Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Demar DeRozan signed one of the most lucrative contracts in the history of the NBA this summer in the form of a $137.5 million deal over five years, should he decide to stick around for the fifth season.
He was pivotal on a Toronto Raptors team that made its deepest playoff run ever by getting to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell in six games to the eventual champions. How much better can the 27-year-old get, and does his play validate his income, even by the new NBA standard? Proving he can answer these questions in the affirmative are the challenges for DeRozan this season.
DeRozan had a career-high Player Efficiency Rating of 21.5 last season, a jump of 4.1 from 2014-15. That was, in part, due to a bump in his true shooting percentage, which climbed from 51.0 to 55.0, which is slightly better than the league average of 54.1 percent. DeRozan’s ceiling depends on on how much he is able to maintain a relative degree of efficiency in his scoring. For reasons we’ll discuss in the offense section, he’s never going to have James Harden/Stephen Curry-type efficiency, but he can be above average.
He’s close enough to his ceiling right now that it’s hard to see him climbing much higher.
The downside of DeRozan is that he’s a bit of a volume scorer who doesn’t offer much besides that, including passing. Last season was the first time in his career he had an assist percentage over 20 (at 20.8), and he’s at 13.8 for his career. His total rebound percentage is just 6.8 for his career. Three other players in league history with at least 10,000 minutes have a 25 percent usage with an assist percentage below 15 and a total rebound percentage under seven, and DeRozan’s true shooting percentage is below two of them:
When it comes to the term “chucker,” DeRozan comes to mind. However, in fairness, last year he was much better, both regarding efficiency and passing. Whether he maintains that or regresses to his earlier form will determine his floor.
Part of the reason DeRozan isn’t particularly efficient is his shot selection, which includes a large number of long twos and mid-range shots. While definitions of such terms vary, there’s not a lot of difference between a shot four feet from the rim and a foot inside the three-point line; it’s all right around 40 percent. Here’s a look at where DeRozan’s shots came from last year on top of his basic zone shot chart:
As you can see, a huge chunk of DeRozan’s shots come between the semi-circles. And while he’s not incredibly efficient from mid-range, he’s not bad at it, either.
Now, it’s true that these shots are inefficient, and that’s bad. However, teams that force the issue and ignore the mid-range entirely tend to see their efficiency go down. The reason for that is when you remove a huge part of the court from your arsenal, it’s that much less area that a defender has to worry about. As I’ve written before, teams who keep about 20-25 percent of their points from the mid-range tend to be the most efficient.
I like to think of the mid-range as ambergris, which is a fancy word for whale vomit. The stuff is extremely vile smelling, but the scent is also extremely powerful. The weird thing is, they used to use this to make perfume. Putting just a small amount in with all the pleasant fragrance intensifies the better smells. The better smells cover up the “stink” of the vomit. In essence, you need a little mid-range to make the efficient three-point shots and restricted area shots effective because defenses have to worry about the whole court.
That’s why a guy like DeRozan can have more value than his efficiency suggests. He can make everything easier for those around him. And that’s why his Offensive Real Plus-Minus was still a very solid 2.33 last season, according to ESPN.com.
DeRozan’s defense, on the other hand, is not very good. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was -2.47, which ranked 77th out of 92 shooting guards. Opponents shot 3.1 percentage points above their season average when he was guarding them. In fact, they shot better from every range, according to SportVU tracking data at NBA.com. He defended just 8.3 shots per game, which shows a lack of activity on defense. And the Raptors were almost five points per 100 possessions better defensively when he sat on the bench.
There’s no one stat that measures defense perfectly. But when all of them point in the same direction, it’s usually the right one.