DeRozan’s efficiency takes league by storm
It’s popular to begin an article on the Toronto Raptors by saying they don’t get talked about a lot. As much as I would like to avoid what has become a cliché sentiment surrounding this team, the fact is, it’s true. Even with a run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and some high profile Drake fandom, the Raptors still have flown under the radar in every season in recent basketball memory.
Part of the reason for their lack of visibility has been the absence of a marquee superstar. Though as a franchise they achieved unprecedented success last season, led by the All-Star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the team is still a tier below the Cleveland Cavaliers and the elite of the Western conference in the league’s pecking order. Neither player has the kind of stature to draw significant individual attention. Until now. Maybe.
Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has had an incredible start to the season, as his 34.0 points per game leads the league in scoring and his run of scoring 30 or more points in eight out of the first nine games of the season has been matched only six other times in National Basketball Association history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. When someone is mentioned next to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, it begins to draw eyes.
The 27-year-old DeRozan has been a plus scorer in the NBA for the length of his career but has also been defined by his inability to shoot threes. A career 28 percent three-point shooter, DeRozan has, for years, seemed out of touch with this analytics era of basketball that places an emphasis on shooting threes and taking fewer midrange jump shots.
While his high-volume, off-ball shooting guard peers, such as Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Portland Trailblazers guard C.J. McCollum, are distinguished by their large efficiency from beyond the arc, DeRozan has never added this shot to his repertoire. While in theory not becoming a three-point shooter could have put a limit on his scoring ability, DeRozan is proving that this is not the case.
So what kind of shots has Derozan been taking to separate his scoring from not only his past seasons but also the rest of the NBA this year? Essentially, he has doubled down on pull-up jumpers and drives to the rim, coupling high efficiency with high volume to become, perhaps, the league’s best scorer. This is seen in his tracking stats, per NBA.com, when filtering the players to reflect those who are similarly high volume and play significant minutes and looking only at players who, like DeRozan, are on the floor over 30 minutes a game and average over 20 points a game.
Of these players, DeRozan is the most efficient pull-up jump shot shooter, making 53.8 percent of such shots, and also the highest volume pull-up jump shooter, scoring 14.1 points on 13.0 of these shots per game.
These numbers are also a substantial jump from DeRozan’s 2015 to 2016 campaign, helping to explain the jump in overall scoring from the 23.5 points per game he averaged in what was considered to be a career year for the shooting guard last season.
Over the course of the season last year, Derozan shot 39.1 percent with his pull-up jumpers and scored 5.9 points per game on these shots, taking only 7.4 per shots game. This difference alone nearly accounts for the 10.5 points per game increase in total scoring between this year and last year. Here, volume and efficiency are fundamentally tied together, as the fact that he’s been making these shots likely increases the number that he and the team have confidence in him taking.
DeRozan has also improved his drives to the basket and distinguished himself at the top of the league. In terms of efficiency, DeRozan ranks a respectable 13th among similarly qualified players by converting on 54.4 percent of his drives, while ranking second behind Trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard with an astounding 10.0 points per game off drives to the rim.
Notably, only Lillard attempts at least as many as DeRozan’s 6.3 shots off drives and makes a higher percentage than DeRozan, as DeRozan again couples high shooting volume with high efficiency.
Additionally, DeRozan has also improved on his drive statistics from last season, though his drop in relative ranking to other players would misleadingly suggest he has declined. He led the league last season in points per game off drives, with 8.7 points per game last year versus 10.0 points per game this year. Though he was ninth in drive field goal percentage, last season’s 50.6 percent conversion rate is 3.8 percent less efficient than this season.
Overall, DeRozan has put up roughly seven more shots per game this season than last year, which he has converted to the tune of a 52.8 percent field goal percentage that is the highest of any guard in the NBA this regular season.
Though this spectacular start will likely come to an end, DeRozan has shown his ability to force the action and get the shots that he’s comfortable with, not conforming to the trends of the NBA, and perhaps is becoming a superstar because of it.
The Raptors have gotten off to a hot start, with a record of 7-2 to place themselves in third place in the Eastern conference. The team will need the help of DeRozan and Lowry to propell them past the likes of the Cavs and Hawks, who place first and second in the league, respectively. If DeRozan can continue his impressive run, the Raptors have a shot.