DeMar DeRozan had a tough start to the 2018-19 NBA season. After spending the first nine seasons of his career building his legacy as a franchise icon with the Toronto Raptors, DeRozan was–some would say unceremoniously–dealt to the San Antonio Spurs in a blockbuster that brought Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.
DeRozan had been the leader of a Raptors team that–despite being routinely dominated by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers–consistently finished towards the top of the Eastern Conference. With James leaving the East to join the Los Angeles Lakers, it seemed like this could be DeRozan’s moment in Toronto. Instead, DeRozan found himself on a Spurs team that no longer looked quite as potent in the Western Conference.
Statistically speaking, this past year was one of the finest seasons of DeRozan’s career. He scored over 21 points per game while posting career highs in both assists (6.2) and rebounds (6.0) and shooting close to 50 percent from the field. And although the Spurs were defeated in the first round of the playoffs, they managed to take the second-seeded Denver Nuggets to seven games.
In spite of some individual brilliance, DeRozan was cited as a potential trade chip for San Antonio, who had reportedly set their sights on Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency. However, the Spurs have stood mostly pat this summer, adding Trey Lyles and re-signing guys like Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll.
Even though DeRozan is certainly a star in the league, he is not exactly garnering a reputation as a winner. For an organization like the Spurs, winning is everything.
What can DeRozan do to right the ship and help the Spurs improve?
Buy into the system
One of the reasons that the Spurs were so successful in the late 90s and 2000s is because guys like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker understood their roles as supporting players in an offense that ran through the post, specifically Tim Duncan.
When those three stars began to age in the next decade, coach Greg Popovich ran a system predicated on ball movement, with guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard taking the next step in their development as perimeter shooters and all-around players.
Given that much of his offense comes via the midrange game and in the paint, DeRozan has a tendency to be rather ball-dominant. Especially considering that R.C. Buford loves to fill his roster with shooters and “stretch four” types, the ball needs to move more freely on the offensive end.
Derrick White was a wonderful surprise in the backcourt, and San Antonio is still banking on the potential of a healthy Dejounte Murray at the point guard spot. Everyone is going to need their touches to improve.
Last season, DeRozan had an equal usage rate to Bradley Beal and Trae Young, while LaMarcus Aldridge was right behind that group (as well as Nikola Jokic). Yes, DeRozan and Aldridge are the two stars, but they simply cannot dictate the entire offense in a perimeter-oriented NBA.
Which leads us to the next point…
Shoot relentlessly in the offseason
As previously stated, DeRozan’s bread and butter is his midrange game, and he is quite excellent at creating space for pull-ups or even entering the post. But again, in San Antonio’s ball-movement offense, you need to be more proficient in catch-and-shoot situations.
This idea is particularly pertinent now that Murray is slated to return. Both Murray and DeRozan are extremely similar in terms of their use of size and athleticism to slash and get into the lane. But Murray is an even more hesitant shooter from beyond the arc than DeRozan.
Although DeRozan has shown that he is capable of putting up decent percentages from deep in the past (close to 34 percent in the 2015-16 season), he averaged just 0.6 attempts per game last year.
The Spurs need DeRozan to become a more lethal perimeter shooter given the reinsertion of Murray and the loss of guys like Davis Bertans.
Not to mention, if he develops an outside shot he will be that much harder to guard because of his slashing ability.
Embrace the leadership role
It might be hard for a player that has constantly experienced trade rumors to ever really feel comfortable with a given organization.
Still, DeRozan needs to be that vocal leader that the Spurs have really lacked since the days of Parker and Ginobili.
The Spurs are not necessarily a “young” team, per se. However, they are counting on immense growth from guys like White, Murray, Lyles and others. DeRozan can be a guy that leads by example and pulls the younger core along so as to keep up in a deep Western Conference.
San Antonio faces an uphill battle as they attempt to prepare for a slugfest in the West, but they are certainly capable of making a run and surprising some folks, especially if DeRozan can raise his level of play.