The Spurs and DeMar DeRozan: 6 Truths Confirmed After a Season Apart

Last summer, after three seasons in South Texas, the San Antonio Spurs traded DeMar DeRozan to the Chicago Bulls. DeRozan’s first season with the Bulls ended with a first round defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Spurs, for the second consecutive campaign, finished tenth in the West and were eliminated after losing the first game of the play-in tournament. 

After spending a season apart, it’s safe to say that these six assessments regarding the Spurs and DeRozan can now be regarded as facts. 

1. DeMar DeRozan was a Net-Negative Influence on the Spurs

Judging DeRozan’s impact while on the Spurs was a difficult and complicated endeavor. His counting statistics were always impressive. Due to how much of the offensive load he shouldered on a night-to-night basis, he was rightfully in the All-Star conversation in each of his three seasons in San Antonio.

However, it was obvious to anyone who watched closely that DeRozan hemorrhaged points on the defensive end. Additionally, his on-off numbers unanimously painted the picture that the Spurs were better when DeRozan was off the court than on the court. 

Could it really be possible that DeRozan was simultaneously the closest player the Spurs had to an All-Star while also having a net-negative impact on the team? Looking back at his tenure a season later, we can confidently say that was indeed the case — as strange as that sounds.

During DeRozan’s time in San Antonio, the Spurs were 3.8 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the bench. That pattern of the Spurs being better without DeRozan held true following the trade with the Bulls.

Last season, San Antonio got outscored by 125 points. This season, despite trading away DeRozan, the Spurs actually outscored their opponents on the season by ten points. That’s a 135-point swing despite the fact that the Spurs also lost Patty Mills and Rudy Gay in free agency, two players who were routinely proven to be net-positive contributors while in San Antonio.

As expected, the Spurs improved defensively without DeRozan. San Antonio finished 16th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, which doesn’t sound impressive but it was a better showing than any of the three DeRozan-led seasons.

The unexpected twist was that San Antonio’s offense also improved without DeRozan. In DeRozan’s final season with the Spurs, the Spurs scored 111.0 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 21st in the league. This season without DeRozan, the Spurs were 18th in the league with an average of 112.4 points per 100 possessions. 

Free from DeRozan’s ball-dominant ways, the Spurs were able to spread the wealth. Going into the season, it looked like the Spurs were destined to be a really poor offensive team. That didn’t happen though because, as the numbers always suggested, DeRozan’s impact while on the Spurs was of the negative variety. 

2. DeMar DeRozan is a Fourth Quarter Maestro

While it’s possible to nitpick DeRozan’s overall impact on the game, what is also really clear is that he’s a fantastic fourth quarter finisher in the regular season. DeRozan is a proven clutch performer and he’s someone who you want on your side when the chips are down and the game is in the balance.

The stats reinforce DeRozan’s late game dominance. In clutch situations this season, DeRozan was third in the league in points per game and shot 53.5% from the floor, 88.7% from the line and hit half of his three-point attempts.

If you want an even clearer indication, just look at the standings. Even though the Spurs outscored their opponents by 10 points this season, San Antonio finished with a record of 34-48. That type of disparity can only be explained by the Spurs losing more than their share of close games — and that’s what happened in their first post-DeRozan season.

The Bulls had the exact opposite happen. Chicago was outscored by 32 points on the season, yet they finished with a record of 46-36 — thanks in large part to DeRozan’s heroics.

You can criticize DeRozan for many things but the man is a closer of the highest order. 

3. Gregg Popovich Doesn’t Preach Three-Pointers with Enough Conviction

Gregg Popovich routinely tells the media that his team needs to shoot more three-pointers. Somehow, though, that message doesn’t reach his players. I don’t know why that is but the DeRozan trade further proves this point.

In DeRozan’s final season with the Toronto Raptors, he shot 5.2 three-pointers per 100 possessions. In his first season with the Spurs, that number fell off a cliff. Per 100 possessions, he shot just 0.8 three-pointers.

In DeRozan’s first season with the Bulls, he attempted 2.5 threes per 100 possessions. While he didn’t revert all the way back to the rate he posted in his final Raptors campaign, that number still represents a 50% improvement over any of his San Antonio seasons.

I hope Popovich coaches for another season or two. Or three. But it’d be nice if he actually stressed the importance of three-point attempts to the players on his team. 

4. DeMar DeRozan isn’t Built for the Postseason

DeRozan’s postseason history is about as unsightly as it gets. For his career, his teams have been outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the court in the playoffs. When he’s sitting on the bench in the playoffs, his teams actually outscore opponents by 2.6 points. There’s no other five-time All-Star whose postseason numbers are anywhere close to as ugly.

DeRozan played poorly last season in the play-in game for the Spurs. This season, he didn’t play well for the Bulls in the playoffs against the Bucks. The Bulls were outscored by a whopping 14.8 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. In the elimination game, DeRozan had only 11 points and the Bulls weren’t even competitive in Game 5.

Will DeRozan ever figure out how to thrive in the postseason? If I were a Bulls fan, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

5 .DeMar DeRozan will Age Gracefully

Even though he’s 32, DeRozan likely just had the best season of his career. At the very least, his 2021-22 campaign was much better than any of the seasons he had with the Spurs. Playing in 76 games, DeRozan averaged a career-high 27.9 points along with 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists, while shooting 50.4% from the field, 35.2% from the three-point line and 87.7% from the charity stripe.

Given that his offensive repertoire is mostly reliant on footwork, deception and precision, I think DeRozan has another three or four seasons of high-level production left in him. Players who rely on athleticism start to fall off at around the age of 30. Since DeRozan’s production is based on skill, I don’t see him slowing down in a major way any time soon.

6. Trading DeMar DeRozan was the Right Decision by the Spurs

On paper, the Spurs didn’t get much of a tangible return in exchange for a player who made the All-Star team and may even get some MVP votes. But, even after factoring in DeRozan’s excellent season with the Bulls, I think it was clearly the right decision to trade him and I’m pleased with what the Spurs got in the deal.

Following subsequent trades and buyouts, the Spurs basically received two picks in the 2022 NBA Draft — 20th overall and 38th overall — and will likely get a first rounder in 2025 and a second rounder in 2025. Four draft picks for a player who the Spurs likely didn’t want to re-sign? That’s a win. In fact, heading into last offseason, I thought getting a single first rounder for DeRozan would have been a success. 

San Antonio giving DeRozan the contract he got from Chicago ($82 million over three years) might have been justifiable if the focus was simply on his statistical production. But considering that the Spurs needed to make room for their younger players to grow and given DeRozan’s net-negative impact on winning, I thought re-signing him would have been a disastrous step in the wrong direction. A season later, San Antonio’s decision to trade him how and when they did has been crystallized as the absolute right move.