DeMar DeRozan has undoubtedly gone through a considerable development in his career – transforming from a one-dimensional shooting guard with the Toronto Raptors to a three-point shooting power forward with the San Antonio Spurs. A closer look shows just how multi-faceted and nuanced the metamorphosis has been.
Basketball fans with some literary background might think of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” when they consider the transformation of DeMar DeRozan. While Gregor Samsa was transformed by Kafka from a traveling salesman into a monstrous vermin, the four-time NBA All-Star DeRozan has gone from a one-dimensional shooting guard with the Toronto Raptors to a three-point shooting power forward for the San Antonio Spurs. DeRozan’s metamorphosis began with the infamous trade in the 2018 off-season, which was depicted terrifically in an episode of “Game of Zones”. “Please, I’ll do whatever you ask. I’ll shoot more threes … I’ll shoot from anywhere. I’ll shoot from behind half-court,” cried out DeRozan to Lord Ujiri in the episode, wanting GM Masai Ujiri to keep him in Toronto until the Trade Raptor eats him up. In the end, DeRozan is dealt along with Jakob Pöltl and a first round pick to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors selected DeRozen in the 2009 draft with the number nine pick and he helped the Canadian team continually get better, reaching a franchise-best 59 wins in 2017-18 – his last in Toronto. Or should we call it “LeBronto”? The Raptors were just not able to beat LeBron James, getting eliminated in three straight playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers – in 2016 in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals and 2017 and 2018 via a sweep in the second round.
LeBron James had long been the hated enemy in the Eastern Conference – or as DeRozan even called him the “Motherf***er”. And now that James had left the East to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, DeRozan was more hurt about not getting a chance to win the East with him gone than actually being traded. DeRozan has since also been confronted with questions about him being the problem for the Raptors, especially since Toronto won the NBA title in the first season after the deal. In order to win a ring, a team needs players for the big moments. And Raptors management questioned DeRozan’s ability in the clutch. Not necessarily unfairly as the stats say. During the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, DeRozan hit less than 40 percent from the field in such situations. He also struggled at the free throw line and did not have a very good assist-to-turnover ratio. On top of that, there was a certain level of one-dimensional play for DeRozan, who didn’t take three-pointers and lived on the mid-range game. That could be seen clearly in the Raptors showdowns against LeBron as DeRozan took only 16 three-pointers in 14 games against the Cavs – and didn’t hit a single one of them. In Game 4 against Cleveland in 2018 – DeRozan’s final game in a Raptors jersey – he watched the final 14 minutes from the bench. All that seems a distant memory though as the 31-year-old is now considered the glue guy and anchor for the Spurs, according to Coach Gregg Popovich. Last season, DeRozan drained 50 percent of his attempts in clutch situations and his percentage this season is 45.7 percent. Only three players with at least 60 attempts had a better percentage and DeRozan’s 6.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was the best for any player. The importance of DeRozan late in games was evidenced at the end of the the Spurs-Houston game in early February as he scored seven points within 99 seconds in the closing minutes. DeRozan’s three-point shooting is still a work in progress, but it was of all things against Toronto that he drained a last-minute three-pointer in a 119-114 win – in which he hit 3-of-4 from long range. DeRozan also scored San Antonio’s final nine points in the last 89 seconds of regulation before finishing with a season-high 38 points in a 125-122 overtime victory over Minnesota.
Move to power forward?
In the aforementioned game against Rockets, the Spurs ended the game with a lineup of Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills and Derrick White on the wings, DeRozan at the four and Pöltl or Rudy Gay as center. By logging time at the power forward spot, DeRozan had completed another metamorphosis that had started in the bubble last season. Back in Orlando, Popovich was missing LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles and he experimented with DeRozan at the four with a three-guard lineup of Murray, White and Lonnie Walker. DeRozan was open to the transformation and said the game had become more and more position-less. It was about doing the right thing and playing the right way. The metamorphosis has led DeRozan to being less one-dimensional – meaning predominantly fewer mid-range shots. In his seven seasons since his first All-Star campaign in 2013-14, DeRozan was always in the top six in average number of mid-range attempts per game, twice leading the league. But he averaged just 40.1 percent on those shots, topping out at 42.5 percent in one season. This season, he is attempting only 4.2 mid-range shots a game – with 18 players shooting more often. And he is making 51.8 percent of those shots. Only three players were better: Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. This doesn’t necessarily have to do with his power forward role as he has played only 68 percent of his minutes at power forward, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and 32 percent as small forward. When he is on the court with Keldon Johnson, DeRozan takes the small forward role on offense while Johnson acts as the power forward on defense. That allows for DeRozan to take advantage of the mismatches.
Now a playmaker?
One of the benefits of having DeRozan on the wing was seen in the game against New Orleans, which was the first of three straight games in which he dished out 11 assists. DeRozan has already collected double-digit assists in nine games this season (as of end of March). In his nine seasons in Toronto, he only accomplished that a total of three times. His transformation into a playmaker is truly impressive. His 7.1 assists average this season is nearly double his career average. Of the 66 players with a Usage Rate of at least 24, only James Harden has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than DeRozan’s 4.1-to-1.0. And only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are more efficient as ball-handler in the pick-and-roll – with at least 7 possessions per game. Just like Gregor Samsa discovered a certain differentness that had always been there but was only unveiled through the metamorphosis, the same goes for DeMar DeRozan. But DeRozan’s story – when you consider his development as a player – is more of a happy end.
by FIVE Magazine #178 – DeMar DeRozan – Text: Manuel Baraniak