It’s A Different Game: How zone defense changed everything in the NBA

Photo via Slam Magazine

Everybody has seen it, LeBron James positioned twenty feet from the basket on a wing isolation performing a series of feigned pump fakes and jab-steps as he evaluates the help-side defense.

Lebron has become incomparably adept at surveying and timing the help defense’s obligation to get in and out of the paint as he prepares to attack the basket, swing the ball cross court in a manner that only he can, or rise up for the jump shot. The defense has formed a human barrier around LeBron in a zone formation where there are two players “guarding” a post player on the block.

One player is defending LeBron, another player is legitimately guarding the post player, yet another is circumventing the defensive three-second rule by touching the same post player while standing in the paint, while the remaining two defenders are pinched in waiting to react to the King’s looming decision.

This scenario is one that Michael Jordan and his contemporaries never had to confront during their NBA heyday. Before the 2000-2001 NBA season, the NBA did not allow zone defense. NCAA basketball primarily features the 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone and the 1-3-1 zone; while this game-altering rule change would allow these types of zones to be played, the aforementioned zones have not been consistently implemented by NBA defenses.

Syracuse 2-3 Zone
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has made a career off his 2-3 zone defense (Photo via Dennis Nett)

So how exactly did the installment of zone manifest itself within the defenses of the NBA?

On the NBA’s official website the rules changes for the 2000-2001 season regarding zone  defense read:

  • on the strongside, any defense is legal
  • on the weakside, defenders must remain on the weakside outside the paint unless they are double-teaming the ball, picking up a free cutter or closely guarding an offensive player

Before the rule change, defending players were required to guard their respective men at all times. Granted, if a player who was not a proficient long-distance shooter encroached upon the perimeter, the defender did not have to hug them completely, but they were not allowed to drop below foul-line extended. This made stopping star players increasingly difficult.

The only way to attempt to neutralize a star player in the 90’s was to launch hard double-teams that placed the remainder of the defense in precarious situations which is certainly not a reliable tactic to consistently defend professional players.

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While the rule change stated that a team can only double team a player with the ball, the NBA rules treat every player in the paint as a cutter, and thus a simple touch to the nearest post player resets a single player’s defense three-second clock, potentially granting a player unlimited time in the paint.

Below are a couple of examples of how zone defenses were prohibited before the 2000-2001 rule change:

Here, Michael Jordan is isolated on the left mid-post and as he is getting into his move a Knicks player guarding the player at the top of the key comes down to offer help. This was illegal, called a technical foul, and Jordan was rewarded with a free throw and the ball:

In this next clip, Jordan is in the right corner preparing to use a ball screen that would send him to the middle of the court. In preparation for a shot or a drive, two Portland Trailblazers are “guarding” a post player who does not have the ball as they anticipate Jordan’s next move. This defensive alignment was illegal and was always called, take a look at a hysterical Scottie Pippen pleading with the refs to make the illegal defense call:

During this possession, lilliputian Mugsy Bogues finds himself matched up with the much larger Jordan on the perimeter. Anticipating the imminent doom, 7-foot-2 Robert Parish abandons his man and prepares to come to Bogues’ aid. Parish ends up staying in the paint for around three seconds, which would be illegal by today’s NBA rules, but by the 90’s rules, he was illegal the very moment he elected not to guard a player in the paint.

As definitively illustrated by the video clips above, 90’s rules made defending superstar players extremely difficult. A simple isolation call could strand a defender on an “island,” and with rules that prohibited pre-rotation or pre-help defense, it was often too late to stop a slashing player that beat his initial defender.

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Not surprisingly, many star players were not too fond of the rule changes that occurred in the 2000-2001 season. In an interview with KICKS Magazine shortly after the rule change, superstars Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tracy Mcgrady offered their opinions on zone defense:

kicks6
Photo courtesy of Kicks Magazine

 

KICKS:  “If you guys could change one rule in the League, what would it be?”

Kevin Garnett:  “No zone.”

Tim Duncan:  “Yeah, the zone.”

Tracy Mcgrady:  “That shit is stupid.”

KICKS:  “Because it didn’t do what they (The NBA) thought it would do?”

Kevin Garnett:  “I think it puts players that are really good at a disadvantage… I remember Phoenix sat somebody literally right there (in the lane).”

Tracy Mcgrady:  “It makes it hard for a guy like me-

Kevin Garnett:  “Who penetrates.”

Tim Duncan:  “It makes it hard for all of us.”

Tracy Mcgrady: ” It’s tough on all of us, it really is. When you’re trying to make a move, and you got another guy sittin’ right there on the same side just waitin.”

