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LeBron James Returns To The Drew League and Dominates

For the first time in 11 years, LeBron James stepped on the floor of the Drew League and entertained a sold-out gym in Los Angeles, CA, on Saturday. Having last played in LA’s famous Pro-Am league during the summer of 2011, watching the four-time NBA MVP and champion play during this time of the year was a rare sight. But all it took was an invite from Chicago Bulls All-Star DeMar DeRozan to change that.

DeRozan is beyond a regular in the Drew League; he’s essentially a staple, a walking tradition you expect but appreciate whenever you watch him in that environment. And by having his own team, the MMV Cheaters, the proud Compton, CA native is free to create competitive advantages and unforgettable moments like the one on Saturday.

The Drew League faithful was more than welcoming to James as he walked on the court to a loud ovation. Rocking his signature No. 6 and a pink colorway of his upcoming LeBron 20, the NBA’s second-highest all-time scorer was locked in from the start as he eventually dropped 42 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 104-102 victory.

Whether before or during James’s performance, fans’ reactions to what occurred didn’t disappoint.

And it was easy to spot the look of amazement (or fear) players had guarding LeBron

Which players would you love to see play at Drew League, Dyckman Park, and other famous Pro-Am leagues across the country?

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Sports Strength

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 December 27th-January 2nd

The last week of 2021 gave NBA teams a unique opportunity to finish strong before aiming for a strong start in the New Year of 2022. As we approach the halfway point of this regular season in a matter of weeks, the action will intensify amongst teams determined to build their momentum further or drastically improve their situation. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

DeMar DeRozan should be on your MVP ballot

Even with fans and media members quick to name the usual candidates for this year’s MVP award (I.E., Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, to name a couple), their dialogue lacks something if DeRozan isn’t mentioned. The multi-time All-Star has not only led the Chicago Bulls to the first seed in the Eastern Conference, but he’s easily the NBA’s most clutch player right now.

During the same week, DeRozan became the first player in league history to make game-winners on consecutive days; he averaged 28 points, six assists, and four rebounds per game during the Bulls’ ongoing seven-game winning streak.

Ja Morant’s leap into superstardom is happening

While some may have expected this to happen, it doesn’t make it less exciting than it is. In Morant’s third NBA season, he is taking that leap into superstardom which consists of a career-best production, team success, and signature moments that could make him a dark-horse MVP candidate this season.

To conclude 2021, we watched the former second overall pick outduel LeBron James two days after making a game-winning shot against the 28-8 Phoenix Suns on the road.

To say Jalen Smith has potential is an understatement

Even though the Phoenix Suns found a successful big man in Deandre Ayton (Selected first in the 2018 Draft), it was a rare bit of success for a team who has failed multiple times when looking for high-quality big men. But that could change again with the pending emergence of Jalen Smith.

The second-year power forward, who is thriving as a center at the moment, gives the Suns another very athletic and flexible big man to play regardless of Ayton’s availability. Over his past four games, Smith has averaged 16 points and ten rebounds per game while playing less than 30 minutes each game.

Kevin Love is turning back the hands of time

After months of hearing about a potential breakup with the Cleveland Cavaliers and having a slow start to this season, Love is back to playing at the level one would expect from a multi-time All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist. Throughout December, Love averaged 17 points and over seven rebounds per game, but he’s entering the new year amid his best stretch in a long time.

Over his last five games, Love averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per game, including his 35-point and 11 rebounds performance against the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve. Love’s reemergence is a welcomed sight for a Cavs team that needs all contributions as they compete for a playoff berth.

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Ranking The Top Five NBA MVP Candidates

With every team having played at least 20 games, the first quarter of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season is over. As the second stage of the season commences, it’s also the beginning of every race that involves awards and honors, most noticeably MVP. And while it’s not a surprise, there’s a large group of early-season MVP candidates, even if only a select few genuinely compete for the award throughout the season.

Down below is our ranking of the top five NBA MVP candidates right now.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Curry is aging like fine wine. At 33-years-old, the former two-time MVP’s scoring average of 27.8 points per game places him amongst fine company—Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant are the only players in NBA history to average more points at Curry’s age. Not to mention, Curry is the biggest reason why his Golden State Warriors are off to an 18-3 start, tied for the best record in the league.

2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

The man who’s also known as “Easy Money Sniper,” is not only playing arguably the most efficient ball of his career ever, but he’s the heart and soul of a Nets team that’s reigns first in the Eastern Conference. And remember, Durant is doing this without star point guard Kyrie Irving and former MVP James Harden being inconsistent every night.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

The reigning NBA Finals MVP has tapped into another level of play as his production (27 PPG, 11 RPG, and 6 APG) is powering the Bucks to an eight-game winning streak, the second-longest across the league. And for those who value a player’s performance in the clutch, Antetokounmpo made the game-winning layup to defeat the Charlotte Hornets in a thrilling 127-125 victory on Wednesday night.

4. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Ever since his arrival in the desert over a year ago, CP3’s greatest contribution to the Suns has been his play during crunch time. Fewer players, let alone guards, impact the game in every way possible like this future Hall of Famer. Plus, when your team is riding the league’s longest winning streak (17 games) and your latest win is against the previously 18-2 Warriors? Your name is rightfully in the MVP conversation.

5. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

Even though most of the attention has shifted towards the Warriors, Suns, Nets, and Bucks, the noise coming out of Chicago has remained loud, and it’s because of DeRozan. Besides averaging his second-career-best point per game (25), the former long-time Raptor’s production in the clutch and quickly-established chemistry with his star teammate Zach LaVine are why the Bulls have a 14-8 record right now.

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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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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.