Recently, Zach Lowe of ESPN reported the Los Angeles Lakers are prepared to offer DeMar DeRozan a max contract this upcoming offseason. Looking at this in a vacuum, let’s ask the question, should they engage in this type of offer?
I have written about the Lakers’ season and future, here. For a quick recap, statistics show that D’Angelo Russell looks fairly solid this season (Kevin O’Conner, writing for SB Nation, recently elaborated on statistics I provided in my article), Julius Randle has shown potential to be a very good defender, Clarkson looks like he could become a great scoring guard, and Larry Nance Jr. and Marcelo Huertas both look like future contributors. In short, the Lakers have an exciting young core.
The biggest question regarding the Lakers’ future rests on their 2016 first round draft pick. If it falls outside of the top-3, which right now is more unlikely than likely, the pick will be conceded to Philadelphia. Considering the 2016 NBA Draft looks to be one of the decade’s best, this would be catastrophic. Nonetheless, the result of this coin flip should not effect the Lakers’ desire to sign DeRozan. Here is why:
First, DeRozan is a skilled offensive player. Ian Levy, writing for Sports Illustrated, reveals the most interesting paradox regarding DeRozan’s play: In an era of high-volume three point shots, DeRozan can’t shoot the three, but nonetheless has an equivalent Offensive Box Plus-Minus to Klay Thompson.
How is that possible, you ask? Levy breaks down the statistics and find DeRozan has the third best post-up efficiency amongst guards. I examined the statistics even further, looking at scoring frequency:
Figure 1 Data via Synergy
What Figure 1 demonstrates is not just that DeRozan scores more frequently on post-ups than any other guard outside of Arron Afflalo. Rather, the drop off in post-up scoring for guards after the fourth best is significant. There is a nearly 40% decrease between the fourth and fifth best guards. This is crucial because it demonstrates DeRozan’s skill set in terms of post-up scoring is unique.
On top of that, how else is DeRozan able to maintain such a strong Offensive Box Plus-Minus? Levy argues the second aspect is through DeMar’s ability to generate free throw shots at a high rate. In fact, if you watch DeRozan play, he is eerily similar to James Harden of 2013-14, where the latter constantly drew foul shots on slashes into the painted area. This year alone, DeMar is drawing a shooting foul on 19.1% of isolation plays, which is good enough for seventh best in the NBA, per Synergy data. That is important because it provides DeRozan with a Lebron-esque way of knifing through defenses without a reliable three-point shot.
Levy closes his article with an addendum to my previously made Lebron analogy. DeRozan’s offensive game is similar to a previous era in the NBA, Levy notes, where stars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade scored the ball in a similar fashion. Thus, I decided to compare the scoring trends of these players. Let’s look below:
What Figure 2 demonstrates is that, while all of these stars had different scoring frequencies, the trend of using drives to establish close and mid-range shots is clear. And while DeRozan is not, and most likely will never be as good as any of the other three, his ability to score in similar ways in a league where that style is dying is absolutely valuable. Frankly, because of said style, DeRozan is a player any team can rely on to score needed baskets in a close game.
The Lakers have been missing a go-to scorer ever since Kobe’s injuries began to occur. And what any NBA fan knows is that having multiple players who can reliably create their own shot is a necessary component of success. So far, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle have not demonstrated this ability, and Jordan Clarkson — who is averaging a 47.8% eFG% — is too inefficient to be reliable at it. Thus, even if the Lakers land the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and take a player like Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, having DeRozan’s scoring ability would be a welcome addition to a Lakers’ offense that has struggled to be consistently threatening over the past three years.
On the other hand, defensively DeRozan struggles. Opponents shoot .7% better against him and a whopping 7.3% better from three-point range. On top of that, DeRozan is only included in one out of Toronto’s top-10 three-man defensive lineups. This is most likely due to DeRozan’s pittance for overcommitting to steals. Here is the problem, he does not excel at achieving defensive turnovers either. He averages only one steal, .3 blocks, a 15.8% steal percentage, and a 9% block percentage per contest.
Nonetheless, DeRozan is a part of eight out of Toronto’s top-10 five-man defensive lineups. Overall, this implies that DeRozan is a poor individual defender and serviceable team defender.
Thus, where does DeRozan fit in on the Lakers? The most compelling argument I have heard regarding why he does not fit deals with his pace. Let’s compare his pace with that of the Lakers’ young trio:
Figure 3 Stats via NBA.com’s Stats Page
What Figure 3 shows is that DeRozan plays substantially slower than any of the Lakers’ trio. The issue with this argument, though, is it lacks context. The Raptors are the fourth slowest team in the NBA, whereas the Lakers are the thirteenth fastest. Thus, directly comparing Pace statistics of the four players does little to further the argument that DeRozan does not fit. In fact, if you think about the frequency with which the Raptors shooting guard moves without the ball, it seems clear he could function in a faster paced offense.
Therefore, while acknowledging DeRozan’s shaky defense and perhaps slow pace, the offensive skill set he would bring to the Lakers outweighs the negatives. This unique playing style would take pressure off of the team’s young core and allow them to comfortably develop good habits, which is unlikely to happen if they are forced into a greater offensive role then they are currently capable of.
Consequently, in a vacuum, the Lakers should absolutely attempt to bring DeRozan home to Los Angeles. Their overall talent is not nearly what it was half a decade ago, so getting a top-tier talent would be huge for the franchise. Additionally, the Lakers’ have plenty of salary cap room to make this type of offer and continue to grow. Overall, DeRozan’s offensive prowess would exacerbate the team’s painful rebuild, regardless if the Lakers end up with a first round pick in 2016.
Now, though, let’s leave the vacuum. While DeRozan joining the Lakers certainly seems like a possibility, it would behoove fans of the purple and gold to acknowledge the likelihood DeMar willingly leaves Toronto is minimal. The question is, as Zach Lowe pointed out in his aforementioned article, will Toronto match a max contract offer for DeRozan? Doing so could lock up a budding top-20 NBA player, however, it could also freeze the Raptors from having enough salary to restructure their roster. Therefore, DeRozan’s future is unpredictable at this point, no matter how much that might irritate various citizens of Toronto and Los Angeles.