The Bulls are on another win streak, and this one may be the most impressive one yet. Though it was a schedule against mid-level opponents (Hornets, TWolves, Thunder, Spurs) and three of the 4 wins are at home, this is a team that would be excused for losing them. Without their starting and backup point guard for all of them, and without Zach LaVine for some (and when he did play, LaVine was hobbled), it’s been DeMar DeRozan putting nearly everything on his back and keeping the Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
DeRozan started slowly on Monday against the Spurs, but turned it on to an extreme degree at the start of the 4th quarter as he inhabited the role he’s played all season as the Bulls closer.
NEW WORDS ALERT— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) February 15, 2022
No PnR duo has gotten busier than DeMar DeRozan & Nikola Vucevic this year. On their mutually beneficial partnership, and how they leveraged each other to bury the Spurs last night. https://t.co/yUE9ILycUx pic.twitter.com/7Fl8C0B1JF
You likely have seen this floating around, it’s incredible:
DeMar DeRozan last 6 games:— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 15, 2022
40 PTS | 67 FG%
38 PTS | 50 FG%
35 PTS | 64 FG%
36 PTS | 68 FG%
38 PTS | 59 FG%
45 PTS | 60 FG%
That’s the longest streak of 35-point games on 50% shooting in Bulls history. MJ never did it. pic.twitter.com/h5d4ovgS9B
That’s just Bulls history. It extends to the history of the league where the only other guy to hit these marks was Wilt friggin’ Chamberlain, who likely did it on all dunks. DeRozan is doing this mostly shooting from 14-17 feet away from the basket.
Over at his newsletter Only Down One, Harrison Hamm went in-depth on DeRozan’s skills with video accompaniment:
He primarily takes midrange shots that would be difficult for most other players. He is oblivious to contests, developing such a good release that no matter where he releases the shot, he keeps it on line. When he jumps, he leans back ever so slightly and juts out his elbows, releasing the ball upward to gain a precise angle...He’s never sprinting, or extending his strides too far. He moves in coordination with his dribble, always prepared to slow down for a hesitation move or a fadeaway.
And of course one of these skills, which is derisive to call a ‘trick’, is that pump fake:
Derrick Jones Jr on DeMar DeRozan’s pump fake:— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) February 13, 2022
"You can watch as much film as you want, but you gone jump. No matter what, you gone jump. You can do whatever you want… you either jump for the pump fake or he gone hit the mid-range. So you choose."
DeMar himself let out some of his trade secrets, which unfortunately for the rest of us is insane preparation and repetition:
“So many things click in my mind when I miss a shot,” he said. “Did I get enough lift? Was it short? Did it come off my hands wrong? Was it my gather, my rhythm? It’s just me understanding the next shot, what I need to do.”
There’s a lot more on DeRozan at a personal level in a GQ profile just released today.
Even before this recent supernova stretch, it was worth re-evaluating DeRozan’s place in the league and in his career. It’s unusual, but not impossible that someone can have their best season the 13th time around, and maybe it’s not going to ‘regress to the mean’ after all.
Players aren’t supposed to keep improving as they hit the wrong side of 30, but that’s exactly what has happened to DeRozan. He was criticized throughout his early career by much of the analytics crowd for being an empty-calorie scorer who negatively affected winning by most advanced metrics. This year, DeRozan has proved the nerds wrong by using their own tools against them.
The ‘winning’ statistic is perhaps best displayed here.
DeRozan was a huge part of the Bulls early surge and was receiving MVP consideration. In the middle couple months, a COVID absence plus a lot of merely-mortal performances had him perhaps settling into that 2nd-level star status that is an improvement but perhaps more expected. Now in this recent stretch DeRozan has re-elevated himself in the conversation. Extremely unlikely he’ll usurp the current frontrunners, but it’s kind of clunky to chant “MVP 4th Place Votes!” so we can all go ahead and serenade him as the best of the best, because he’s not that far off right now.