"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan takes the spotlight.
That's DeMar DeRozan's 3-point attempt rate this season, meaning 3.1 percent of his field goal attempts have come from the 3-point line.
Why is that noteworthy? It's an incredibly low mark, both for the 3-point happy era we're currently living in and compared to every other player in the league. According to Basketball Reference, there are only 20 players this season who have a lower 3-point attempt rate than DeRozan. Of those 20 players, 19 are paint-bound bigs such as JaVale McGee, Bam Adebayo, Hassan Whiteside and Steven Adams.
The lone exception? Ben Simmons, who is one of the most 3-point averse guards the NBA has ever seen.
It's a fascinating turn of events for DeRozan considering he's only a couple of years removed from having the best 3-point shooting season of his career. He made only 31.0 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2017-18 - his final season with the Toronto Raptors - but 3-pointers actually being a part of his game was an encouraging development for someone who had long been criticized for being stuck in his ways. Two years later, DeRozan has eliminated them almost entirely from his game.
Just compare his shot chart from that 2017-18 season...
...to his shot chart from this season:
DeRozan has doubled down on what he does best, with basically all of his scoring coming from midrange and the paint.
"That's his game," Spurs assistant coach Tim Duncan told NBA.com's Carlan Gay prior to the season being suspended. "He's a power player, he's not committed to shooting the 3. He actually shot it pretty well early on in the year for a stretch, but he's not committed to that. He's comfortable with playing in that midrange and attacking the basket."
DeRozan began this transformation last season, but there is a noticeable difference in his shot selection this season. In his first season with the Spurs, DeRozan lived in the midrange. His 7.2 field goal attempts per game between the paint and 3-point line ranked top of the league, his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge (7.1) being a close second, followed by Kevin Durant (5.9), Klay Thompson (5.7) and Kawhi Leonard (5.5). This season, DeRozan is taking 5.4 field goal attempts per game from midrange, ranking him third in the league behind Aldridge (6.6) and Leonard (5.5).
Some of that has to do with DeRozan simply taking fewer shots this season, but the main reason his midrange attempts are down is because he's making a more concerted effort to get to the basket. It's something our Carlan Gay wrote about earlier in the season, noting how the Spurs had turned DeRozan into their version of Giannis Antetokounmpo. By surrounding him with at least three 3-point shooters at almost all times - made possible by Aldridge's own transformation on the perimeter - it's given DeRozan the real estate he needs to play to his strengths as a "power player."
While he might not be as big or long as Antetokounmpo, DeRozan can score against anyone on an island.
And I mean anyone.
That includes elite defenders such as Jrue Holiday...
...even Paul George.
When it comes to putting the ball in the hoop, few do it better.
This hasn't even been the highest scoring season of DeRozan's career, but it has been his most efficient. Even without the benefits that come with shooting 3s, his true shooting percentage of 59.7 percent is the highest it has ever been. For perspective, of the 35 other players averaging at least 20 points per game this season, only 11 have a higher true shooting percentage. Through that lens, it's hard to argue with DeRozan giving up on shooting 3s to focus on his strengths.
Where it gets tricky is this version of DeRozan isn't exactly easy to build around. As much as he has improved as a passer over the last couple of seasons - he averaged a career-best 6.2 assists per game last season and is averaging 5.6 this season - it's hard to win in today's NBA when your best player is a guard who doesn't shoot 3s.
Why? One, they provide little-to-no spacing when they don't have the ball in their hands, making life more difficult for their teammates when they have possession of the ball. Plays like this, in which DeRozan turns down a wide open 3-pointer for a contested 2-pointer following a drive and kick from Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, come to mind:
The funny thing about the season in which DeRozan embraced shooting 3s is he was actually a solid catch-and-shoot threat, making those opportunities at a 34.8 percent clip. It was the pull-up 3s, which he made at a 25.6 percent clip, that brought his overall percentage down. It only adds to the confusion around him refusing to take 3s, even if they were only of the catch-and-shoot variety.
Two, because they provide little-to-no spacing, the offence has to run through them for their team to have a chance of succeeding, and there are very few players in the league who are capable of carrying that sort of load. You're basically talking about the likes of James, Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, perennial MVP candidates and all-time greats. As good as DeRozan has been this season, he hasn't been anywhere close to that level. He didn't even make the All-Star team, although that was more of a reflection of how loaded the Western Conference is than how he has played this season.
In DeRozan's defence, the Spurs have been significantly better on offence with him on the court this season, scoring at a rate of 111.3 points per 100 possessions compared to 107.7 when he's on the bench, which is the difference between the Spurs being slightly above average and well below average on offence. It hasn't been enough for the Spurs to play even .500 ball - they currently have a 27-35 record - because they've been an absolute disaster defensively with DeRozan on the court, but that's a conversation for another day.
What I'm fascinated by is how a four-time All-Star who is still in the prime of his career is zigging while everyone is zagging, turning the clock back while the rest of the league presses fast forward. They'll be an even brighter spotlight on DeRozan in the eight "seeding games" ahead of the playoffs because the Spurs will be without their second leading scorer in Aldridge, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder. For them to have any chance of making the playoffs, they'll need DeRozan to be at his best.
This isn't the first time we've had this sort of discussion over whether or not DeRozan can be the No. 1 option on a contender - he's long been one of the league's most polarizing players - but that key number makes it all the more pertinent...
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