Could DeMar DeRozan be the 2016-2017 NBA Scoring Champion?
Yes, it has only been three games into the 2016-2017 NBA season. Yes, it is entirely too early to predict any sort of year-end awards in November. However, based on the first three games of the season, if you were to ask whether DeMar DeRozan could contend for the scoring title, the answer is undoubtedly: yes.
DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors ended their 2015-2016 playoff run after a hard-fought six game series against the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Raptors had their sights set on the NBA Finals, which would have been the franchise’s first finals appearance, there is much to unpack and look forward to in terms of the team’s direction.
Offseason expectations and motivation
During the off-season, the Raptors made what many would deem their most significant free agent signing in franchise history; retaining home-grown star DeMar DeRozan to a sizable contract extension. DeRozan’s place on the team has often been a polarizing discussion amongst fans. Many fans have argued that DeRozan has maxed out his potential, with significant holes in his defensive and three-point game. DeRozan was also ranked #46 in Sports Illustrated controversial comprehensive ranking of the NBA’s top 100 players. A list that was called into question by players such as DeRozan and Boston’s Isiah Thomas.
Needless to say, entering the season with a hefty five-year $139 million extension, DeRozan will have to prove his worth all over again.
A hot, but efficient beginning
Entering into the 2016-2017 NBA season, DeRozan kicked off their season opener against Detroit with a 40 point scoring outburst. DeRozan would follow those two performances with 32 points against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and 33 points against the Denver Nuggets. DeRozan became the first player to have three-consecutive thirty-point games without a made three point since Kobe Bryant did it with the Lakers in 2005.
If you’re reading this and you find yourself thinking “okay, it has still only been three games”, you’re 100% correct. Admittedly, it is a small sample size when trying to make the case for whether or not DeRozan could be this year’s scoring champion. The amount of games or even the competition is not what is to be looked at but rather the manner in which DeRozan has elevated his game so far this season.
Three-point shooting has never been DeMar DeRozan’s strong suit. At the shooting guard position, many players such as Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Klay Thompson have made long range shooting seem like a prerequisite for the NBA’s elite two-guards. While marginally improving his three-point percentage, improving to 33% last year from 28% the year prior, DeRozan has had to look elsewhere to get his points.
DeRozan coming into his own identity
In a league that heavily favours shooters and shooting-oriented offenses, DeRozan worked on polishing his already phenomenal mid-range shooting touch but with also a much bigger emphasis on slashing to the rim and getting to the free-throw line. Last season, DeRozan averaged a career high 8.4 FTA per game; coming in third to DeMarcus Cousins (10.2) and James Harden (10.2). These adjustments have seen DeRozan gravitate more towards the rim and less toward the three-point line.
So far this season, DeRozan is looking to pick up right where he left off last year. Through the first three games, DeRozan is averaging close to 8 FTA per game while converting those shots at an impressive 91% from the free throw line. Even if it means DeRozan never develops a stronger long-range shooting touch, getting to the rim and challenging the defense will always yield positive results such as easy points at the line and getting the opposing players in foul trouble.
Another major improvement that has been seen so far has been the efficiency in DeRozan’s overall shooting. DeRozan has been shooting at an impressive 54% field goal percentage while attempting 26 shots per game. In the past and even during this early season, DeRozan has come under scrutiny for the number of shots taken per game. This is where it could be argued that DeRozan is expected to be more than what he is and that’s a scorer, and an elite one as well.
So what does DeMar DeRozan have in common with other elite scorers that took many shots in games?
In an article with The Players Tribune, NBA legend Paul Pierce described Kobe Bryant as being one of the hardest players to guard because Bryant would breakdown defenders throughout the game by shooting many shots and causing them to tire, allowing Bryant to get whatever he wanted on the offensive end. While Kobe Bryant and DeMar DeRozan are not the same player, they are bound together by the commonality that they are both gifted scorers. Bryant needed to get those shots off because that is what he did best and provided the team with the best chances to win. The same can be said for DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors, especially with the recent struggles of fellow all-star Kyle Lowry.
In closing, the developments seen so far in DeMar DeRozan’s game have definitely caught the attention of the NBA world. With the pressure of a new contract, media criticism, and the desire to return to the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t be surprised if you see DeRozan competing with the likes of James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook in the race for the 2016-2017 NBA Scoring Champion