Choose your favorite stat from DeMar DeRozan’s eight-game scorcher. They’re all wonderful, an absolute defiance of the way basketball and the randomness of shot-making usually play out.
Sixty-eight percent true shooting. Seventy-seven percent of his shots from midrange. Fifty-nine percent on those shots. Twenty-two points on 82 percent true shooting in 11 clutch minutes across four games, where the Bulls are 4-0 and he’s averaging 38.4 points a night throughout the entire eight games. Extend the parameters to 17 games and he’s averaging 34.4 points on 66.4 percent true shooting. Whew.
During the eight-game run, he’s scored 100 points on 74.6 percent true shooting in 81 fourth-quarter minutes. That’s 44.4 points per 36 minutes. He’s in such a groove that you expect every game to be a continuation of it, but the groove is so outlandish that logic suggests it has to subside soon. But it hasn’t, even amid turbulent lineups.
Chicago’s roster has been demolished by injuries. He’s played some of these games without Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso. Perimeter defenses are entirely locked onto him, content to let Coby White or Ayo Dosunmu beat them. They’re good players, but you’ll tip your cap if the All-NBA-caliber star is quieted and young guards cook. Instead, they’ve all thrived. Thirty-five points has been his threshold and he’s met it every time during this stretch.
The All-Star break didn’t quell him, either. He scored 37 points on 21 shots in Thursday’s crunch-time win over the Hawks, including 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting (2-for3 at the line) in the final frame and the go-ahead bucket.
20 seconds left, down 1.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 25, 2022
Over the years, DeRozan has developed advanced footwork and a collection of dribble moves that prime his pull-up jumpers. Once he begins the dance — whether it’s sweeping crossovers, between the legs hesitations, half-spins into fadeaways, or anything else — variance is the defense’s best ally.
Disrupting his rhythm and walling off the foul-line extended region before he gets there are the paths to containing him. But accomplishing those objectives is a Herculean task when DeRozan’s bag of counters seems endless and he’s often easily within earshot by virtue of his 6’6 frame. He’s relentlessly in control of the push-pull dynamic between defense and offense, while dictating how possessions unfold.
The concept of a “tough” shot differs for every star scorer and player. Many of the “tough” shots teams think they coax DeRozan into — fadeaways, contested pull-ups, whirling turnarounds — are looks he relishes. Slowing this version of him demands reorienting what the definition of tough is as it pertains specifically to him. In the heat of a game or possession, expecting defenders to alter preconceived notions is a lofty ask.
DeRozan is putting together a career season. He wields a strong case for First Team All-NBA. Choosing among him (who is listed as a guard, even if he plays on the wing), Stephen Curry, Ja Morant, and anyone else for just two guard spots is, uh, stress-inducing. Godspeed, voters.
As for the MVP race, DeRozan has earned mention in the conversation, but faces the daunting hurdle of breaking into a race defined by the trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic. It’s not diminishing what he’s done if he ends the season elsewhere in the top-5 of MVP — rather, his potential exclusion is a testament to the greatness of his contemporaries and the (scoring) seasons they’ve also put together. Everything DeRozan does this year and is doing over this recent heater warrants considerable praise.
Being recognized as one of the best guards in a given season is incredibly hard and should be celebrated. DeRozan is 32, playing his first year with a new team (who holds the East’s No. 1 seed) and touts a loudly justifiable case for First Team All-NBA. Plainly speaking, all of that kicks ass.
At this point in the year, I hardly find myself jotting down notes when DeRozan drains another bonkers jumper. I know another one is coming soon if I really need to study the details later. None of them are atypical anymore. All I can do is sit on the right side of the bus, smirk, and say “that boy nice.”