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Is DeMar DeRozan a Top Ten Player in the NBA?

In 2018, DeMar DeRozan was selected to the All-NBA 2nd Team, an honor generally reserved for that season’s best performers. A title DeRozan, at the time, appeared worthy of earning.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later, all that goodwill was erased when DeRozan’s precious Raptors were expelled by Lebron James, the team’s third straight defeat at the hands of The King and his royal band of subjects. This premature exit triggered a wave of revisionist history, casting a shadow over DeRozan’s entire legacy.

It didn’t help matters that DeRozan spent the next three seasons toiling away on the once-glorious and now-middling San Antonio Spurs while his former team secured its first-ever NBA title. In the public eye, DeRozan was no longer an All-NBA player. Heck, he was barely in the public eye at all while he toiled in relative obscurity in San Antonio; as a Spur, he didn’t make a single All-Star Game, after starting in the game during his last two seasons as a Raptor.

Fast forward to today and DeRozan is on the Chicago Bulls, where his presence on a competitive roster that caters to his strengths has the basketball world playing an entirely different tune about his standing as a player.

So now the question becomes, is DeMar DeRozan a top-10 player in the league this season?

The Case for DeMar DeRozan
1. He’s a monster scorer

Right now, DeRozan is averaging 27.7 points per 75 possessions. Which, as it stands, places him at tenth in the league (per Backpicks). His scoring volume is the highest it has been since 2016-17, and he’s accomplishing this feat in the most DeRozian manner possible: through a steady diet of isolations, post-ups, pick-and-rolls, and free throws.

To paint a picture of his dominance this season, here’s a look at how he compares to the field in those previously mentioned facets of the game:

Mat Issa

Even more impressive than his isolation efficiency is the fact that he’s sustaining it over a large volume of attempts—DeRozan puts up 1.14 point per possession in isolation, the most out of any player who has played at least 20 games and averages at least two isolation possessions per game,  (per NBA.com). In essence, his isolation possessions are as efficient as the Atlanta Hawks offense attack (the second-best offense in the league).

The key to his isolation game revolves around his systematic shift from long, inefficient two’s to short hyper-efficient ones. 

This season, DeRozan is shooting 30 percent of his shots from between 10-16 feet (the highest proportion of his career) and converting an astonishing 55% of those looks (also a career-high). Any coach will tell you that having a midrange “bucket-getter” you can turn to is an absolute necessity at the highest levels, and DeRozan has been that guy and then some for the Bulls this season.

2. He makes his teammates better

Want to hear a dirty little secret? The best players in the league aren’t necessarily the ones with the gaudiest stats or flashiest highlights; instead, they’re the ones that provide the most championship value by augmenting the talents of their co-stars. And despite the success of some DeRozan-led bench units, he has also done a great job of amplifying the team’s other best players. 

According to the good folks at PBP Stats, Ball, Lavine, and Vucevic all have better True Shooting percentages with their star power forward (yes, DeRozan is a forward now) on the floor than they do with him on the bench.

Vucevic’s synergy with DeRozan is especially impressive. When the two share the court, Vucevic’s True Shooting increases six percentage points, his Effective Field Goal increases by six points as well, and his three-point accuracy increases by a whopping ten percent (per PBP Stats).

Many of the duo’s hookups come off ball screens or dribble drives that allow DeRozan to bend the defense and swing it to his lumbering big man for open looks.

Beyond just feeding Vucevic a steady diet of good shots, DeRozan enjoys a highly symbiotic relationship with the rest of the Bulls’ roster. Regardless of how Vucevic’s high percentage looks are being fabricated, he and the rest of his teammates enjoy a highly symbiotic relationship with their brand new forward. That impact on teammates, coupled with his bonkers scoring outputs, should be enough to make him a top-10 player this season, right….

