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DeRozan was efficient in his first year in San Antonio, but he left room for improvement.
Welcome to the 2018-19 season player reviews, where we will be rehashing the performance of 13 San Antonio Spurs from this season (excluding Dejounte Murray, Pau Gasol, Donatas Motiejunas, and two-way players Drew Eubanks and Ben Moore) and looking towards the future. If you’ve missed any, you can click here to catch up.
Roger Ebert once talked about how every movie he rated was independent of all the others. He didn’t believe that two movies receiving the same star rating were always of the same quality. Instead, he believed that both movies were equal in achieving their respective goals and expectations. These reviews will take the same approach when providing grades, so two players receiving the same grade does not necessarily mean they had the same impact on the team.
Last summer Kawhi and Danny Green were sent to Toronto for a package centered around DeRozan. I have watched him throughout the years and was never overly impressed by his game. It’s a style that appears to be stuck in the past, and in many ways, still is. I didn’t think that he and LaMarcus Aldridge would be a great fit together since they were both high volume shooters who tend to occupy the same areas of the court. While I believe Gregg Popovich did an admirable job making lemonade out of lemons, the Spurs did have one of the worst starting units in the NBA, so I’m not completely sure how high their ceiling can be with these two leading them. While I don’t think it’s fair to make too many judgments based on his first season with the Spurs, there are several areas I’d like to see DeRozan improve upon moving forward.
DeRozan’s counting statistics were fantastic across the board this season. His 48.1 field goal percentage was his highest since his rookie season. His 6 rebounds and 6.2 assists were also career highs. Overall, DeRozan’s field goal percentage was ranked 2 out of 20 guards who averaged at least 20 points a game.
A huge factor in his’s success came from his ability to get to the rim. His 319 shots from inside the restricted area ranked 9th out of all the guards in the NBA. His 396 shots from the non-restricted portion of the painted area was ranked 1st out of all the guards in the NBA. This should be expected from a guard who takes as few three-point attempts as DeRozan. Without the ability to score from beyond the arc, his efficiency from inside becomes extremely important.
Thankfully, he was an excellent finisher this season. His 69.6 percent from inside the restricted area ranked 2nd out of 50 guards with at least 200 shots inside this range. His 45 percent from inside the non-restricted portion of the painted area ranked 13th out of 67 guards with at least 100 shots inside this range.
DeRozan drove to the rim on 1,439 possessions this season, the highest of his career. His 53.5 percent shooting in 559 field goal attempts was the second highest shooting percentage of his career and his 12.2 assist percentage was by far the highest assist percentage of his career. It’s hard to believe that DeRozan only averaged 5.7 free throws a game, his lowest average since the 2012-2013 season. He only drew a foul on 7.6 percent of his drives, by far a career low. I’m not sure why he wasn’t getting the calls he typically gets, but it clearly frustrated him throughout the season. He ended the season with 11 technical fouls. The rest of the team received seven technical fouls combined. Last season LaMarcus Aldridge led the team with three technical fouls.
Outside the paint is where things start to get a bit dicey for DeRozan. He continues to lead the NBA in mid range attempts even though it’s not his strength. His 40.5 percent shooting from this range this season ranked 31st out of 43 players with at least 150 mid range attempts. That’s not good considering his 553 attempts was more than 100 attempts higher than the next highest guard. He must stop settling for such inefficient shots. This has been a common theme throughout his career and is something I’ll elaborate on later in this article.
After shooting a career high 3.6 three point attempts in his final season in Toronto, DeRozan completely abandoned his outside shot this season. Most of his 45 attempts came as a desperation shot late in the shot clock. That might partially explain his abysmal shooting percentage of 15.6, though his career average of 28 percent isn’t giving me a lot of confidence in his ability to open things up next season. Pop has hinted that he would like to see both him and Aldridge shoot more threes, so we’ll see how that turns out.
DeRozan was an average shooter out of the pick and roll this season. His Points Per Possession (PPP) of 0.929 ranked 21st out of 46 players with at least 300 pick and roll possessions. Strangely enough, he and Tony Parker were the only two players on this list who did not make a single three pointer out of the pick and roll. DeRozan has always been good at limiting turnovers as a ball-handler, and this season was no exception. His turnover rate of 10.8 percent as a pick and roll ball-handler ranked 6 out of the 46 players with at least 300 pick and roll possessions.
