game reserves announced on Thursday afternoon, and his free-agent situation once the season is over. DeRozan is playing at an all-time high, thanks to major improvements in his game.
The only hope, is that he can keep it up in the second half of the season and beyond.