The Case Against DeRozan
1. His defense still ain’t it

The Bulls are a good defensive team, not because of DeRozan, but in spite of him. I made a point earlier that Chicago’s roster caters to his strengths, and this is definitely the case on defense. When their roster is fully healthy, DeRozan is almost always flanked by athletic perimeter defenders who can shore up the point-of-attack on his behalf because when DeRozan is left to his own devices, the results aren’t all that pretty.

Many non-big men are able to compensate for their shortcomings on the perimeter by creating plays by forcing turnovers (see: Ball, LaMelo). Still, this alternative assignment has not been much of an option for DeRozan this season as he currently ranks in the 29th percentile in steal percentage for his position (per Cleaning the Glass). From watching him, it appears that a big reason for his invisibility in the passing lanes is rooted in his technique. Whereas the most disruptive defenders constantly have their arms high and wide, DeRozan’s hands are usually near his waist on most possessions, which leaves room for pocket passes like this one to slither right by him:

Oh, and remember how he almost won the dunk contest awhile back? Yeah, he doesn’t really get vertical anymore, particularly on defense.

Despite the fact that he can sometimes impose his strength on that end of the floor (he can temporarily bang with bigs and keep slower guys in front of him), even the most optimistic evaluation of his performance won’t be particularly glowing. At best, he’s the fourth best defender in Chicago’s preferred closing lineup,, which hurts his chances in a top-10 argument.

2. Is he even actually a top 10 offensive player?

So, if he’s not providing much positive contribution with his defense, it would stand to reason that he’d need to be a top-10 offensive player to be a top-10 player overall this season. The issue there is he might not be a top-10 offensive player.

According to some of the most widely cited impact metrics, DeRozan sits outside of the top 10 on offense (Note: this only includes players who have played over 500 minutes this season):

Mat Issa

Now, you don’t need me to tell you that one-number metrics aren’t the end-all be-all in player evaluation, but when you dig deeper into some playmaking numbers, you start to see why he might rank below some other players in these stats.

Out of the thirteen best volume scorers in the league, DeRozan ranks dead last in open shots created per 100 possessions (per Backpicks). While DeRozan certainly has tremendous gravity as a scorer and frequently draws two defenders to the ball, his instincts as a scorer suppress his creation numbers; he naturally tends to search for an open lane rather than an open man.

In the next sequence of clips, look at the ball, but also pay attention to the passes available to him that he doesn’t make:

Nevertheless, he’s still one of the better playmakers in our game. But in a league as talented as the one that exists today, a few missed passes throughout the course of a game could be just enough to prevent DeRozan from being one of the NBA’s mega-elite offensive engines, and ultimately, out of the top 10 players overall.

Conclusion

So: is DeRozan a top-10 player in the league this season?

Who can say! This answer is a kind of a cop-out, but, as of right now, I’m not entirely sure. My more long-winded answer is that he’s not having a better season than Curry, Durant, Antetokounmpo, James, Jokic, or Embiid, so that takes six spots right there. You could also argue that guys like Butler, Harden, Young, Mitchell, Doncic, Lillard, and even his own teammate, Zach Lavine, have had better seasons thus far than DeMar DeRozan. Honestly, though, that isn’t the point. The point is he’s in the mix. And if you ask me, that’s one heck of a redemption.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 15th-21st

While we’re still at a relatively young point of this current NBA season, just about 20 percent of the season has elapsed and it’s becoming increasingly clear what fate holds for each team. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are the league’s best duo

To some, this first takeaway may be absurd, but it’s not if you’ve watched LaVine and DeRozan play consistently. Even in a league where dynamic duos are as common as foul calls and slam dunks, there hasn’t been a better and more impactful duo than the Bulls’ pair of likely 2022 All-Star selections.

Between the two leading the league in fourth-quarter points (DeRozan has 126 and LaVine has 111) and being the fastest duo in 59 years to produce ten games with 25+ points apiece, DeRozan and LaVine have lifted the Bulls’ ceiling from fringe-playoff team to a viable title contender.

