The human mind is sometimes corrupted with the idea that drastic change is the only positive way forward. Any idea that could potentially shake up an atmosphere has its initial cynics, but a society hellbent on the fixation of behavior will adapt its ideals over time. For the average person, this change can be seen everyday with technology, politics, and even the way you shop at the grocery store. As for sports, these changes normally feel subtle over time, that is, if you’re paying attention.
The NFL had a subtle, yet easily traceable shift to pass-heavy offenses in the modern era. Even a game as old as baseball has changed drastically in its approach to offense and pitching. While the word “blame” is harsh in this scenario, it’s hard not to point at the initial outliers as a reason for this shift. The NFL had the explosive passing attack of Dan Marino, and the changing of defensive penalties to show them the beauty and popularity of the passing game. The MLB had its love-hate relationship with the steroid era, as talents such as Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa among others defined players who littered upper-decks with juiced homers. With basketball, the NBA had an easy answer to their question: Wardell Stephen Curry.
However, with every Zig, the natural human reaction is to Zag. We witnessed it with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, opting on a big-heavy lineup for their core of players. While success was limited due to injury and play style, the Philadelphia 76ers tried something similarly a few seasons back with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson. If the NBA was going small, why not go massive? Why not change how we play, and take advantage of the status quo?
For some, however, changing with the times was the correct career move. Big men have shot more three-point shots than ever before, and a long list of non three-point shooting players have fallen out of the league. The media has hounded at players unwilling to adapt. With the analytic movement sweeping the league, it was easy to point at players who couldn’t adapt as “unskilled”.
What if, however, there was a player, who despite the criticism, stuck with it for longer than many thought possible?
In his own manner, Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan has become that storybook treat we’ve all looked for this season. In an almost renaissance fashion, DeRozan and the Bulls have demolished the competition before them. The Bulls are scoring 14.3% of their points from the midrange; the top rank in the NBA this year. For three-pointers, the team is scoring just 31.1% of their points from deep. That mark is enough for 26th in the league and is far from normal in the modern NBA. Still, the Bulls are the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
For DeRozan, this season from the outside looks like a resurgence. For three seasons, the highly-skilled guard felt stuck in the San Antonio mud. He didn’t appear to be good enough to compete for the playoffs, yet was too talented to land a decent draft asset without good fortune.
While critics harped on DeRozan, it seemed out of his control in a sense. After being moved from Toronto, the four-time All-Star had an increased playmaking role on a rebuilding San Antonio roster. His ability to score at will had to take a backseat. Still, DeRozan finished top in the league in mid-range shots attempted per game. He knew that no matter how many people criticized him, he had a skill that would soon come around again.
After a disappointing end to his San Antonio career, many were ready to write DeRozan off for good.
With teams more focused than ever at guarding the three-point shot, and a emphasis on increased rim protection with it, DeRozan had opportunities to shoot from his favorite mid-range spot however he pleased. Teams were conditioned to think that a deep two-point shot was “inefficient”, so a player like DeRozan was given ample opportunity to cash in.
DeRozan is shooting 47.2% on mid-range shots this season, hitting a league-high 4.2 shots on an absurd 8.9 attempts per game. The last player to have a season with this many attempts was ironically enough 2016-17 DeMar DeRozan at 10.1 per game.
It would be silly to call what he is doing this year as “abnormal”. Sure, for most NBA players he has an outlandish stat above the rest. However, for DeRozan, the mid-range shot is an old friend that he hasn’t let go of yet. Given his personality, it’s fitting that DeRozan has a basketball style that lends itself towards a more consistent and quiet skill set. The 32-year old veteran has the patience, willpower, and drive to stick with his best ability, no matter the change in culture. With a First Team All-NBA selection looking like more of a possibility, DeRozan has the second half of the season to prove that his “washed” status from the last season was a foolish notion.
We’re always so used to change being a good thing, or that it means that everyone has to follow in the same path. When we see a path to success, or an easy route, the next logical step in human behavior is to follow the trend. With the Golden State Warriors winning the championship off the back of a lethal pair of three-point shooters just a few years ago, it was easy for teams to look in that direction for success. In a copycat kind of league, it was obvious to predict the drastic shift in shot consciousness over the last five seasons. While Steph Curry loudly electrified the NBA from deep, changing how we see the game played today, mid-range marksman quietly sat back and awaited their turn. Now, DeMar DeRozan has the city of Chicago roaring behind his back.