Where DeRozan surprised many Spurs’ fans was in his passing ability. He had an PPP of 1.138 in the 477 possessions the defense forced him to pass out of the pick and roll. That PPP ranked 9th out of 35 players with at least 200 possessions passing out of the pick and roll.
DeRozan’s 316 isolation possessions was the third most in the NBA. Second was Russell Westbrook with 353 possessions and first was James Harden with 1280 possessions. Even more unbelievable was that he was able to maintain a high level of efficiency at such a high volume. His PPP of 1.105 was the highest out of the 51 players with at least 100 isolation possessions. Anyhow, back to DeRozan. DeRozan finished with a PPP of 1, which was ranked 10 out of the 51 players with at least 100 isolation possessions.
Similar to the pick and roll, DeRozan was great passing out of isolation possessions. His PPP of 1.307 was the best out of all players in the NBA with at least 50 possessions passing out of isolation.
There was a lot of talk during the regular season about DeRozan coming up short in clutch situations but the numbers do not fully support this theory. His field goal percentage of 44.4 percent in the standard definition of clutch situations (game within five points in the final five minutes) ranked 15 out of 45 players who took at least 50 shots during this time. If we redefine clutch as the game being within three points in the final three minutes, DeRozan had a field goal percentage of 44.9, which ranked 7 out of 41 players who took at least 30 shots during this time. Where DeRozan did struggle was in the final two minutes when the game was within two points. His field goal percentage of 31.8 ranked 18 out of 23 players who took at least 20 shots during this time.
Where I thought DeRozan struggled down the stretch was in turning the ball over, but that wasn’t really the case. He only had two turnovers in the final two minutes of two point games, tied for the 6th fewest out of 23 players who took at least 20 shots during this time. His seven turnovers in the final three minutes of three point games ranked 11 out of 41 players who took at least 30 shots during this time. He could certainly clean it up some, but it wasn’t as bad as I had initially thought.
Defensive numbers can be misleading at times so the eye test is typically the best way to review defense. My review of DeRozan’s defense is that he’s not very good at defense. The eye test shows me that he loses focus at times, not really putting in the effort you would like to see from a player being coached by Pop. His Defensive Real Plus Minus of -0.43 ranked 48 out of the 116 players ESPN considers to be a shooting guard. I guess technically that’s above average, but when you’re used to seeing Danny Green and Leonard on the wing, something just doesn’t sit right.
DeRozan was the best and most consistent player on the Spurs in the playoffs. His 7-21 shooting in game 7 was less than ideal, but he still scored 22 points on almost 49 percent shooting in the series. His assist numbers were down, but I believe it had more to do with the role players not hitting their shots than anything having to do with DeRozan. DeRozan played well enough for the Spurs to advance, but unfortunately his teammates did not provide enough help against a deep Nuggets’ team.
DeRozan wasn’t a very good defender this season. He’s long enough to do some good things on that end, but he just doesn’t seem very engaged on that side of the court. If Pop can’t coach up his defense then I don’t know what to say. The Spurs have a surplus of guards worthy of being in the rotation, which means DeRozan will likely continue spending a lot of time at the 3 position. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray might be able to help guard some of the elite wing players for stretches of a game, but they are too small to be a long-term solution. At some point, DeRozan is going to have to take more pride in his defense. Maybe having White and Murray take some of the offensive pressure off him will allow him to focus more on the defensive side of the court.
There’s going to be a lot of talk over the offseason as to whether or not DeRozan should try to space the floor more by expanding his game to the three point line. I’m not completely sure how feasible this is, but he is going to have to improve his outside game somehow.
DeRozan’s reputation as a mid range shooter really has little to do with his proficiency from that range. Since his sophomore season in the NBA, he has finished inside the top three in terms of field goal attempts from the mid range. However, even in his best seasons he’s barely been an average shooter in terms of efficiency.
The table above is based on NBA players who attempted at least 150 mid range shots in a season.
There’s a couple things to note here. First, the number of players attempting 150 mid range shots has gradually been cut in half over the past five seasons. Ignoring unmeasurable factors such as offensive versatility to keep opponents guessing, spreading the floor to allow for space inside, etc, it’s easy to see why coaches are having players move away from the mid range shot: it’s just not very efficient.
