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What to Make of DeMar DeRozan's Bipolar Season

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DeMar DeRozan's had the most roller coaster season of his career so far. After the middling start, the injury, the struggles, and the flourish to finish, what should we expect moving forward?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

DeMar DeRozan is a polarizing player. Some fans watch him and marvel over the things he does well - scoring, occasional playmaking ability, improved defense, getting to the free throw line, etc. Others focus on the glaring flaws in his game that prevent him from reaching the next tier -- trigger-happy with his jump shot, not enough range on his shooting, mediocre percentages from the field, etc.

This season has been somewhat tumultuous in a completely new way for DeMar. Besides suffering the first major injury of his career, which caused him to miss the better part of two months, he was having a relatively poor season by his now-lofty standards. Before suffering an injury against the Mavericks in late November, DeRozan was shooting just 40% from the field, with 0.50 TS% -- both numbers well below league average.The Raptors still got off to a flying start due to the ridiculous stretch Kyle Lowry had into the new year, so DeRozan's struggles had gone unnoticed prior to his injury.

His return from injury in January did little to quell the frustration of the fan base. For the entirety of January and February, he was barely a net positive on the floor. Rather than even consider that this was a player shaking off the rust after a lengthy layoff, I was ready to be "out" on DeMar.

Of course, then he turned things around completely after the All Star break.

In the 27 games since the All Star break, DeMar's percentages (FG, 3PT, TS%) are up across the board, in addition to the raw totals (pts, asts, reb).

Pre All Star: 32 G, 18.3 Pts, 4.3 Rebs, 3.3 Ast, 39.4 FG%, 21.4 3PT%,

Post All Star: 27 G, 22.3 Pts, 5.0 Rebs, 3.7 Ast, 42.7 FG%, 36.4 3PT%

The assumed reason for him finding his rhythm again is obviously the fact that he's finally feeling healthy and effective following his injury. Are there any underlying reasons to point to for his improvement?

The first thing I wanted to look at was the type of shot DeMar has been taking since the all star break vs before. I wanted to compare it with last year's profile to determine which version of DeMar we will realistically see moving forward.

Pre-All Star 2015

Pre-All Star 2015

Post-All Star 2015

Post-All Star 2015

The shots where the biggest disparity lies: driving layups (42.5% pre vs. 60% post), turnaround jump shots (37.5% pre vs. 48.1% post), and turnaround fade aways (36.4% pre vs 47.4% post). Here's how those numbers compare to last season -- in 2013-2014, DeMar shot an absurd 75.6% on driving layups, 54.8% on turnaround jump shots, and 33.3% on turnaround fade aways.

It's fair to suggest that DeMar has become better at turnaround fade aways, emulating his idol Kobe Bryant, but the dip in his ability to convert layups earlier sets off a red flag for me. For a player coming off a lower body injury, it seems reasonable to suggest that his rust or lack of trust and comfort in his own health led to that drastic drop in FG% on layups. He was just circumspect in attacking the rim. Consider this: DeMar had three blocks against him all of last season on driving layup attempts. In the Pre-All Star period this season alone? Eleven blocks against. That's astounding and reflects in the drastic dip of 30%.

Besides just attacking the rim with much more authority and having his legs underneath him better to slightly increase his FG%, has there been a tangible change in the quality of shots he's taking? Does that change manifest itself in his improved long-range shooting? Here's what I discovered in my findings:

Shot Quality Pre-All Star 2015

Shot Quality Pre-All Star 2015

Shot Quality Post-All Star 2015

Shot Quality Post-All Star 2015

Since the All Star break, DeMar's been taking more contested jump shots than ever before in his career (since we started player tracking). He's also been making them at an absolutely unsustainable clip over the past ~25 games.

Shots farther than 10 feet:

As you can see in the charts above, he's been converting 51.4% (!!!) of his very tightly contested (nearest player within two feet) shots over 10 feet. How do we know that's unsustainable? For one, on simply tightly contested shots > 10 feet (nearest player between 2-4 feet), his conversion rate drops to 30.8%. And on those same very tightly contested shots last year, he shot 39%. So those heroic long bombs DeMar's been connecting on lately, there's a drastic regression to the mean coming.

Three Pointers:

Some good news here (I think). From a shot profile stand-point, nothing has really changed about DeMar's 3-point attempts to create a mirage of success. He's an effective shooter from the corners (especially the right) and has been for two seasons now. Since the break, he's been shooting 57% from the right corner, and 37.5% from the left, which compares favourably to 45.5% and 37.5% that he shot from those spots last year, respectively. Those right corner shots were only being converted at a 25% clip before the break. His quality of shot has remained the same too. He still almost always takes 3-point shots when he's open in catch and shoot situations. So my guess as to why there's such a disparity between the two parts of the season? Boring answer, but just a shooting slump. The law of averages has him at 29.1% from 3 on the season, which is very close to last year's 30%. His shooting has normalized over the course of the season.

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So, the TL;DR is as follows:

Three major changes to DeMar's shooting have helped him rediscover form and here's whether you can expect them to continue:

  1. He's taking and making close range attempts (layups and dunks) with much more authority. Post All star break is similar to last year, so expect this to continue. I think the injury hampered him here.
  2. He's making an absurd number of contested jump shots. This is unsustainable, in my opinion, since the stats show him losing efficiency with a foot or two more of space. This should come down.
  3. His three point shooting has averaged out to bring him to his normal levels. He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary early in the season, the shots just weren't falling. This will drop from the levels it's been at for the past 25 games, but should remain respectable.
That about wraps it up. If you read this far, you're a trooper. Thoughts?

(All stats from NBA.com)