DeMar DeRozan isn’t worried about his fit with the Chicago Bulls, on or off the floor.
In fact, in his first comments to reporters since officially joining the team in free agency, he offered a strong rebuttal to those criticizing how his game will mesh with players already on the roster.
“I mean, it's basketball. Lot of people I see criticizing, talking about ‘fit this, fit that’ have probably never even played basketball,” DeRozan said. “For me, if everybody (is) on the same page mentality and wants to win, it don't matter about a ‘fit,’ because it's all gonna come together how it need to come together and make it work. Because at the end of the day the common denominator is winning.
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“If you have that mentality going into it, everything will figure out how it need to be figured out in the process. That's where chemistry is built. I never really get caught up in all this stuff about, ‘Oh, this fit, this, this, this.’ End of the day, you bring that mentality of winning and everything gonna come together how it need to come together.”
It’s an answer that drips of a level of self-assurance that should excite Bulls brass, DeRozan’s new teammates and fans. If there’s a common thread that has permeated the front-office tenure of Artūras Karnišovas, Marc Eversley and Co., it’s their singular focus on just what DeRozan describes: winning.
But, practically speaking, how players and their respective skill sets blend matters at every level of organized sport. It’s part of what transforms a collection of talent into a team.
Well, luckily for the Bulls, there’s a lot to like about the “fit” between DeRozan and this roster’s integral cogs, particularly offensively.
Because if DeRozan had the NBA’s statistics website open in front of him as he addressed reporters, he could have noted that he averaged the eighth-most free-throw attempts in the league last season (7.2) — a potential boon for a Bulls team that ranked dead last in free-throw attempts per game (17.5) in 2020-21, and often struggled for easy offense because of it.
Or, DeRozan could have mentioned that he’s never in his career posted a below-average turnover rate, per Cleaning the Glass, and is coming off his best season of ball security yet (while the Bulls are attempting to leave behind a campaign in which they ranked 27th in that category).
Or, DeRozan could have pointed out that, while the Bulls stumbled to a 14-21 record in “clutch” games last season — defined by NBA.com as contests within a five-point margin with five or less minutes to play — he ranked third in the league with 140 total points in such situations while shooting 45.2 percent from the field.
No, DeRozan isn’t one to hoist 3-pointers, even occasionally. But if he had the Bulls’ roster in line of sight, he could have listed off three members of the team’s new-look starting lineup that shot career-highs from behind the arc last season in Zach LaVine (41.9 percent), Nikola Vučević (40 percent) and Lonzo Ball (37.8) — and all on high volume — a dynamic that should open space for him to operate in his preferred scoring mode as a mid-range sniper.
Plus, with DeRozan’s steady improvements as a playmaker — remember, in addition to 21.6 points per game, he’s coming off a campaign in which he averaged a career-high 6.9 assists — there’s plenty of reason to believe he can elevate those around him in a half court setting.
“My time in San Antonio, [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] allowed me to be myself. And with that, I didn’t take anything for granted. My mindset was always, ‘How can I make everybody around me better and use them?’” DeRozan said. “I was always known as a scorer, but as I matured and understood the game a little bit more, I wanted to better the guys around me to make my job easier late in games. It was just a conscious effort of me just understanding, wanting to make the guys around me better, build their confidence.”
Where players’ unified winning mentality will come into play is on the defensive end, where questions persist, and in dividing usage, especially in the cases of DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević.
But, while all three flourished in featured roles, each carries the reputation of an unselfish, team-first player. And the point stands that DeRozan not only projects to elevate the play of his new Bulls teammates, but also address crucial areas of weakness for a team that ended last season 21st in offensive rating, and had a tendency to bog down and cough up careless turnovers.
In the locker room? More of the same.
Entering his 13th NBA season, and with multiple playoff appearances under his belt, DeRozan stressed that he’s ready to impart what he can on a Bulls team that is attempting to snap a four-year postseason drought.
Asked if he thinks he can play the role akin to Chris Paul’s with the 2020-21 Phoenix Suns in that respect, DeRozan didn’t hesitate.
“Most definitely,” he said. “Experience definitely is key, especially now and throughout the season, especially later in the season. It goes a long way. It goes longer, further than a lot of people may realize.
“With the experience of the successes, the failures, everything that I went through, just understanding going into the season from Day 1 to the last day what it takes to really go over those humps, the tough days where stuff is going bad. When a game or two is off track, how to put things back in place, how to get guys back together.”
And in the event the critics continue to buzz, DeRozan will continue using the noise as fuel.
“Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve had motivation after motivation. Critics. Doubters. Naysayers. This, that and the third,” he said. “As a competitor, you definitely feed off it. I definitely hear it. My whole motto my whole career is to be the person not to prove them wrong, but to prove myself right with my work ethic and the way I approach the game and the obstacles and everything that I’ve been through and just leave it out there all on the table.
“It’s another challenge that I’m looking forward to, probably one of my biggest in my career. At the end of the day, I want to have the last laugh. And I want to do it with a group of guys that’s kind of been through similar obstacles in their careers as well. It’ll definitely be shown.”