There's perhaps no All-Star in the league that's re-invented himself more over the last two seasons than DeMar DeRozan.
In his final season with the Raptors in 2017-18 and coming off the heels of yet another disappointing postseason exit, DeRozan expanded his game to beyond the three-point line in an attempt to open up the offence. For an established scorer in his ninth season to re-think his approach on that end was nothing short of a major adjustment.
One year later in San Antonio, DeRozan has reversed course.
Not only is he no longer comfortably integrating the long ball into his game, he's almost completely eschewed the 3-ball entirely.
With 4:09 left in the fourth quarter on December 27 against the Nuggets, DeRozan hit a 3-pointer to put the Spurs up 15. Since then each of his last 302 made shors have come from inside the 3-point line.
Here's his shot chart since that game. Noticeably absent? Green circle beyond the arc.
Prior to that game against Denver, DeRozan was just 6-37 from beyond the arc with his 3-point field goal percentage of 16% ranking 271st out of 272 players with over 30 attempts.
Conventional wisdom says that to try and succeed as a scorer in 2019 without a reliable 3-point shot is a fool's errand. That the one player who ranked behind DeRozan during that early stretch is MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo pours water on that train of thought or at the very least proves that there are exceptions.
The only player talked about more than the Greek Freak when it comes to a lack of a reliable outside shot is Philadelphia's Ben Simmons, at times widely criticized for his unwillingness to let it fly from deep.
Since December 29, DeRozan has 302 made shots and is just 0-5 from beyond the arc.
Over that same stretch, Simmons has made 301 shots and is 0-6 from beyond the arc.
When it comes to swearing off 3s, DeRozan is more like Simmons than even Simmons himself, the poster child for not shooting from downtown.
Unlike Simmons, DeRozan at least has a knack for burying jumpers to keep a D off balance outside of 12 feet.
For a player to thrive without that in his arsenal, there needs to be other things done well enough to make up for it.
DeRozan might not be Antetokounmpo in the form of his ability to turn into Shaq in the paint, but he's found other ways to make up for it in San Antonio.
Long considered one of the game's best at driving and making tough shots, he's gone back to his strengths in his first season with the Spurs as his 10.7 points per game off of drives ranks second in the NBA behind only James Harden.
In addition to his prowess at scoring on drives, DeRozan's made a living off of his in-between game that ranks among the best in the league. The only two players in the league to make more shots between five and 10 feet from the basket are Nikola Vucevic and Karl-Anthony Towns, bigs who generate a ton of offense by catching the ball on either the block or elbow.
The player directly behind DeRozan? Spurs' teammate LaMarcus Aldridge.
For several years now, San Antonio has zigged as the rest of the league has zagged in terms of extending beyond the 3-point line. In a day and age where mid-range shots are considered an elephant graveyard where noboby dares venture given what the math says about taking long twos, the Spurs are taking and making more mid-range shots than anyone in the league while also ranking among the top five in field goal percentage on those shots.
In many ways, DeRozan has served as the embodiment of the new brand of Spurs' basketball as that's always been his calling card on the offensive end.
Of course, we'd be remiss to bring up DeRozan's evolved game without mentioning his new-found playmaking ability, another aspect of his game that started to shine through last season but has really taken a leap in San Antonio as he's assumed a large burden of playmaking responsibility thanks to the litany of point guard injuries and departures. Not only are his 6.1 assists per game a career high, together with his scoring and rebounding, DeRozan is one of just five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six assists and six rebounds.
The other four consist of three MVP winners and someone who'll likely finish inside the top four of MVP voting this season.
While the assist numbers have spiked in large part due to circumstance, the abandonment of the long ball is a conscious decision that says more about DeRozan's ability to hone in on his greatest strengths and stay true to his own game.
Would presenting a threat from beyond the arc ultimately help San Antonio? Probably.
But if completely shunning that part of his game allows DeRozan to excel without the pressures of being someone he's not, perhaps it unleashes a better version of himself that ultimately helps the Spurs come playoff time.
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