The Bucks are beginning to bounce back

Even though the reigning world champion’s 6-8 start had a few people questioning their chances of repeating, the Bucks have righted the ship after winning three consecutive games. Giannis Antetokounmpo is not only going beast mode as he’s averaging 33 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists per game during the Bucks’ winning streak but so is the rest of their roster as key players recover from injuries.

With the return of fellow All-Star Kris Middleton (COVID-19) and Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday regaining their productive form, the Bucks have the opportunity to rack up wins during a soft portion of their schedule; until December 8th, the Bucks only face four teams with a winning record (Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, and Miami), and two of them are battling injuries as we speak (Cleveland and Denver).

Rudy Gay is going to fit in nicely in Utah

Sure, the 11-5 Utah Jazz already have a plethora of talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive additional help. While receiving reliable and all-around production from their regular cast of contributors, the Western Conference competitor received a sizable bump in scoring and size when veteran forward Rudy Gay made his season debut on Saturday night.

The former San Antonio Spur delivered 20 points in his first game as a Jazz and has added another dimension to the team’s offense. At 6-foot-8, Gay is comfortable playing on the perimeter and is able to create his own shot from any area of the court because of his ability to shoot over defenders. This development is massive for a Jazz team that enjoys having as many shot-creators as possible, especially in the postseason.

The Lakers can’t be any worse than what they just were

The last three weeks have certainly been a roller-coaster in La-La land, but you know what? Even at 9-9, the Los Angeles Lakers are pretty much at their nadir as a team, and, for them, that’s a good thing. Even while enduring a recent Lebron-less three-game losing streak and randomly getting blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers showed just enough promise of what they could become soon.

And while it’s easy to look at Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as the primary reasons for such optimism, the most promising development has been the improvement of third-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker. Through his first five games, Horton-Tucker has offered the Lakers a needed jolt of energy and athleticism; head coach Frank Vogel has to keep him involved no matter what.

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Sports Strength

Why This Chicago Bulls Roster Is Their Best in Years

Some arenas occupy a special spot in hoops lore and the United Center—the house that Michael Jordan built—is no exception. Unfortunately, despite their vaunted court, the Chicago Bulls haven’t managed to attain that same success since Jordan retired in 1998. Until… now?

This season feels like a whole new ballgame for Bulls fans. With a completely revamped roster, new coaching and a front office that makes actual well thought-out decisions, there’s a chance that this year, Bulls fans will be watching their team play important games in May.

Over the summer, Arturas Karnišovas and the rest of the Bulls’ recently installed front office conducted a full make-over of Chicago’s roster; only two players (Zach Lavine and Coby White) remain on the roster from the despairing GarPax days. In their first major move of the off-season, the Bulls addressed their long standing need for a pure point guard by trading for Lonzo Ball. Although Ball lacks the ball-handling fluidity to be a permanent lead guard, he’s an intelligent and willing passer who will spring fast break opportunities for explosive wings like Lavine, Derrick Jones Jr. and Alex Caruso. 

If acquiring Ball helps juice their transition attack, sign-and-trading for DeMar DeRozan was done with an eye on their half-court offense. Although DeRozan ostensibly overlaps with Lavine in both form and function, DeRozan was primarily used as a power forward last year in San Antonio. As such, DeRozan’s abilities as both a scorer and facilitator poses a matchup nightmare for the opposing power forwards who will be tasked with guarding him. 

Similarly, Nikola Vucevic, their marquee addition at last year’s trade deadline, offers a surfeit of skill at the center position. Besides Nikola Jokic, no other big man in the NBA has the same level of fluency with the ball as Vucevic, who’s able to score at all three levels. 

