What’s Wrong with DeMar DeRozan?

DeRozan is mired in a major slump. What's behind it?

derozan attempt

A few people have asked me on Twitter and in Daily Dime Live of late, “what is wrong with DeMar Deozan?” After all, he started the season out pretty strong, quieting those who were down on his contract extension.

Lately, however, DeRozan has seemingly regressed. Take a look at the raw numbers:
derozan dropoff raw
That’s a pretty dramatic drop off from the early part of the season to the past month. Basically, DeRozan had made incremental improvements across the board, but then fell off in a serious way. If we look at more advanced stats, the story is the same:
derozan dropoff adv
So what’s the answer? Two potential reasons I could think of were fatigue from the heavy minutes load early in the season and mental fatigue from frequently not getting calls on attacks to the rim. The former is likely a small part of it, but given his age and ability to handle a similar workload last season with a more condensed schedule, I doubt it’s a major factor. The latter is potentially just homerism, but if true, counter-intuitive, since the only way to start getting those borderline calls is to continue to establish yourself as an attacking presence.

Whatever the reason behind it, DeRozan is very clearly making poor decisions in the past month, at least in terms of where he decides to take his shots from:
derozan dropoff shot
Regardless of why he’s doing this, there’s your reason as to why his efficiency and output has decreased. Fewer shots at the rim, more shots from the mid-range and fewer free throw attempts. That’s a recipe for inefficient scoring.

Since DeRozan only has enough of a three-point shot to threaten the defense when wide-open (he is shooting just 25.5% on threes above the break and 26.3% on corner threes), most of his points need to come at the line unless he can manage to shoot an insane percentage on mid-range shots. Since he hits just a hair over 40% from the mid-range, it means you’re expecting about 0.81 points per possession where DeRozan fires up a mid-range jumper. Mid-range jumpers are, of course, also far less likely to result in a trip to the free throw line than are shots at the rim (where, for the record, DeRozan hits about 58% of his attempts).

Going to the rim means a higher percentage of makes and a greater rate of free throw attempts, so why is DeRozan shying away from them? It’s difficult to say, really.

According to Synergy, DeRozan is one of the league’s best offensive players in isolations, post-ups, hand-offs and as the pick-and-roll ball handler. That’s an impressive offensive profile, to rank in the top-32 in all of those areas, plus 55th off screens.

However, even with all of those great strengths, he’s just 163rd overall in terms of points per possession, meaning he’s not using his possessions optimally, it would seem. For one, pick-and-roll ball handlers and players shooting off of screens and hand-offs generally produce fewer points per possession, so part of the drop in rank is just due to him being a wing player. I’m not sure what the remedy is here, as the only real difference between DeRozan at 163 and, say, Gordon Hayward at 118 is Hayward’s three-point shooting (and the fact that Hayward somehow has 14 And-1s to DeRozan’s 12, ouch).

As it is, DeRozan ranks just 25th in PER among shooting guards, erasing pretty much all of his early-season progress. If Win Shares is your thing (it’s not mine), he has made no noticeable improvement on a per-48 minute basis over the past two years, still falling short of his rookie campaign. If you’re real nerdy (like me) and Adjusted Statistical Plus-Minus is more your bag, DeRozan has been a slight negative at both ends of the floor, providing more or less the same value as last year (above replacement-level, below-average).

I don’t have the solution. I know that this isn’t it:
derozan shotchart lakers
And neither are these:
derozan shotchart bulls2derozan shotchart sixers
Those are his last three games. I also know that this one, from back on November against the Nets, in a game where he also took 10 free throw attempts, is more like it:
derozan shotchart nets nov
I don’t have the solution. If it’s mental, then show him the stats and the shot charts and the video. He showed in November that he knows getting to the stripe is the best way to be an above-average wing scorer, if you don’t have the three-pointer in your arsenal. If it’s fatigue, shorten his minutes for a handful of games until he gets his legs back. If it’s mental fatigue, tell him to call Ramon Sessions, who gets to the line more often and certainly isn’t getting superstar whistles.

Again, I don’t have the solution. But the shot distribution from the past month is the reason he’s not putting up points, and not putting them up efficiently when he does.

Dig deep and find that early-season, “prove-Hollinger-wrong” aggression, and start heading to the rim again. It might hurt physically, but it’s going to be a lot more rewarding than hoisting 18-foot jumpers with a 40% success rate.