Toronto Raptors Have Found A Star In DeMar Derozan

Nov 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during their game against the New York Knicks at Air Canada Centre. The Knicks beat the Raptors 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during their game against the New York Knicks at Air Canada Centre. The Knicks beat the Raptors 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Raptors may have found the offensive star they’ve longed for in DeMar DeRozan.

It was just two years ago that the Toronto Raptors were on the verge of demolishing their roster to enter the race to tank for Andrew Wiggins. They had traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings and Masai Ujiri was on the verge of trading Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks until the Knicks pulled out of the deal. What happened after that was unexpected, the Raptors took off and won their division and a home court seeding in the first round.

That year DeMar DeRozan received his first ever All-Star appearance. However, it was a wildcard selection and Charles Barkley famously said the spot belonged to “a Raptor”, meaning neither DeRozan or Kyle Lowry stood out as an All-Star on that team. The following season DeRozan experienced a major injury for the first time of his career and found himself on the outside looking in for the All-Star game as Kyle Lowry blossomed into Toronto’s best player.

But as he has consistently done throughout his career, DeRozan continued to steadily improve his game and came back stronger than ever. After the All-Star break in 2014-2015, DeRozan increased his true shooting percentage from 49 to 52 percent and his points per game from 18.3 to 22. Although these numbers felt like they could be attributed to his shooting numbers returning to his career averages, rather than some major growth in his game.

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There’s no debating that DeMar DeRozan is a talented basketball player. He’s a difficult shot maker, something that would have earned him more endearment from fans in the early 2000’s, but as the NBA moves more and more towards analytics, efficiency and the maximization of their rosters, DeRozan appeared to be a relic of another time.

His shot selection appeared to be a combination of poor decision-making and an inability to get where he needed to go on the court with an underwhelming ball handling ability. As illustrated in this wonderful piece on “PISS-Poor shot selection” DeRozan was the king of bad shots. 31.6 percent of his shots came from at least 10 feet away from the hoop with more than five seconds on the clock and a defender in his face. His points per possession on those attempts was less efficient than DeAndre Jordan at the free throw line (0.67 points per possession compared to 0.79 points per possession). So on nearly a third of his shot attempts, DeRozan essentially had a Hack-A-Jordan built into his game, only more damaging for his team. If he wanted to take the next step as a borderline All-Star to someone deserving of a max contract, he needed to do something about his shot selection.

% of FGA by Distance
SeasonAgeTmLgPosGMPFG%Dist.2P0-33-1010-1616 <33P

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2016.

As you can see from the above table, DeRozan has done just that. He’s reduced the number of shots that have come from between 10 feet and the three-point line by 10.7 percent and increased his shots within 10 feet by nine percent as well as upped his three-point attempts. In addition to taking better shots and more threes, he’s also shooting a career high 33.7 percent from three. Better decision making has been a large contributing factor to this change, but his improved ball handling has made the biggest impact to his overall game. Not only has his improved handle allowed him to consistently get where he wants on the court, it’s allowed him to keep his head up with the ball and pass out of trouble before it’s too late. He’s averaging a career high 4.1 assists a game and his turnovers a game stayed steady at 2.3 despite taking on a larger scoring role and play-making role.

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A career high 23.4 points per game for DeRozan is second only to James Harden when it comes to shooting guard scoring. For a player that’s always shouldered a considerable load, he’s finally found a way to do so efficiently and take the next step to join the league’s most deadly offensive threats. He’s maximized what he does well while masking his flaws and that’s one of the biggest reason the Toronto Raptors have separated themselves as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.