With most of Chicago’s recent moves focused on bolstering their offense, the Bulls are relying on sophomore forward Patrick Williams to anchor their defense. In many ways, Williams is the archetypal defensive stud in 2021. Although Williams has neither the size to be a true rim protector nor the spindliness to navigate screens on the perimeter against guards, he’s tremendously versatile and instinctive. Most of all, he’s an event-creator off the ball, wreaking havoc by lurking in passing lanes for steals or sliding over for blocks from the weakside. Playing alongside mediocre defenders like Lavine, DeRozan and Vucevic, Williams will be tasked with plugging leaks whenever and wherever they arise. 

What To Expect 

Up-tempo offense and smart defensive plays/rotations will be the Bulls’ calling card. Last season, the Bulls’ defense was threadbare at best, with almost no movement or rotations. Still, in their four preseason games, the Bulls now look like a revamped team with an aggressive new defensive scheme: with no free lanes given, every enemy drive to the basket yielded attacks on the ball. 

Offensively, Chicago seems equipped to unload from well beyond the arc; with guys like Lavine and Vucevic shooting above 40 percent from deep, this is a team that has some serious three-point shooting artillery. Equally exciting is how many former dunk champions are on the team: Demar Derozan, Derrick Jones Jr., Zach Lavine. And those high-flying dunks will look even better coming off alley-oop assists from Ball and Caruso.

Ceiling And Floor For This Team 

Ceiling: Three-seed in the East. The Bulls have what it takes to dominate in the East, although they probably can’t quite hang with Brooklyn or Milwaukee yet. Nonetheless, a three-seed would be a sizable win for the Bulls, who haven’t seen the playoffs in nearly five years.

Floor: Play-in tournament. Missing the playoffs will be a failure for this team; in fact, even finishing eighth would be disappointing. 

Overall, this team has untapped potential, particularly as Zach Lavine comes into his own. Don’t be surprised if, all season, the buzz is about the madhouse on Madison.

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Sports Strength

The 10 Best Win Total Bets For The 2021-2022 NBA Season

There’s no better time of year for sports degenerates than October. MLB playoffs are in full swing, contenders are separating from the pretenders in the NFL, the NHL season is beginning and, most important, basketball is back. After a flurry of off-season moves, the NBA hierarchy has been restructured. Here are five teams that will exceed expectations—and five teams that will bust.

Busts 

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Key additions: Andre Drummond, Georges Niang 

Key losses: Ben Simmons (???), George Hill

Win Totals Over/Under: 50.5

No team in the NBA had a more painful off-season than the 76ers. In a protracted saga that felt like watching a toddler argue with their parents, Ben Simmons completely ghosted the franchise before returning this week without telling anybody. With the status of their all-star guard in flux, the Sixers may struggle to start the year. This team is still good enough to make the playoffs, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to reach the same level that made them the East’s top seed last year. Unless—until?—a trade suitor comes for Ben Simmons, it will be a long season in Philadelphia.

Dallas Mavericks: 

Key additions: Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown 

Key losses: Jason Richardson 

Win Totals Over/Under: 48.5

Boasting a borderline MVP candidate in Luka Doncic, the expectations for the Mavericks get higher and higher every off-season. The problem with the Mavericks’ off-season moves is that they stayed too complacent. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis’s relationship seems to be degenerating by the day. Worse, Dallas hired Jason Kidd as head coach. Granted, Kidd played a major role in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s development, but his coaching style has been described as “psychological warfare” and his ultra-aggressive defensive scheme in Milwaukee has fallen out of style. In a deep Western Conference, the Mavs could struggle to avoid the play-in tournament.

Phoenix Suns: 

Key additions: JaVale McGee, Elfrid Payton, Chandler Hutchinson 

Key losses: Torrey Craig, Jevon Carter, Langston Galloway 

Win Totals Over/Under: 51.5

The Suns’ NBA Finals run last postseason was electric—despite the fortunate fact that they didn’t play one fully healthy Western Conference team. In the Finals, though, their fatal smallness was exposed by a huge and physical Milwaukee Bucks team. Although the Suns bulked up their frontcourt by adding Javale McGee, their 51.5 over/under win total is overly ambitious, now that the rest of West have had time to heal.

