Is DeMar DeRozan's Historic Start Sustainable?
Normally, when a player is going into unrestricted free agency, he plays extra hard going into the summer, then slacks off once the ink has dried on his new, lucrative deal. At least that's often the public's perception of what happens.
DeRozan has gone exactly the other way, however. After a career year in which he was named to his second All-Star team, DeMar has seemingly found a way to work even harder and perform even better after signing the biggest deal of his NBA career.
Instead of resting on his laurels now that his big money is guaranteed, DeRozan is showing every person who thought he wasn't worth five years and $139 million just how wrong they've been about him.
At the top of DeRozan's revenge list is Sports Illustrated, after they ranked him 46th in their list of the NBA's top 100 players. Using what he thought was a slight against him as motivation, DeRozan has started his 2016-17 campaign on an absolute tear.
Through the first two-plus weeks of the season, DeRozan is leading the NBA in scoring with an average of 34.1 points per game. That feat not only makes him look like a top-tier NBA player today, but that kind of early-season dominance puts him with some pretty esteemed historic company as well:
#Raptors DeMar DeRozan is the first player to average 34 points per game through a team's first 7 games since Michael Jordan in 1989-90 pic.twitter.com/meumdDuTOW
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 10, 2016
What's more, having scored at least 30 points in six of his team's first seven games, DeRozan joins Michael Jordan on yet another impressive, historic list:
DeMar DeRozan became the 3rd player in the last 35 years with 6 30+ point games in first 7 games of a season. pic.twitter.com/7K3RJB5VAv
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 10, 2016
It's still way too early in the season to put too much weight in leaderboards just yet, but DeRozan pops up in the top-10 (way above 46) in a number of advanced, one-number statistics that are meant to estimate overall value, including nERD, which indicates how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win over an 82-game season with the player in question as one of its starters.
|Points per game||34.1||1st|
|Player Efficiency Rating (PER)||31.1||5th|
|Win Shares per 48 Minutes||.265||9th|
Beyond the high scoring, the rest of DeRozan's averages are pretty well in line with his career marks, with one exception. To go with the 34.1 points, he's averaging 4.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals, and shooting 81.4% from the free throw line -- all pretty much status quo for the 27-year-old swingman.
What sets this DeRozan season apart from the rest in his career is his shooting percentage of 53.3%, as he's beating last year's mark (44.6%) and his career average (44.4%) by almost 9% in the early going of 2016-17.
That kind of spike screams regression and is almost certainly unsustainable, especially because most of his scoring is coming from the mid-range.
DeMar DeRozan is leading the league in scoring (34.1 PPG) thanks to a complete domination of the midrange game. https://t.co/XTjxNcIVNv pic.twitter.com/I11jEgygyN
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 10, 2016
In today's NBA and an enlightened period of analytics, mid-range specialists like DeRozan are a dying breed. Stepping in means a shot you're more likely to hit, while stepping back to three-point line means a shot that's only slightly harder to hit but that is worth 50% more points.
Because of the increasing availability and visibility of advanced statistics, players are feeling pressure to be more efficient in order to maximize their team's chances of winning.
What frustrates people about DeMar's game is that he still relies so heavily on such an inefficient and increasingly abandoned area of the floor to get a lot of his points. He gets to the line at a fantastic rate (10.0 attempts per contest so far this season and 8.4 last year), but 50.3% of his field goal attempts have come from the mid-range this year.
It doesn't hurt that he's hitting an incredible 51.8% from there, but that could very well regress to his 38.0% mark from last season before long.
Another factor in DeMar's early-season success is that he's hitting an uncharacteristically high mark on contested shots. He's currently hitting 50.0% with a defender within two feet -- which is on par with last year -- but a whopping 59.6% with a defender between two and four feet away from him at his time of release. Last season, he hit 43.9% when a defender was two to four feet away, a full 15.7% lower.
Again, regression is likely coming.
Still, we don't have to pooh-pooh what DeRozan has accomplished so far this season just because his current pace is unsustainable. Just because he's getting mentioned next to Jordan in the context of his early-season milestones doesn't mean he needs to be Jordan all of a sudden.
Even if DeRozan struggles a bit in the near future or goes through a rough patch or two, he has established from the jump of the 2016-17 season that he's out to have the best year of his career. He's clearly not satisfied to take his foot off the gas now that he has a big contract, nor will he accept anyone calling him the 46th-ranked player in the NBA anymore.
And one thing is abundantly clear: his revenge tour against all those who doubted his worth with regards to his new contract or his place among the NBA's elite is going to be very fun to watch.