As teams have migrated to three-point land, DeMar DeRozan has firmly planted his flag within the arc. King of the mid range, DeRozan finally mastered his niche.
And we back. The Toronto Raptors have the begun the season with a neat 5-2 start and there have been some important twists along the beginning. With Jared Sullinger injured Pascal Siakam faces a trial by fire in the starting power forward position.
He can’t shoot and it seems like the rest of the Raptors can’t either. They rank second last in three-point percentage at 28.8 percent and have fallen to 18th in points per game. The shooting is spotty and Kyle Lowry is a shadow of himself but DeMar DeRozan’s ascendance has enveloped this Raptors squad.
To start the season DeRozan did something only Michael Jordan had done in the past 30 years, scoring 30+ points in the first five games of the season. He’s the league’s leading scorer and has already met the 40 point threshold twice.
As teams have continued to make the migration to three-point land, DeRozan has firmly planted his flag within the arc. King of the mid-range, DeRozan finally mastered his niche and one of the keys to his kingdom is his ball handling ability.
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 10, 2016
DeRozan is a mid-range specialist shooting 51.9 percent from between the lines. Getting the shot off is a difficulty in its self but getting to the designated spots to take the jump shot is half the battle. DeRozan’s ability to get to his spots has experience massive growth which boils down to one clip:
DeRozan, although primarily an isolation player, has been utilizing his speed to beat his defender in a straight line to the basket. Here, he breaks down Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with a devastating triple cross. At the end of the second between the legs, he hesitates.
DeRozan isn’t afraid of people contesting the shot, nor is he worried about contact at the rim, he has used his road-runner speed before to just take people to the rim. The majority of DeRozan’s shots are taken from within five feet and he’s been hyper efficient shooting 63.7 percent around the rim.
DeMar DeRozan’s shot frequency heat map so far this season pic.twitter.com/Fy5YFZu7eJ
— Demar Grant (@DemarJGrant) November 10, 2016
Obviously KCP knows this so he plays the percentages, gets fooled and falls victim to the best crossover nobody saw (I know it’s the beginning of the third quarter, but still…). Like Allen Iverson, DeMar DeRozan’s speed is what makes the crossover lethal. You have to compensate for the drive to meet DeRozan at the rim but his marked improvement in ball handling allows for multiple changes in direction creating the open look.
Even here in the pick and roll:
DeRozan approaches the JV screen at a trot and then explodes out of the behind the back dribble. This leaves him one-on-one with Andre Drummond, who isn’t known for his perimeter defense.
The game slows down as players age. They know when to go full tilt and when to pace their offense. Good ball handlers can harness that change of speed to exploit the defense. The origin of this play takes place at a crawl but as the speed ramps up the defense has to take much more drastic steps to stop it. KCP jumping out so far is a strategy to stop the effects of the screen but the change of direction and acceleration leaves him out of the play completely.
The shift in direction and speed is akin to Russell Westbrook. The change not only exterminates the primary defender, it catches the secondary on their heels. DeRozan’s advance in the pick and roll has reaped benefits since his go to move after the screen used to be the snake dribble.
Now, he’s utilizing his speed to attack the secondary defender, either at the rim or through jumpshots off the bounce. Drummond contests DeRozan but it’s not a bother.
Typically a late contest is better than no contest, but for DeRozan a late contest is no contest. His athleticism doesn’t end at the rim, he’s been using it to generate exaggerated lift on his jumpshot, to areas where opponents can’t challenge the shot.
DeRozan bumps Bradley Beal to create just enough space to get his shot off, but that’s it. He doesn’t need that much daylight to feel comfortable. Whenever an opponent challenges a shot, there is a niggling feeling that the shot can get blocked. If his shots are any indication DeRozan rarely gets that feeling.
At 6-foot-7 DeRozan will be taller than most of the players that defend him. He also possesses athleticism only a handful of players in the league can compare to, let alone surpass. So, lightly or late contests don’t have an effect on him. If he thinks he can take the shot, he thinks he’ll make the shot. He’ll just jump over you.
The step back is a weapon that readily creates just enough space to get the shot up. It’s not necessarily open, but there’s just enough hardwood between DeRozan and the defender that he can use his athleticism to compensate for floor spacing. These small advantages add up to his contested jumpshot field goal percentage of 60 percent, oddly being eleven percentage points higher than his open jumpshot field goal percentage.
DeRozan’s devil may care attitude towards his jumpshot lends credence to his pump fake as well. The sliver of daylight required for DeRozan to feel comfortable creates a scenario where defenders belief that an actual shot is coming rests on a knife’s edge.
If they don’t contest they just let a mid-range shot from one of the league’s best scorers go uncontested. If you do contest, there is no certainty that DeRozan will commit to the shot. The pump fake to draw the foul isn’t aesthetically pleasing but it’s efficient and adds another layer atop DeRozan’s surgical jump shooting. DeRozan draws 10 free throw attempts per game and this tactic is a huge part of it. It keeps the defence guessing giving him even more breathing space for his jumper.
There are few cases where DeRozan will commit to that mid-range and the defense is right on top of him. If so, he commits a basketball cardinal sin, passing while in the air. Coaches and analysts may hem, haw and gasp, but DeRozan only turns the ball over 2.9 times a game while maintaining the second highest usage rate in the league at 37.3 percent.
DeMar DeRozan looked like he peaked last year. Every statistical category experienced an up tick. Every year pundits and players ask how specific players can get better and it was a widely kept notion that DeRozan may have reached the ceiling of what he is as a player without a three-point shot. DeRozan is on the warpath to proving that ideology incorrect, showing the league that you don’t need a three-pointer as an elite scorer if you have enough craft and a deadeye.