Kevin Garnett: “He ain’t even playin’ his man.”

Tracy Mcgrady: “Nah, not at all. “

Kevin Garnett:  “That’s where teammates are really, really important. Not only is there pressure on you to get them the ball, but the pressure’s on them to be productive and draw the defense.”

Each of these players played before and after the implementation of zone defenses in the NBA, establishing their experience both before and after the change.

Even Jordan, arguably the greatest NBA player ever, was troubled by the zone defense. In a postgame interview in 2001 after a loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan is quoted as saying, ” I never liked zones, I felt like that’s a lazy way to play defense and with them, you can eliminate a lot of the stars making things happen,” via USA Today’s Jenna Fryer.

As these three superstar players explained, the rule change had a profound impact on the way the game was played as it put a premium on shooting and demanded that star players trust their teammates if they wanted to succeed.

Below are a few NBA clips after the implementation of zone defenses:

In this clip, James catches the ball in the left corner and prepares to use a Dwyane Wade ball-screen that will send him to the middle of the court. As this unfolds, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are below foul-line extended, and thus would have been considered illegal before 2001. All four players pinch in and shrink the floor forcing James into a low percentage, contested mid-range pull-up:

In this next example, Wade has the ball at the top of the key as the clock is winding down in the fourth quarter. This clip illustrates one of the biggest differences in the NBA post-rule-change.

In years prior, a superstar player could get an isolation play whenever he wanted and he could be sure that it was a “true” ISO. However, after the rule change, situations like those in the video above became possible.

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In the clip, Shaquille O’Neal, who is on the right block, is being “covered” by two Sixers players. One player is legitimately guarding Shaq while standing outside of the paint, and another Sixers player sets up shop in the paint for six seconds, touching Shaq every three seconds to reset the count. Wade, seeing a defender literally sitting in the middle of the paint, is forced to take a tough outside shot:

Lastly, this clip illustrates exactly what McGrady was alluding to in his interview with KICKS when he referenced the defending team being allowed to station players behind their man, lying in wait.

Here, James catches the ball on the right wing and prepares his move on Jimmy Butler. As LeBron is getting into his move the Bulls defense shifts its position. Before LeBron can even put the ball on the floor, Taj Gibson maneuvers right behind Butler, frantically jumping up and down. While this is happening, Joakim Noah drops down to take Gibson’s man and Nate Robinson drops below foul-line extended to provide additional support, forcing LeBron into a poor shot.

After providing all of this evidence to the nostalgic NBA fan who believes that the 90’s were the more challenging era in which to play hoops, the desperate fan will condescendingly point to hand-checking. For those who are not aware, hand-checking has been one of the most frequent talking points for fans who passionately argue that the 90’s was the more difficult epoch for top-flight players to truly strut their stuff.

Unfortunately for this line of thinking, hand-checking was abolished in 1979:

  • “Clarification added to prohibit hand-checking through “rigid enforcement” of rule allowing a defensive player to retain contact with his opponent so long as he does not impede his opponent’s progress”- NBA.com- NBA Rules History.

The myth that hand checking was refereed any differently than it is in 2017 is simply that: a myth.

Below are videos from the 1980’s and 1990’s where hand checking is clearly called as a foul:

In this first video in 1988, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson performs a left-to-right crossover on the Sixers player, and the defender uses his hand to stop him from going to the basket. The referee calls the foul and gestures with his arms that it is a hand checking foul. The ignorant crowd boos in response, but none of the players argue or gesticulate in any way because it is a routine call:

This next video is a collection of three separate instances that Jordan’s defender puts minimal hand contact on Jordan and a foul is called immediately as Jordan dribbles the ball:

Lastly, hand-checking still occurs in today’s NBA. Yes, they call it today, as they called it in the 1990’s as well. That being said, here is a collection of some plays where hand-checking is not called in the contemporary NBA:

So, what does all of this mean?

Well, it’s fairly blatant that the two different eras of basketball cannot be compared because of the differences in rules. When was it more difficult to play NBA basketball, the 1990’s? Or the 2000’s? “Harder for whom?” are the questions that demand to be asked and answered.

There is overwhelming evidence pointing towards the 1990’s being a significantly easier era in which to battle as a superstar player because zone defenses were not allowed. Having said that, I believe that role players, especially shooters and off the ball players, are currently experiencing their most exciting moment to date. The zone defenses allow teams to load up on superstars, which in turn puts a premium on players that can space the floor.

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Overall, this rule change in the 2000-2001 NBA season has had a positive impact on basketball. In the 1990’s, children grew up watching stagnant “ISO ball” that only existed in the NBA.

