A closer look at DeRozan’s near-historic clutch night

What a performance.

It really was not that long ago that DeMar DeRozan was scoring 52 points against the Milwaukee Bucks, setting a new Toronto Raptors franchise record for scoring and thrusting himself into the conversation for best single-game outing as a Raptor. He has turned in plenty of candidates worthy of that conversation, and how you want to evaluate individual games – the box score line, the Game Score, the overall feel, or whatever – it’s hard to go wrong with a number of outings from DeRozan, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, or Kyle Lowry. Or hey, Terrence Ross or Donyell Marshall.

There’s something about DeRozan and games that go to overtime. On Wednesday, DeRozan submitted what may be his best night yet, a 42-point dismantling of the Detroit Pistons down the stretch of a game the Raptors would eventually win in overtime. No, it wasn’t 52. It wasn’t even that strong an entire game so much as a dominant close to it – DeRozan had 11 points and exactly zero assists at halftime, the Raptors stuck in a 14-point hole. All that did, though, was set the stage for DeRozan to have the single highest impact of any Raptor ever on the team’s chances to win.

By win probability added, anyway. The site Inpredictable measures team and individual performance by win probability added, which measures player contributions by how they impacted the team’s percentage chance of winning. To simplify, it looks at each play and game-score situation, determining what a team’s likelihood of winning before and after each play was, and they assign that value to the players who made those plays (made shots, missed shots, turnovers, and free throws; it only assigns value to players finishing possessions). Naturally, it weighs clutch performance heavily, as the swings in probability are highest with the game on the line – the higher the leverage of the situation, the higher the impact on the chances of winning. It’s obviously an imperfect measure given what it excludes, but it provides a fun look at “whose shot-making swung a game’s outcome the most?”

Through that lens, DeRozan’s night was nearly historic. When the WPA report first game down, it looked as if DeRozan had posted the best single-game WPA in the entire database, which covers the entire NBA, playoffs and regular season, back to 2000 (thanks to @PositiveResidual for pointing this out initially). The scores are adjusted later, and DeRozan’s score came down a bit. This morning, DeRozan only has the 21st-best single-game WPA since 2000, a time that includes some 27,000 individual games. That’s in something like the 99.9th percentile.

All told, DeRozan added 114.9 percent to Toronto’s chances of winning.

That’s, uhh, more than 100 percent, and it tops his previous franchise-best mark of 109.4 percent (Feb. 27, 2017, against the Knicks, when you could see literal souls leaving bodies at Madison Square Garden). Those are the only two instances of Raptors topping the 100-percent marker, though it’s been done to them four times (Marcus Smart in April 2015, Kevin Durant in March 2014, Vince Carter in January 2006 as a Net, and Marcin Gortat in February 2014.

DeRozan, by the way, ranks 12th in the NBA this year in total WPA on the season and third in clutch WPA – he’s now up to 134 points on 55.9-percent true-shooting in 119 clutch minutes on the year, turning the ball over just seven times. He still owns a minus-8 net rating because the Raptors have been mediocre there overall (18-13 but a minus-8 net rating). Some of that is the early season trouble hanging over, some of it is selection bias since the Raptors do a great job making close-ish games into non-clutch games, and some of it remains a concern. If nothing else, DeRozan’s shot-making is almost identical to in non-clutch spots, in terms of true-shooting percentage, and his volume has been ludicrous.

Of DeRozan’s 1.149 win probability added, 0.9 of that came in the clutch (Inpredictable defines that differently than As I mentioned, he wasn’t particularly great as the Raptors fell behind early. At halftime, the Pistons held a 59-45 lead and an 86.3-percent chance to win the game. When DeRozan hit free throws late in the third quarter, the Raptors were up 85-78 and held a 74-percent chance of winning, a 60-percent swing. It was closer to 50-50 at the end of the third, with DeRozan having scored 13 and dished four assists in the quarter while Lowry scored 10 with five dimes.

With 7:24 left in the fourth, DeRozan checked back in, the Raptors up 92-90 and with a 58.5-percent chance of winning. The game was a coin-toss, essentially. And that’s when things started to get fairly wild.

Over the final 12:24 of the game, DeRozan would score 18 more points on 7-of-10 shooting with two huge assists.

5:11, +6.0% – Hits a 17-footer

4:43, -4.1% – Misses a three

3:46, +5.8% – Takes a Siakam pass for a reverse layup

3:12, +6.8% – Hits an 8-footer

2:54, -11.5% – Fouls James Ennis on a three (no penalty to DeRozan in WPA)

1:19, +11.3% – Hits an 18-foot pull-up

0:56, +12.2% – Fouled by Reggie Bullock, hits both free throws

0:29, -14.5% – Misses 14-footer

0:18, +18.8% – Hits a 19-footer from C.J. Miles

0:05, +55.1% – Ends Anthony Tolliver with a driving transition dunk, aided by a great backcourt screen from Lowry and complete disinterest from Blake Griffin; gets and-one

4:36, -5.9% – Misses a 10-footer

2:01, +10.9% – Finds Siakam for a layup (no credit to DeRozan in WPA)

1:37, +22.9% – Hits an 18-footer and draws the foul on Bullock for an and-one

0:29, -14.7% – Misses a 12-foot turnaround

0:06 – +5.5% – Grabs a defensive rebound (no credit to DeRozan in WPA)

0:01 – +32.1% – Assist on a Fred VanVleet 20-footer (no credit to DeRozan in WPA)

(Note on the parts that aren’t credited: Inpredictable also has a “kitchen sink” WPA that adds box score stats to WPA, except fouls. DeRozan added another 61% with his assists, though if we were assigning shared credit in such a way, some of his shooting WPA marks may come down.)

It’s a pretty impressive second half and overtime, and it ranks as one of the more clutch performances in recent league history when situation is taken into account. It might be even higher if WPA could account for the leverage of the Raptors clinching a playoff spot in the game, too. It’s a less incredible night by something like Game Score – it’s only DeRozan’s fourth-best game through that lens, 37th in team history – but context is important. The Raptors slept through a half, lost a key starter and a key reserve, and Lowry and DeRozan took over as stars do, the latter delivering one of the most clutch shot-making performances you can deliver and mostly making the right, team-first plays in the closing minutes. It’s the latest sign of growth in a season full of them.

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