There are very interesting conversations to be had on the Toronto Raptors‘ all-star shooting guard, DeMar DeRozan, and his upcoming free agency. This offseason DeRozan will be a free agent, likely seeking a max contract. However, there are still concerns with his game that he hasn’t addressed, and if he doesn’t, it’s hard to see him being a core part of a winning organization.
There’s no question that DeRozan is one of the league’s most talented scorers, and likely a top 5 shooting guard. However, DeRozan’s impact is cut in different shapes, first statistically, and secondly, through the eye test.
The Raptors’ style of play offensively in the past couple years has revolved around the pick-and-roll, and the drive-and-kick game, starting with Kyle Lowry. But, as a first option scoring-wise, the team has relied heavily on DeRozan’s offence, generated usually by a couple of different means: pick-and-roll, off-ball screens, low-post ups, and isolation (more so the latter – especially this season).
DeRozan absolutely helps the team in many ways. He understands how to handle defensive pressure, makes plays for others (an attribute he has significantly improved), has added consistent scoring paired with sound footwork, and is currently a top three player in free-throw attempts and makes. He’s also a major factor when he’s on the court vs. off the court – the team clearly needs him to be effective. The team scores, assists, rebounds, gets to the free throw line, and scores significantly better with him on the court; he also accounts for a fifth of the team’s overall scoring at 20.8 points per game, as the Raptors average 101.1 points a game.
Through some of the advanced metrics, he’s also proven positive impact for the team: the team’s assist percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, effective field goal percentage, and offensive rating are significantly better when he’s on the court vs. off of the court. The Raptors have justified their usage in DeRozan, because of his overall positive impact on the team’s success.
Despite the paper proof of his positive impact, advanced metrics and the traditional statistics illustrate that DeRozan is incredibly inefficient, and actually could be a burden to the team’s effectiveness offensively.
DeRozan’s player efficiency rating ranks him at 54th in the league; that’s a huge negative, especially because he’s ranked in the top 25 in usage, and is actually the highest usage player on the entire team. He’s used a lot more then their point guard.
He’s also shooting 41% from the field, which is at the bottom half of the league. What’s even more important to note, and very concerning, is that DeRozan is top 25 in the league in field goal attempts. You can do the math, DeRozan is not capitalizing on how many opportunities he has to score the basketball. He’s also 29th in the entire league in turnovers per game, mainly because he has the ball so often.
Then, there’s the eye test.
DeRozan’s style of play is almost an equation for inefficient basketball. He’s very good at creating shots and creating for others, but it’s how he does it. He spends a lot of his time with the ball in isolation situations and with his back-to-the-basket; historically DeRozan has struggled against tougher and quicker defenders, which leads to him forcing a terrible shot out of the rhythm of the offense, or turning it over to the opposition.
He’s also used in set plays more often than any other player, and with that expectation, he’s also very poor at reading plays and making cuts. DeRozan certainly knows how to move without the ball when a play is called for him, but he doesn’t know how to move when the set isn’t intended for him. He spends much of his time sitting in the corner or the wings waiting for the ball to swing his way.
Let’s clarify, we are not saying DeRozan is a bad player. He loves Toronto, works hard, and has steadily improved his game. In fact, he’s arguably the most effective and important player aside from his backcourt mate. But, he is in fact being over-utilized; it’s a topic that has been beaten for years – he is not a first option in any system in the league. DeRozan’s usage is mind-boggling, especially when he’s not producing at that level offensively.
The Toronto Raptors are undefeated when DeRozan shoots less than 14 field goals a game. Further, he averages 14 shots a game in wins and 19 in losses. Sure, it’s a small sample size considering they’ve only played 18 games, but that is very well a trend that might be important to note down the road.
So, how do you turn DeRozan into a ‘winning’ player? (A player the Spurs would want). Firstly, less isolation, and more facilitation. DeRozan is great at drawing in defenders, and he can use that to really become a catalyst. Another important thing has to be an improved shot selection. He’s shooting 70% from 0-3 feet, but a miserable 37% from 10 to 16 feet – a space he takes approximately 24% of his shots.
Ultimately, DeRozan has to be a smarter decision maker – he forces too much nonsense, and stops the flow of the offense when he takes his good old time to back into a defender, wait for a screen, or dribble into three defenders expecting a foul.The team needs to stop using him as often as they do in order to bail them out in clutch situations, and continue to just move the ball down the stretch. The isolation heavy play DeRozan and the Raptors rely on, especially down the stretch, is not sustainable, winning basketball. It’s inefficient.
Dwane Casey is using DeMar DeRozan as a “star” option in his already very stagnant, controversial offense (if it even is one), so DeRozan has become accustomed to that role. That has to change, otherwise DeRozan’s inefficiency is going to stay at this current trend, and the Raptors offense cannot succeed in the long haul. Again, he’s clearly being used as a true number one option, and this offense will only go as far as it will when you’re limiting it to DeRozan, who is just not that tier of a player.