At every other level, teams were allowed to play zone and I believe that this made young athletes who idolized certain players develop bad habits. Without zone defenses in the league, the NBA was able to more efficiently market the premier players as stars, making it easier for them to score. It has now been close to two decades since zone has been allowed in the NBA and star players still shine, the only difference is that defenses can be more complex and unpredictable which forces the stars to get others involved.


–Videos courtesy of Ron M. at the Youtube Channel ‘TheRiggedBA’.

Shooting Myths, One-Motion Shooting And The WNBA

Written by Ethan Feldman
Photo via Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

“Ten-toes to the rim! Square your shoulders! Don’t bring the ball down! Keep it high, Straight Up, Straight Down! Release it at the top of your jump!” are a few of the erroneous mantras repeated ad nauseum by ill-informed youth basketball coaches around the world.

Additionally, one common instruction that cannot be condensed into a pithy aphorism is the technique of two-motion as opposed to one-motion shooting. Traditionally, the two-motion shot has been taught to players while the one-motion shot has been delegitimized (but we’ll get to this later).

As a result, many young hoopers experience periods of cognitive dissonance wherein they follow the directions set forth by their coaches, while simultaneously witnessing exceptional high school, college and NBA players disobeying all the tenets of traditional basketball wisdom.

So why is this the case? Why do basketball coaches perpetuate antiquated techniques that have been proven time and again to be ineffective? There is no legitimate reason for this other than the fact that there is a vestigial belief that the aforementioned instructions somehow lead to more successful shooting.

MYTH #1: Ten Toes To The Rim!

In theory, pointing one’s toes to the rim sounds like a good idea that would be conducive to accurate shooting, but in three-dimensional reality, on the court, it is not an effective tactic.

For example, if a player is a right-handed shooter and is directly square to the basket, the ball will be on the player’s right side and not directly aligned with the hoop. However, if a right-handed player compensates by angling his or her feet to the left, the ball is now in the middle of the player’s body which will most likely lead to a more accurate shot.

Of the top 10 NBA players in three-point field goals made per game, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are the only ones who do not definitively shoot while angled to the side (even though they aren’t precisely straight either).

Kevin Durant Free Throw
GOOD
Stackhouse
BAD

MYTH #2: Don’t Bring The Ball Down

“Don’t bring the ball down” wins the trophy for most asinine instruction that a basketball coach can deliver. Every player in the top ten in 3-point field goals made during the 2016-2017 season dips the ball before they shoot. Klay Thompson is the only player in the NBA that I was able to locate footage of not bringing the ball down on occasion.

This being said, Klay employs this technique sparingly and tends to shoot this way after he has gotten “hot”. Yes, you can point to a couple of big men like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge who don’t bring the ball down every time they shoot, but in general, there are very few players who do this and there are certainly no guards that do not dip the ball.

MYTH #3: Straight Up Straight Down! Land Where You Started!

The concept of landing where you began your jump shot viscerally seems to make sense; however, many of the NBA’s best shooters do no such thing.

Most notably, Stephen Curry, the best shooter of all time, has the most mercurial landings in the NBA. Depending on the situation, Curry will land with his feet close together, feet apart or one in front of the other.

James Harden and Eric Gordon are the only players ranking in the top ten in three-point field goals this year who keep their feet in generally the same location in which they began their respective shots–and this is the case for stationary shots only. When movement comes into play, i.e a shooter coming off of a curl or a pin-down, there is almost indubitably a turn and a player’s feet land forty-five degrees away from the basket.

MYTH #4: Two-Motion Shot

While it is true that there is no correct way to shoot, many coaches teach the two-motion shot to boys as they are growing up. Conversely,  if I were to offer a young player a tutorial, I would advise them to develop a one-motion shot as opposed to a two-motion shot. As a point of reference, here are players that have two-motion shots:

  • Ray Allen
  • Larry Bird
  • Reggie Miller

These players were greats no doubt, but I believe that youth basketball players should not replicate their form. Generally,  a two-motion shot is an effective method for shooting shots from ten to twenty feet from the basket. Guys like Shaun Livingston, DeMar Derozan and Evan Turner thrive in the mid-range, but struggle as they near the three-point line.

Why?

I believe that they struggle from distance because the two-motion shot requires high and pronounced elevation that expends a lot of energy. When a player reaches the apex of a high jump, they are left with only the strength of their arms to shoot the basketball.

On the other hand, one-motion shooters like Stephen Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard and Paul George do not deal with this problem. You have probably heard these player’s names come up when “smooth” or “effortless” jump shots are the topic of discussion; this is because they shoot with one-motion shots (and also because they dip the ball, and are turned sideways when they shoot).

