Earlier this year DeMar DeRozan was candid and (brave) enough to talk about his depression. The 4-time All-Star put his reputation on the line by chronicling his struggles saying “we’re all human at the end of the day.” It is that humanness that has made DeRozan a sympathetic figure; he was scorned. He trusted someone and was lied to. Of course, Raptors GM Masai Ujirii has a different version, something along the lines of a communication breakdown and being misinterpreted. It’s not original that the boss has one version and the employee has another.
The soap opera angle aside, DeMar is a cautionary tale. He worked hard on his craft, developed his strengths, minimized his weaknesses and was responsible for individual achievements that led him to a max deal. He didn’t even take meetings when he was a free agent, that is how loyal he was to the team that drafted him. Sure, he had some struggles in the playoffs and he couldn’t carry the Raptors to the promised land but he gave effort and will. But that isn’t enough in a perfect storm when an iconic talent is on the market. Then, all bets are off. It’s not fair, but it is business.
DeMar in the Western Conference is now going to have the luxury of Gregg Popovich as his teacher. Life changing on a dime is this new episode in his life and it is going to take a little bit of time getting used to. A divorce by ambush is hard to swallow particularly when trust has been mangled. Six months from now, DeRozan may have a different take on what happened to him in July of 2018. But right now, he has every right to be a little salty about how it happened that a franchise player is now in Texas.
DeRozan is in Texas but probably not in Charlotte in 2019, the site of the NBA All-Star game, an exhibition DeMar has appeared in the last four years. But the Western Conference is guard heavy. They have a glut of shot making and scoring 1’s and 2’s.
Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Damian Lillard. Chris Paul. James Harden. Russell Westbrook.
DeRozan has to beat out one of those dudes. But it doesn’t end there. C.J. McCollum, Devin Booker, Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler have to perform worse than DeRozan for him to get an All-Star thumbs up.
The All-Star drought is just the beginning. Unlike the East, conference games are not going to be a night off. He is going to have to deal with a dominant scorer and is going to be asked by Pop to defend him, something of a weakness for DeRozan even though he was coached by a defensive mind in Dwane Casey. DeRozan’s defensive numbers were just average in 2017-18. It’s a leap to expect DeRozan to suddenly become the focal point of the Spurs D when that wasn’t his role in Toronto. He hasn’t exhibited the defensive tenaciousness of a Danny Green who left Toronto so DeRozan could unpack his bags in San Antonio.
DeRozan is a scorer. His job is to get buckets. Over and over again. Particularly late in games. That is the DeMar DeRozan skill set. But he will also be asked to play a system in which the ball moves freely. He is the best player on the Spurs like he was the best player on the Raptors. But in the West what does that really mean?
DeRozan has to have a year with the Spurs that has them in the top-4 of the West, if he wants to be All-Star eligible in Steph Curry’s hometown of Charlotte. Last season, DeRozan was ranked 11th (Real Plus-Minus) among shooting guards. In 2018-19, a top -5 ranking will get him to Charlotte but for that to happen the DeRozan game has to become more versatile on the defensive end and more stretch the floor on the offensive end. His best NBA seasons were his last three. His highest offensive rating was 114 which is better than Klay Thomson’s but worse than Jimmy Butler’s whose offensive rating the past two years has been 123 and 122.
DeRozan has to improve long distance shooting, a specialty of the Spurs. DeRozan was horrible with the three ball during all points of the game last season. 30% with three minutes left in the quarter. 31% 3-6 minutes left in the quarter. 30% 6-12 minutes left in the quarter.
DeRozan attempted 322 threes last season but made only 99. Taking threes isn’t the problem, making them is.
It’s what makes the DeRozan Spurs acquisition a win and a lose. It’s a win because the Lakers pulled Brandon Ingram out the deal, the Celtics pulled Jaylen Brown out the deal and the Sixers did the same thing with Markelle Fultz. But the Spurs grabbed themselves a four time All-Star. It is a tremendous get.
But DeRozan isn’t Kawhi on his best day; he isn’t as versatile nor as talented, or the opposite. He isn’t as talented so he can’t be as versatile.
In this sad DeRozan saga I feel for him. I have been rejected and left too and that kind of pain takes a while to heal. But DeRozan is on the freakin’ Spurs and so he will be adored by fans, nurtured and supported until he gets over his Raptors breakup. It’s ugly. But all things ugly heal.