Popovich: DeRozan is ‘superhuman' on and off court


Deep respect runs between DeMar DeRozan and Gregg Popovich.

On the evening he clinched his fifth career All-Star selection, which fell the night before his first game against the Spurs as a member of the Chicago Bulls, DeRozan said that Popovich “challenged me beyond my imagination, on and off the court, to develop” during their three shared seasons in San Antonio.

Popovich repaid the favor the next day.

“I didn’t know him personally at all,” Popovich said, referencing the time before the 2018 trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors and DeRozan to the Spurs. “And I found him to be one of my favorite guys of all time. He’s superhuman in every way, shape and form.”

DeRozan developed substantially as a player during his Spurs tenure, though it came with less spotlight he had in Toronto. In 2019-20 and 2020-21, he posted the two best true shooting percentage marks of his decorated career. He also averaged 6.2 assists per game from 2018-2021 — culminating in a career-high 6.9 last season — double the 3.1 he averaged in nine seasons with the Raptors.

“I learned that he was a heck of a passer,” Popovich said of DeRozan. “I don’t think I was aware of that, the degree to which he has that skill.”

But that was just on the court. Beyond basketball, a bond was formed that endures to this day, even after parting ways professionally.

“He’s just one of those guys. You feel comfortable with him,” Popovich said of DeRozan. “You can talk to him about lots of stuff. Life things, in addition to basketball things. Just enjoyed being around him, giving opinions about what’s going on in the world, that sort of thing. Just hit it off.”

Now that DeRozan is using the skills he refined in San Antonio to lead the Bulls’ franchise facelift — again, on and off the court — Popovich said he’s proud.

“We’ve talked. I’ve watched him to see how he’s doing, that sort of thing. And, sure, I take some satisfaction in knowing that he cared, and he listened, and he did improve,” Popovich said. “But that’s what we’re supposed to do (as coaches). We’re supposed to try to improve players.

“I didn’t pull any punches with him. I treated him like every player we’ve had here. Tell them what they did well, tell them what they did poorly, work on what needs to be worked on. And he’s got great character, and he wanted to get better, and he did.”

DeRozan concurs. And the Bulls are grateful.

“He just brought a lot of things out of me that I didn’t know was in there at that point in my career,” DeRozan said of Popovich. “I’ve got to give so much credit to him for that because he took that stance the first day I came to San Antonio, and it did so much for me for me to be able to be the player I am now.”

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