When Lonzo Ball said that DeMar DeRozan “is the best midrange player” in the league, it was a popular sprinkle from the flood of compliments DeRozan has received since joining the Chicago Bulls last offseason. But other than the exclusion of just one seven footer in Brooklyn that doesn’t need to be named, Ball was right about DeRozan - he is. Just like Kobe Bryant, the player DeRozan patterned his game around, and Michael Jordan, the player who once occupied DeRozan’s current locker, DeRozan is killing defenders from inside the arc in a game that seemingly forces players to play behind it. But has DeRozan actually got better or is he just now getting more attention?
According to Basketball Reference, DeRozan is shooting a sizzling 55 percent on the short mid-rangers that we once fell in love with him for. This is a career high for him, just like being named as a top 7 MVP candidate by the NBA’s own rankings. And while Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic have both statistically had slow starts to the season, DeRozan has been the engine for a second-seeded Bulls team in what proves to be an extremely competitive eastern conference. All this would suggest that DeRozan has taken his game to a completely new level, but I’d argue it’s all environmental based.
The Jordan comparisons to DeRozan really fall off a cliff when you analyse his defensive game. But even with the early season loss of defensive anchor Patrick Williams, the Bulls rank ninth in opponents points per game. As much as I’d love to credit DeRozan for this, I just can’t. Alex Caruso has stepped up in more ways than most predicted, astonishingly leading the NBA in pass deflections. Ball and Vucevic have been great defending the best small and big guys, while DeRozan has just been hidden on defense. Due to his strength and versatility, Billy Donovan has thrown DeRozan on either the worst or second worst offensive player every night. This is something Popovich was unable to do due to roster limitations. So no, defensively DeRozan has not really improved. It’s just that Billy Donovan has never coached a below average defensive team and is miraculously not starting now.
Offensively, the eye test says DeRozan looks more free than he has in years - and why wouldn’t he be? Joining LaVine and Vucevic meant all three All-Stars are playing with their best teammates ever. DeRozan specifically has seen his efficiency sky rocket because he is not being double-teamed like he was in San Antonio. Other than the growing realization to throw DeRozan at the four or even the five, so that he can exploit mismatch opportunities, his statistical improvement is really that simply explained. When you're happy in your job, you perform better than when you’re not happy in your job. And DeRozan being traded to San Antonio always felt like watching a talented painter study computer science. Popovich was elite, and DeRozan became a much more multidimensional shot-creator and playmaker, but it just never felt right.
Chicago has and will continue to give DeRozan the reputational resurrection from mind burning Raptors meltdowns that San Antonio never could. By providing the perfect system for the high usage player to drop 26.3 buckets a game - his most since wearing a Raptors jersey. As well as leading a perennial playoff team, another first since his Raptors days, DeRozan has yet again become a fan favorite. The memories of DeRozan being benched in the fourth quarter of his second last Raptors game and ejected in his last might not ever pass, but it can be treated with a great Bulls’ postseason. Easier said than done however...