Charlotte Hornets:

Key additions: Kelly Oubre Jr, Ish Smith, Mason Plumlee, James Bouknight 

Key losses: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, Cody Zeller, Caleb Martin, Grant Riller 

Win Totals Over/Under: 38.5

The Hornets made a splash last season by almost making the playoffs but ultimately lost in a play-in game. LaMelo Ball has taken the league by storm and the rest of the team’s young core will continue to improve alongside him; the problem is that the East has, as a whole, significantly improved, too. As such, the Hornets should occupy a position similar to last year and get into the play-in tournament.

New Orleans Pelicans: 

Key additions: Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte Graham 

Key losses: Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams 

Win Totals Over/Under: 39.5

The Pelicans have struggled mightily since the departure of Anthony Davis. Losing key rotational guards in Bledsoe and Ball, the Pelicans will be hard-pressed to run the fast break as effectively as they have in the past. New Orleans is doing everything it can to keep Zion with them, but it feels like they’re making all the wrong moves. If another disappointing season is in store, expect Zion to be on the move in a short time. 

Boom

Chicago Bulls: 

Key additions: Demar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley, Troy Brown Jr. 

Key losses: Thadeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Lauri Markkanen, Daniel Theis, Garrett Temple 

Win Totals Over/Under: 42.5

The Chicago Bulls have completely revamped their roster. Since taking over in 2020, Arturas Karnisovas has almost completely erased the mistakes of a Gar/Pax front office. This team is stacked with incredible wing defenders, great shooters and some of the highest flyers in the 

league. At their best, this Bulls team could contend for home-court advantage in the playoffs. The future is bright in Chicago.

Los Angeles Clippers: 

Key additions: Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Harry Giles 

Key losses: Patrick Beverly, Rajon Rondo 

Win Totals Over/Under: 45.5

The Clippers will be without their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard and many people have counted them out as a result. Still, the Clippers were able to reach the Western Conference Finals without Kawhi, behind a rejiggered five-out offense that should also help them generate regular season wins. LA has great wings and continuity, which will enable them to maintain their contender-status.

Toronto Raptors: 

Key additions: Goran Dragic, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa 

Key losses: Kyle Lowry 

Win Totals Over/Under: 35.5

At first glance, the Toronto Raptors would seem to be entering the first year of an extended rebuild. Despite trading franchise legend Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are in a good position to return to the playoffs after last year’s listless, mediocre campaign in Tampa. This team is poised to be a top 10 defense in the league, a common recipe for regular season success. Hopefully Pascal Siakam will bounce back from a disappointing season and the Raptors can make some noise this season. 

Boston Celtics: 

Key additions: Dennis Schroder, Enes Kanter, Josh Richardson, Al Horford

Key losses: Kemba Walker, Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, Tacko Fall 

Win Totals Over/Under: 46.5

The conversation in the East is centered around the Bucks and the Nets, and that’s about it. As a result, a promising Celtics team has been lost in the shuffle. Jayson Tatum has shown constant improvement, and Jaylen Brown is really coming into his own as a scorer. With a chip on its shoulder after last year’s disappointing season, Boston has an intriguing combination of talent and motivation. Moreover, with Al Horford back in the fold, the team’s chemistry should be A1 from day one.

Atlanta Hawks: 

Key additions: Delon Wright, Gorgui Deng, Jalen Johnson 

Key losses: Kris Dunn, Tony Snell 

Win Totals Over/Under: 46.5

Despite a slow start to the season, the Hawks surged late in the year to make the Eastern Conference Finals, showing they can handle the pressure in the biggest moments, even in enemy territory. Buoyed by last year’s run, they’re poised, once again, to win the Southeastern Division. If Trae Young can insert himself in the MVP conversation, Atlanta will finish even higher.