DeMar DeRozan Is Justifying Bulls Contract With Game-Winners, Strong Play
- The Bulls were criticized for giving DeMar DeRozan $82 million in a sign-and-trade last offseason.
- DeRozan has had an MVP-caliber season, including back-to-back game-winners.
- Though people questioned DeRozan’s fit, he’s proven to be a perfect piece for a surging Bulls team.
DeMar DeRozan has been worth every penny for the Chicago Bulls.
When the Bulls agreed to give DeRozan a three-year, $82 million contract — in addition to sending a first-round and two second-round drafts pick to the San Antonio Spurs to land DeRozan — it was met with raised eyebrows around the NBA world.
At 32, DeRozan has long been a potent scorer in the NBA, but one whose game hasn’t evolved with the rest of the NBA. DeRozan isn’t a three-point shooter and instead relies on midrange jump shots. He’s a good playmaker, but maybe not a great one, and his defense has historically been shaky.
Adding DeRozan to an already-expensive team, and giving up a pick to do it, was met with criticism.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger called it a “head-scratcher,” arguing that DeRozan couldn’t have found that sort of payday elsewhere in the league.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gave the Bulls a “D” for the sign-and-trade, arguing that DeRozan was not worth $28 million per year and was “ill-fitting” of the Bulls’ young roster and timeline.
Though not everyone blasted the pick, many felt that DeRozan’s age, contract, and fit on a young, growing Bulls team was questionable and certainly not worth what Chicago gave up.
DeRozan is having an MVP-caliber season
DeRozan has responded with arguably his best overall season, an MVP-caliber campaign, and in turn, helped lift the Bulls to contention in the Eastern Conference.
Through 31 games, DeRozan is averaging 26.8 points per game (second-most of his career) on 49.5% shooting from the field, 37.73% from three. He’s also averaging 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, sharing playmaking duties with Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball. Per Basketball-Reference, DeRozan is playing a career-high 76% of his minutes at power forward and 15% of his minutes at center, becoming a playmaking big man of sorts for the Bulls.
Most importantly, DeRozan has become a swaggering closer for the Bulls, taking over in crunch time.
This is best evidenced by DeRozan’s back-to-back game-winning three-pointers on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for the Bulls.
The first came when DeRozan contributed to a late stop on the Pacers, brought the ball up the court while trailing by one, then launched a running, one-legged three as time expired to beat the Pacers.
The very next night, with the Bulls trailing the Wizards by two with three seconds to play, DeRozan caught the ball off an inbounds on the left elbow. He spun to the corner, patiently pump-faked, then launched a fade-away three-pointer that went down as time expired.
DeRozan became the first player in NBA history to hit game-winning three-pointers on back-to-back nights.
“I don’t know if I’m dreaming or if it’s real right now,” DeRozan told reporters after his second game-winner.
This isn’t an aberration. In “clutch” situations, which the NBA defines as the last five minutes of a game, with the score within five points, DeRozan has scored 67 points (second-most in the league) on 55.6% shooting.
“It’s an honor,” DeRozan said of being given the ball in late-game situations. “Just an honor to be trusted in the fourth quarter. Whether things are going good or going bad, my teammates always lean on me to be that calm presence to bring us home. I always bring that calm presence as much as I can in the fourth quarter and let guys understand as long as we’ve got time, we’ve got a chance.”
Teams that passed on DeRozan could probably use him now
There is an irony to DeRozan’s strong play now and the relatively little interest he received in free agency.
The Los Angeles Lakers were interested in DeRozan, with LeBron James reportedly meeting with DeRozan several times to discuss their potential fit.
However, according to The Athletic, although the Lakers considered DeRozan, they could never agree on a potential salary or pieces to send to the Spurs in exchange. They ultimately traded Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Kyle Kuzma to the Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has had good moments this season, but his fit with James has been awkward, and the Lakers are just 19-19.
It’s unclear how strong the Knicks’ interest in DeRozan was, but they ultimately used their cap space elsewhere. Their richest offseason signing was for guard Evan Fournier for four years, $78 million. Fournier is averaging 13 points on 40.7% shooting, and the Knicks have been outscored by six points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Meanwhile, DeRozan has the Bulls at least in the conversation to win the Eastern Conference. Chicago has outscored opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions with DeRozan on the floor — a mark that would be third-best in the NBA if it were sustained.
DeRozan may have landed in the best possible spot — on a young-ish roster, looking to take a leap. Long known as a “floor raiser” — someone who will help a team be competitive, though maybe not put them over the top — DeRozan has proven to be a perfect fit on offense while not harming the team on defense.
As Zach LaVine told reporters after DeRozan’s second game-winner: “I thank God we’ve got DeMar DeRozan on our team.”