By Ryan McNeill
Like any young player, DeMar DeRozan has had his share of learning curves in the NBA.
This season he got off to a rough start as the glare from being one of the faces of the franchise caused him to only average 8.8 field goal attempts and a meager 11.9 points per game during the month of November. Not the kind of numbers you want from a starting ”shooting” guard in the NBA who was averaging 31.3 minutes per game.
However, something clicked for DeRozan in December and he upped his field goal attempts to 12.2 per game. Throw in a career-high 37 points against Houston and the fact he’s averaged 22.2 points per game over the six games Andrea Bargnani sat out with an injury and it’s clear he started to find a groove.
According to a recent article by Doug Smith, the talented young guard finally saw the light and realized that by being aggressive and attacking the rim it would help give his team a boost while helping to raise his scoring average.
“Sometimes if I feel we’re not getting to the free throw line enough, I take it upon myself to be aggressive, try to get the team going, try to get the opponents in the penalty so we can all shoot free throws,” DeRozan admitted. “I think little things like that help.”
That kind of play was great while it lasted. The problem is this aggressive style of play came with Bargnani out of action due to an injury and in the three games since he returned to the lineup DeRozan is back to deferring to Bargnani. Over the past three games leading into Sunday afternoon’s game against Sacramento, DeRozan’s shooting 47% from the field while his scoring averaging dipped to 17.0 points per game.
Those are modest dips that can be expected as the two learn to share the ball on offense but what is troublesome is the fact DeRozan’s stopped getting to the free throw line. During the six game stretch where Bargnani was out of action he was attacking the rim and averaged eight free throws per game but he’s only attempted a combined nine free throws over the past three games prior to the game against Sacramento. Things didn’t get much better against the Kings as he only attempted three free throws.
Granted, DeRozan had an average night against Chicago where he scored 18 points, but he only earned four free throws and it was clear there will be a bit of a learning curve as he re-adjusts to playing alongside Bargnani, who had a team-high 23 points.
Against Boston he erupted for 20 points on 15 field goal attempts, but I’m not sold that he’ll do that in games where he and Bargnani see a lot of their minutes together on the court. The game against Boston was a blowout which meant even though DeRozan player 40 minutes, a significant chunk of those minutes came with Bargnani on the bench.
The perfect contrast is shown in the 25 field goals and eight free throws DeRozan attempted against Boston last weekend and the regression to 15 field goals and four free throws in one additional minute this Friday.
The reality is there is still enough room for DeRozan to attack the rim and slash through the paint like he did against Houston and Boston without effecting the spacing Bargnani needs.
“He’s got to keep being aggressive going to the basket,” Triano told HOOPSADDICT.com this afternoon.
Triano was quick to admit the sample size was small and that he felt DeRozan was still being aggressive with Bargnani back on the court.
“I don’t think he’s been any less aggressive, whether he has less free throws or not, I think it is just a small sample of a statistic,” Triano said. “I thought he got hit a couple of times when he drove to the basket in other games but he didn’t get rewarded by going to the free throw line. I think overall he has become more aggressive scoring more points over the last little bit.”
That statement by Triano was backed up by DeRozan who was aggressive on offense as he went 13-20 from the field while scoring an impressive 28 points.
After the game Sacramento Kings head coach Paul Westphal glowed about the aggressive play from DeRozan.
“Our weakside (defender) is supposed to rotate over quickly but he was too quick for the players that we had (on the court) and he took advantage of it,” Westphal admitted to the media. “He got to the rim and you need to give him credit for that. If you get a straight line drive to the bucket it’s tough for your defense to rotate over there. You need to at least take one or two dribbles and change direction sometimes.”
As great as those 28 points were, the current flaw in his game, free throws, was evident again this afternoon as he only attempted three free throws. The next phase is for DeRozan to realize the difference between being aggressive and forcing things. There was one play in particular this afternoon where he went up in triple-coverage only to get his shot swatted away. Even if there is contact there’s no way a referee is going to call a foul on that play.
He also needs to realize that when he’s going full steam at the rim he’ll be called for a charge if a defender slides over. There’s a fine line between attacking the rim and being reckless that DeRozan still has to master.
It’ll be up to DeRozan to figure it out how to be consistent with aggressively attacking the rim and drawing fouls, but once he does he appears to be poised to become the elite guard the front office and coaching staff envision him becoming.