Bulls Insider

Why DeRozan's foul-drawing ability is immune to new rulings


Trae Young’s free-throw attempts are down three per game, from 8.7 to 5.7. The drop for Bradley Beal is even more precipitous at 3.7. Damian Lillard is averaging 2.7 fewer charity-stripe trips per contest.

These fall-offs aren’t all based on the point of emphasis for officials to no longer award free throws to players who use, in the words of the NBA’s head of development and training, “overt, abrupt or abnormal motion” to create contact. But given that Young most notably made a practice of the actions that Monty McCutchen described in a preseason conference call, it’s part of it.

Enter DeMar DeRozan.

His free-throw attempts have climbed from 7.2 per game last season to 7.5 in his first season with the Chicago Bulls, good for fourth in the league behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. That he ranks 12th by making 89.6 of those attempts is found money, easy offense.

“When I watch DeMar play, I don’t see any change from how he has played before,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s still getting to the line. He’s still getting to his spots. He’s still attacking and manipulating the defense as well as he ever has. It just shows his skill level.”

DeRozan turned in a old-fashioned, three-point play for the ages with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter of Monday’s victory over the Hornets. He pump-faked Jalen McDaniels into the air at the free-throw line, absorbed heavy contact and somehow muscled in a line drive circus shot.

“MVP! MVP!” chants followed as DeRozan buried the ensuing free throw.

“It sort of reminds me of (Dwyane) Wade in the sense they’re adept at it, they mix it up and they sell it well,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of DeRozan’s age-old pump fake. “Because of their ability to shoot, it sets up everything else. You have to be really disciplined.”

Thibodeau-coached defenses typically are. But in the Bulls’ two meetings with the Knicks this season, DeRozan is 14-for-14 from the free-throw line.

“You look at his numbers throughout his career, it says what he is. And it’s more than just the numbers. It’s the impact on winning,” Thibodeau said. “It’s uncanny. Everyone’s free-throw attempts are down. He still gets to the line. He scores in a lot of different ways. He can post. He can go off the dribble. He can catch and shoot. There’s the versatility and his passing gets overlooked as well. DeMar has been an elite player for a long time.”

Indeed, during DeRozan’s heyday with the Raptors, he averaged at least seven free throws for five straight seasons. That included three seasons over eight attempts per game and a career-high 8.7 attempts in 2016-17.

This season, DeRozan has attempted double-digit free throws six times and only been held under five free throws in three games.

“He’s a great player. I mean, when you play him at 4, which they’re doing really on an almost all-the-time basis, he’s going to have a huge advantage from a quickness and getting-to-his-spot standpoint. He’s a hard guy not to foul,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “He seduces you with the pump fakes, gets you in the air. I think he has made more free throws than anybody in the league this year to this point. It’s a huge point of emphasis. But as always, much easier said than done.”

Indeed, as of Wednesday morning, DeRozan’s 147 made free throws top Antetokounmpo’s 135, James Harden's 131 and Butler's 125.

“It’s never been about trickery with either one of them,” Spoelstra said of DeRozan and Butler.

And that’s been a treat for a Bulls franchise that once employed Butler and now is enjoying the benefits of DeRozan’s ability to get to the line.

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