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Is DeMar DeRozan merely slumping or is this the beginning of a career decline?

has not been the same since hip injury

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls saved their season, according to Darnell Mayberry of the Athletic, over this nice schedule break where they got 2 wins while the other crappy East play-in teams had to play more games which gave them opportunity to lose.

So naturally there is a trend of positive coverage, and the easy to see point is Zach LaVine being on a heater.

But of course I will look at things negatively: LaVine’s improved play has kind of masked DeMar DeRozan’s slump.

DeRozan is the unquestioned team’s best player and should be dominating the ball when he’s on the court. At least that was unquestioned until lately, and not because LaVine suddenly improved his faults, but because DeMar just isn’t as potent.

We can look for a point in the season that is not arbitrary like a new month, but potentially causal: DeRozan injuring his hip.

“It probably happened 10 games before the Boston game,” DeRozan said, referencing a Jan. 9 matchup in which he strained his right quadriceps and missed the next three games. “I thought it was like a knee contusion. It’s a weird feeling. I’ve never felt anything like this. When I’m sitting doing nothing, I don’t feel anything. It’s just when I do anything to work that muscle in the leg, it’s a lot of discomfort. So just trying to figure that out and get that situated as best I can.”

DeRozan missed some games - something that is rare in and of itself - but only a few. But availability is one thing, we can track his effectiveness in games he’s played before and after that January 9th injury.

Since the injury, DeRozan has been not quite as efficient and much less productive. Not only is he producing fewer points, it looks like he is trying harder to get them: more 3s, more assisted makes, fewer trips to the line and fewer shots overall.

DeRozan certainly exudes supreme confidence whenever his age (33) is mentioned. That his playing style coupled with determination defies age. And he did have a 2nd consecutive All-Star appearance as a Bull with his play this year. But as we know, age isn’t just going to snatch your ability all at once. Injuries may not be relatively severe but they will happen more frequently and take more time to recover, whether that’s actually playing or being at 100% effectiveness when you are.

This is a huge question for the Bulls team makeup heading into the offseason. It’s reductive to assume that because DeMar has taken a step back that will just mean opportunity for LaVine to take over. LaVine is better suited as a complementary scorer, an off-ball terror who can score at all three levels. We’ve seen what happens to the team’s offense when he’s asked to be the lead playmaker, in a much larger sample than this recent hot streak.

No, for a DeRozan-helmed roster to work, the Bulls need DeRozan himself to be at his peak. He cannot be the 2nd fiddle in an above-average offense, a diminished DeRozan is better suited at a lower role, like a high-usage 6th man.

Unclear if the Bulls think this way or not. If they were banking on DeRozan staying at his relative peak through his age-34 season (and that’s why they didn’t trade him at the deadline), they should be very worried that this slump is going to happen more, not less.