Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
DeMar DeRozan is 53 points away from catching his latest legend---Clyde Drexler---on the all-time scoring list.
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But it’s DeRozan’s passing ability that has stood out in the team’s four-game win streak. After sitting out the first victory, DeRozan has averaged 7.7 assists in the next three victories, including two games with a season-high 10 assists.
“I give him a ton of credit,” coach Billy Donovan said following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “We had talked a little bit during the offseason. For him, he’s almost in a lot of ways like another point guard out there with his understanding of the game and his vision and how smart he is. And I think he knows there’s going to be attention given to him and can he help facilitate and be quick with his decisions and be aggressive. He’s done a remarkable job getting off the ball, helping us play with good pace, generating good shots for guys.”
DeRozan obviously has the ability get a shot up on any possession he wants. It’s where he’s made his living over his illustrious 15-year career.
But it’s almost as if DeRozan is willingly taking a back seat, at least initially in games, in the Bulls’ resurgence of ball movement. Then, when the game slows down or crunch time begins, he looks to assert more scoring-wise.
“I don’t ever feel like I gotta score 30, 40 points for us to win. Getting everybody else involved and making that a contagious thing early in the game is beneficial for us all,” DeRozan said. “There comes a point in the game where it’s time to slow down and it’s time to get a bucket. That’s where those same guys lean on me to try to make that happen. It’s a feel for us both.
“Those guys know early on, my goal is to get everybody else going, get everybody else feeling comfortable so it’s difficult to guard us. If the game is close and it’s time for me to do my job, I try to do that to the best of my ability.”
Asked what this kind of trust in his teammates does for the team’s collective confidence, Patrick Williams, who has been of the beneficiaries, didn’t hesitate.
“I just think that’s him. He’s had that since Day One. If you look to the beginning of the season, he’s been making these same plays. We weren’t making shots as much as we are now. We knew that was going to change. But he’s always been the guy that if he passes to you, he doesn’t care if you miss or make the shot as long as you shoot it and keep the defense honest. He’ll pass to you again the next time,” Williams said. “That’s why he’s been so good. Defenses have to be honest because they know how unselfish he is.”
The Bulls have climbed out of the basement in assists per game, now ranking 29th but still with a mere 23.1 per game. That’s a reflection of the poor shooting earlier in the season. But the fact the Bulls have posted a season-high 32 assists in two of the four-game win streak and 23---on a poor shooting night---and 27 in the other two victories indicates how much better things have been.
“There are a lot more actions. It’s not one action, pass and the ball gets stagnant. That was a challenge for us,” Williams said. “There are a lot more pick-and-rolls for me, Coby (White) and Ayo (Dosunmu), a lot more closeouts for us as well.
“Everybody has a feel now of how to play off each other. I think we’re getting that chemistry going. I think backdoor cuts are a direct correlation of chemistry, just locking eyes and kind of knowing.”
And Donovan still believes there’s potential for more growth. Specifically, he wants DeRozan ahead of the ball for hit-ahead passes on defensive possessions that end with a missed shot and DeRozan not rebounding.
“Not that he needs to run to the corner but just ahead of the ball where we can throw it to him in open space. Now we can get his playmaking and his IQ into the game,” Donovan said. “Now he can generate for himself and for others.
“I think he’s also smart enough to understand that he’s not going to be able to do anything without all of us. He keeps everybody engaged because he knows coming down the stretch if they start trapping him and guys are not involved in the game, it’s hard to make shots in those situations. I trust him in terms of his IQ and how he plays the game and his heart to make decisions that are best for the team.”
“Me getting ahead of the ball, having the ball in my hands, I know the defense is going to collapse to me. And it’s on me to find guys. It’s fun being able to find guys, getting guys confidence. And it makes my job easier,” he said. “I understand there are part of the game where teams are worried about Coby or Pat or Vooch (Nikola Vucevic) and now I can get an easier shot, an easier layup or I can create an opportunity to get to the foul line. It’s just reading the game.
“That’s where the success is coming from. It’s just not one person. It’s all of us. I shot the ball terribly (in San Antonio). But it didn’t matter because everybody else was ready and stepped up.”
As for DeRozan’s opportunities to get to the foul line, it’s not like he’s shooting a poor percentage from there. He’s at 80.3 percent. But he’s career 83.9 percent free-throw shooter and connected at 87.7 and 87.2 percent his first two seasons with the Bulls.
DeRozan is well aware of this.
“Man, it’s terrible. Trust me. I hear it from my daughters every day. My daughters tell me every day, ‘Stop missing free throws. Why are you missing free throws? You told me you wasn’t going to miss free throws.’ The pressure is coming from them,” DeRozan said. “It’s going to change. Over the last couple years, I pride myself to shoot above 86 percent from the line. It’s just one of those bad stretches.”
DeRozan’s routine of returning to the Advocate Center at night may make sure of that.
“When I come back to shoot at night, I always gotta make 100 free throw before I leave the gym. A lot of times, I don’t count the ones that hit the rim,” DeRozan said. “It’s more so me putting pressure on myself to be perfect instead of just shooting them. But it ain’t gonna last.”