It almost defies logic to claim a player with three All-Star Game appearances under his belt – who’s coming off an All-NBA 3rd Team campaign – is just now starting to turn the corner. But by taking more of his shots from a few feet deeper than usual, DeMar DeRozan is doing just that.
For the season, the Toronto Raptors shooting guard is averaging 24.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest.
He’s one of just three players currently putting up at least 24 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists nightly, while also turning the ball over fewer than 3 times per game. The only other men who can make the same claim are Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
However, DeRozan has been putting up monster numbers dating back to his 2013-14 season, so as impressive as those marks may be, he’s been playing like this for a while now. It’s the way he’s going about getting buckets now that has the NBA collective so excited.
And that’s because for the first time in his career, DeRozan looks like a true threat from three-point range.
On the year, the explosive scorer is hitting a healthy 34.9 percent of his triples, which is just below the league average of 36.3 percent.
And over his past 10 games, DeRozan has gotten even hotter.
In that span, the USC product is converting a scorching 46.7 percent of his 4.5 nightly three-point attempts. For a career 28.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, that’s an absurd clip.
Whether he can maintain that rate or not is up for debate, but regardless, it’s great to see him seek out the right kind of shot.
Before the season, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri mentioned wanting his team to go through a culture change. Part of that involved going away from isolation basketball to more of a ball-swinging attack.
With the ball finding life and moving swiftly from player to player, DeRozan often finds himself behind the three-point line when he catches it. The difference is, when that would happen in prior years, the 2-guard would initiate his ball-deflating dribbling, usually post up his defender and end the possession with a fadeaway mid-range jumper.
Now, more frequently he’s letting it fly with confidence, regardless of where he catches it (via Yahoo Sports):
“It’s just something [where I’m] finding my comfort zone. One of them things to where I put my mind to it, just to do it,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “We’re moving the ball a lot more to where I’m not in a lot of them iso situations that I was in before. It makes it a lot more easier to understand … If I’m behind that line, shoot it.”
The statistics back up the talk.
In 2016-17, DeRozan iso’d on 17.1 percent of his possessions, the 13th-highest rate in the league among qualified players, per Synergy Sports Tech. Meanwhile, he attempted spot-up jumpers merely 6.9 percent of the time.
This season, his isolation frequency has shrunk to 14 percent, and his spot-up shooting frequency has increased to 7.6 percent. That difference amounts to a few more efficient scoring possessions nightly for the 28-year-old bucket-getter.
And considering DeRozan is producing 1.08 points per possession (PPP) on spot-ups, but just 0.89 PPP on isolation chances, attempting more of the former play type has made a world of difference in turning him into a more effective scorer.
It should also be noted, the 2017-18 version of DeRozan is taking by far the fewest number of shots from between 16 feet of the rim and the three-point line of his career, at an acceptable 18.6 percent rate. Prior to this year, the lowest frequency at which he had attempted the ever-so-dreaded deep two-pointer was 24.7 percent.
Conversely, his three-point attempt rate is all the way up to 17.0 percent, a far cry from his previous career-high of 14.9 percent.
The smarter shot selection is helping DeRozan enjoy a career season according to multiple advanced statistics.
He’s currently 14th in NBA Math’s offensive points added metric, seventh in offensive win shares and 17th in offensive box plus/minus. His win shares per 48 have never been higher and neither has his overall box plus/minus.
More importantly, though, DeRozan’s season is helping the Raptors improve on what was already a respectable 2016-17 campaign.
As of Jan. 2, Toronto ranks fourth in offensive rating at 110.1 – a 0.3-point-per-100-possession improvement over last year, when they finished the season at sixth. (With DeRozan in the game, their offensive rating actually balloons to 116.6, which is just obscene, and would lead the league by a wide margin if extrapolated for the season.)
Ultimately, for a team with Toronto’s payroll and relatively lofty expectations, any true success will be measured by whether they can finally make noise once the postseason rolls around.
But thanks to their improved culture, as well as DeRozan’s willingness to adapt his game in Year 9, early returns look quite promising for the Raptors.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky contributed to this article.