We’ve seen Kevin Durant, Leonard, and others use the mid range as a deadly weapon, especially in the playoffs. It’s not really a bad strategy. Just like teams are starting to move away from the mid range on offense, teams are also moving away from guarding mid range shots. The problem is that players like Durant and Leonard are proficient at making then, and DeRozan is not.
He has a career field goal percentage of under 40 percent from the mid range. Rounding that up to 40 percent for easy math, on average he will score 4 points on every 5 field goal attempts from this range. That’s a PPP of 0.8. That means he would only need to hit 4 out of 15 shots — or 26.7 percent — from three point range to achieve the same PPP.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be as simple as DeRozan taking more three point shots. Last season the Toronto Raptors finally unleashed him from beyond the arc, as his 3.6 attempts a game were by far a career high. Even though his 31 percent shooting on these attempts left a lot to be desired, had those three point attempts replaced his mid range shots he would have ended up being a more efficient shooter last season. Instead, DeRozan decreased the amount of shots he took inside the painted area and replaced them with three point shots. So basically he took a bunch of shots away from an area of the court where he’s very efficient and replaced it with shots where he’s not very efficient. An area of focus for DeRozan next season should be to replace his inefficient mid range shots with three pointers.
Another factor that plays into DeRozan’s three point attack is the fact that he is the main ball-handler for the Spurs. This means the majority of his jump shots come from the pick and roll, pull up shots, or in isolation. He made a grand total of zero three point shots out of these types of possessions this season. Zilch. Zippo. Nada.
Typically three point shots out of the pick and roll come from a high screen at the top of the key. Pull up shots and isolations are also typically in the middle of the court as opposed to from the corners. That means that with the ball in his hands, the majority of his three point attempts will come from above the break (i.e. non-corner threes). He made 1 out of 22 three point shots from above the break this season. That’s 4.5 percent — not quite the 26.7 percent he’ll need to achieve to match his mid range efficiency. DeRozan did shoot 32.7 percent on 193 above the break three point attempts in his final season with the Toronto Raptors, so maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. Only a glimmer, though. Before his final season in Toronto, DeRozan had made only 21 percent of his 474 three point attempts from above the break.
The other option is to have DeRozan play off ball more and increase his spot up shot attempts. This season he averaged only 1.5 spot up shots a game, so asking him to stand in a corner and take three point shots isn’t a likely scenario. It’s something I hope to see more of next season with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White both capable of running the offense at times, but these type of possessions will continue to be the exception and not the rule.
I find the concept of a triple double to be a relatively meaningless statistic. There’s a lot more going on under the hood throughout a game that can affect the quality of a performance regardless of the player’s counting statistics. How many shots did it take to reach double digit scoring? How many turnovers did the player have while acquiring double digit assists? Etc. Now that I got that out of the way, I must include DeRozan’s only triple double of his career on his list of top performances. It came in his revenge game against the Toronto Raptors at the beginning of January. DeRozan scored 21 points on 15 shots and added 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a home victory against his old squad. It was a fantastic moment for both him and the Spurs.
In addition to his triple double game, I must also include his performance in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets. He scored 25 points on 12-16 shooting and added 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and only 1 turnover. He was a huge reason the Spurs were able to take the Nuggets to a Game 7.
In my opinion, DeRozan was the best player in the playoffs for the Spurs. His playoff performance moved his grade up from a B to a B+. I know a regular season grade of B might sound a bit harsh for a player who averaged over 21/6/6 on 48 percent shooting in his first season on a new team. It is harsh, but he’s also the highest paid player on the Spurs’ roster, and advanced statistics continue to say teams are not better with him on the court.
DeRozan was a better distributor than I had expected going into the season, but having no outside shot or much interest in playing defense negates a lot of the things he does well. He must find a way to modernize his game somewhat or he’s going to continue being a limited player. There’s a reason less and less players are shooting mid range shots in volume. If DeRozan was Durant, it would be one thing, but he’s not.
I look forward to seeing what DeRozan can do with another year under the system. I expected a lot from him this season, but I’m going to expect even more moving forward.
This concludes the player reviews for the 2018-2019 season. Overall it was a more successful season that many had anticipated. I expect the Spurs to build on what they accomplished this season and come back even stronger next season. Below is a summary of player grades for this season, from worst to best:
2018-2019 Spurs player reviews: DeMar DeRozan
Source: Pounding The Rock