Investigating DeMar DeRozan and His Vastly Improved Play

DeMar DeRozan has played very well for the San Antonio Spurs as of late. In fact, his last nine games might be the best he’s played as a member of the Silver and Black. One reason for his improved play: spacing.

Spacing has been a major issue for the Spurs this season — and it was an issue last season, as well. When only one or two starters can shoot the three consistently, defenses can back off and clog the paint. Bryn Forbes and Trey Lyles have been forced into starting roles for the majority of the season thus far due to a lack of spacing. Poor spacing has kept Dejounte Murray from being able to attack the basket, which is one of his biggest strengths. DeRozan is arguably the best scorer on the team and the spacing has hurt his effectiveness at times.

How LaMarcus Aldridge and Dejounte Murray Have Helped the Spacing

Fortunately, LaMarcus Aldridge has been shooting 44.3% from three-point territory this season. Not only is this a career-high, but Aldridge has only come within 10% of his current percentage twice in his career.

Aldridge will assuredly have a new career-high in three-point shots made before the season is even halfway over. Not only is this an impressive stat, but it is further evidence that the Spurs are turning over a new leaf. Other Spurs have commented on the importance of Aldridge expanding his game and shooting more threes.

With Aldridge leading by example, Murray is starting to heat up from three as well. Murray is shooting 34.9% from three this season, which is right above league average. While Murray doesn’t take a lot of threes, he is currently shooting them more than ever. DeRozan is praising Murray’s work ethic regarding to practicing shooting.

Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan is on a Tear

December 21 is when things started clicking for DeRozan this season. Since that date, DeRozan is shooting a league-high (for scorers averaging 20-plus points per game) 64.1% from the floor and is top 10 in points per game. No other qualified 20-plus points per game scorer has shot over 60% during this stretch. For every non-qualified player, or player who is averaging under 20 points per game, no one shooting better than 60% comes close to DeRozan’s 25.6 points per game.

For the season, DeRozan is shooting 53.1% from the floor — by far a career-high and the second highest field goal percentage in the Spurs’ rotation (Jakob Poeltl, 59.6%).

Who is to Credit for DeMar DeRozan’s Recent Success?

Spacing has obviously played a big factor in DeRozan’s recent success. With Aldridge starting to take more threes and Murray being a willing shooter, the paint becomes wide open for DeRozan to attack. Murray and Aldridge deserve a lot of credit for expanding their game. So does Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who has been aware of the Spurs’ spacing issues all season and has been on his players to shoot more threes in order to create more room for penetrators to operate.

DeRozan likes to add something to his game every offseason. Some years it might be easier to point out what he has been working on. This year, his footwork has stood apart the most. Footwork may not seem as flashy as adding a cool one-legged step back jumper (James Harden, we’re looking at you) but it has helped DeRozan become a more efficient and effective scorer in the paint.

When DeRozan entered the league, he was viewed as a raw athlete with a ton of potential. DeRozan is no longer the athlete he was when he came into the league and he also isn’t green skills-wise. Instead of using the Vince Carter-like athleticism he displayed in college, DeRozan has developed a crafty game that should age well. His advanced footwork and timing this season allows him to get to his spots. DeRozan also deserves credit for attacking the basket more recently and settling less for the dreaded turnaround fadeaway jumper that Kobe Bryant relied on more than a decade ago.

What DeMar DeRozan Can Improve Moving Forward

Aldridge has slowly but willingly changed his game for the betterment of the team. DeRozan will ideally take note and become a more willing shooter. The 4-Out, 1-In offense is ideal spacing for this current Spurs team. DeRozan is capable of being the main ball handler and is an effective playmaker when he needs to be. If he can be a willing shooter, Murray can thrive as a ball-handler, too.

DeRozan becoming more comfortable shooting three-pointers would put the Spurs one step closer to fixing their spacing issue for good.