MIAMI — DeMar DeRozan's February to remember has placed him in the running for Eastern Conference player of month honors, where his sizzling shooting and scoring broke NBA records and guided the shorthanded Chicago Bulls to an 8-5 record.
DeRozan became the first player in NBA history to post eight straight 35-point games while shooting 50 percent or better in each, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s 60-year-old mark. His 10 straight 30-point games marked a personal-best streak and fell one game shy of Michael Jordan’s franchise record.
“I’m glad it’s over with so I can stop hearing everything about it,” DeRozan cracked following Monday night’s loss to the Heat.
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For the month, DeRozan averaged 34.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists while shooting 55.3 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range on low volume of 1.9 attempts.
He would be the fifth Bull to win this award and first since Jimmy Butler in October/November 2014. Jordan won the award 16 times, while Scottie Pippen and Derrick Rose each captured two and Butler one.
“Just playing,” DeRozan said of his gaudy February. “Going out there and competing, doing whatever I could to go play. It was never a night where I said, ‘I gotta go out there and get 30. I gotta shoot this many times.’ I was just playing, competing. And whatever came with it, came with it. For the most part, for me, I wanted wins to come out of it. And with that, I just had a streak to come with it.”
This mindset is what so impressed coach Billy Donovan, who repeatedly pointed to DeRozan’s shooting efficiency during the month.
As DeRozan seemed to single-handedly lift the shorthanded Bulls, who played the entire month without Patrick Williams, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso and five games without Zach LaVine, DeRozan shot 60 percent or better in six games. That included a ridiculous 71.4 percent during a 37-point performance in a victory over the Hawks.
“He’s been remarkable,” Donovan said. “Just his poise, his ability to come back night in and night out and play. His ability to manipulate the game and get to areas of the floor that he wants to get to and get to shots that he feels very comfortable taking.
“And I think just his overall presence, his consistency not only as a player but as a person has been really important to our team.”
Indeed, DeRozan’s impact on this season’s Bulls is undeniable, both on and off the court. His three Eastern Conference player of the week awards and now this honor are merely public recognition of his season-long consistency and dominance.
“DeMar is a different kind of leader. He’s not this boisterous, outspoken, grab-the-room’s attention. 'Hey, listen to what I have to say,’” Donovan said. “He’s not that way. It’s more subtle things he does. Coming out of timeouts, grabbing a guy like Ayo (Dosunmu), who’s a rookie. Or going over and talking to Zach. Or going over and talking to (Nikola Vučević).
“Just his ability to connect with people on a one-on-one setting. He’ll speak in the huddle when he needs to. But I wouldn’t say it’s always necessarily who he is as a leader. A lot of it is his social awareness of people.
“He can come out of a timeout and know, ‘Hey, this guy is a little bit frustrated with the official. Let me go over and talk to him right now and get him recentered on where we have to focus. Or, ‘This guy is getting a little bit frustrated. I’m going over and talk to him.’ Everybody has to lead how they feel comfortable to their character and who they are as a person. And I think he does a really good job of being who he is as a person when it comes to leadership.”
DeRozan also fell 11 points shy of joining Jordan as the only players since the start of the 3-point era in 1980 to average 35 points on 55 percent shooting for an entire month.
Rare air, indeed.
The Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 76ers' Joel Embiid also have strong cases for the February award.
Antetokounmpo averaged 32.1 points, 12.2 rebounds and 7 assists while shooting 60.9 percent and 39.4 on 3-pointers while the Bucks went 6-4. Embiid posted averages of 32.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists on 47.8 percent shooting, including 37 percent from 3-point range, as the 76ers also posted a 6-4 mark.
Though DeRozan narrowly missed averaging 35 points for a full month, it's still one of the best individual months in franchise history, particularly for someone not named Michael Jordan. For those wondering, Jordan during his Bulls tenure posted 12 months in which he averaged 35 points for an entire month, including the entire 1986-87 season in which he averaged a career-high 37.1 points.