One-motion shooting is the future of the NBA. One-motion shooters tend to have quicker releases than two-motion shooters, and they actually utilize power from their lower body to shoot the ball from long distances.

I believe this is the reason why Curry made by far the most three-pointers this season, and Harden and Thompson were both in the top four for three- pointers made. Additionally, George boasted the most three-pointers for a small forward this season, and was second for both small forwards and power forwards, trailing only Anderson.

The one-motion shooter can get his or her shot from deeper without having to expend a lot of energy. Also, this is the reason why Curry, George, Harden and Lillard are exceptional at shooting off of the dribble from long distances. With one motion shooting, a player can turn a dribble into a shot in one concise, fluid motion in the blink of an eye.

Throughout its history, the WNBA has received tons of criticism for its relatively un-athletic style of play compared to the NBA. Men are generally stronger and more explosive than women, so obviously the WNBA features a much slower and less high-flying brand of basketball.

Within the basketball community, women have long been derided for their technique in shooting jump shots.

Traditionally, women push the ball with a one-motion shot because they typically don’t have the strength to shoot a two-motion shot over their head. While it is true that some female players push the ball in such a way that would place a male player in a precarious situation and liable to get blocked, male players would be well-served to study players like Dianna Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne, to name a few. Both Taurasi and Delle Donne exhibit an angled base to their shots, a quick dip and a smooth one-motion push.

If male players, for the most part naturally stronger and more explosive than their female counterparts, would adopt this fluid one-motion push style that many WNBA players wield, it would open the floodgates for NBA players to shoot effortlessly and accurately from thirty plus feet…Oh wait, we do know of one…that’s Stephen Curry.

Paul, Griffin, Jordan are not what’s wrong with the Los Angeles Clippers

Written by Ethan Feldman
Photo via Getty Images

On December 8th, 2011, NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed a multi-team trade between the L.A Lakers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets that would have dispatched Chris Paul to Los Angeles, sent Pau Gasol to Houston and delivered Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Louis Scola and a first-round pick to New Orleans.

As a result of Stern’s unprecedented intervention, on December 14th, 2011, The Los Angeles Clippers and the New Orleans Hornets agreed upon a trade that sent Chris Paul and two first round picks to Los Angeles while simultaneously sending Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a future draft pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the New Orleans.

Clippers fans relished the arrival of a bonafide superstar, as well the complete overhaul of a rag-tag group of perennial losers, which fostered an optimistic aura that surrounded the team. The organization had recently experienced a fortuitous draft that saw them acquire two burgeoning high-flyers in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Chris Paul’s virtuosic ability to cast lobs into the air, coupled with the prodigious explosiveness of Griffin and Jordan led to the coinage of “Lob City.”

It didn’t take long for the newly formed trinity to monopolize NBA highlights as the power forward and center combination feasted on a myriad of bounce, no-look and lob passes courtesy of Cliff Paul’s twin brother.

Gober and Paul get into it.jpg
Photo via Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

However, if we fast-forward five seasons to the Clippers’ game 7 loss to the Utah Jazz in the second round, this Clippers team has yet to reach the conference finals and has been universally deemed a failure.

Some critics point to Chris Paul who has yet to reach the Western Conference Finals, others point to Blake Griffin and question his leadership abilities as well his toughness and durability. However, both of these players are elite at their respective positions as Paul and Griffin have both been in the top 20 for Box Plus Minus since the 2011-2012 season and Chris Paul ranks third all-time in Box Plus Minus second to only Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

This individual success of the Clippers’ two all-stars begs the question: Why have the Clippers failed to make the Western Conference Finals?

Since the inception of their “Big 3”, the two most glaring liabilities for the Clippers have been their lack of an offensively talented small forward and the lack of a formidable bench.

Paul pierce celebrates with Austin Rivers.jpg
Photo via Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press

Since the Paul trade, the Clippers have deployed an elderly Caron Butler, a geriatric Paul Pierce, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah A Moute as their veritable revolving door of small forwards. While some these players provided a level of toughness, only Dudley and Butler were reliable shooter’s and both players struggled to create their own shots.

Although the instability at the small-forward position has been troublesome for the Clippers, the most glaring problem for the clippers has been their abysmal bench. Spearheaded by Jamal Crawford, an inefficient ISO player who is incapable of playing defense, the Clips’ bench has annually underperformed. J-Crossover joined the ‘Clips’ the year after the Chris Paul trade, and ever since his arrival it seems as though the ostentatious sixth man is more interested in accruing four-point-plays than contributing to winning basketball.

This bench conundrum has persisted since Chris Paul arrived, but was notoriously concerning this year. During the 2016-2017, the Clipper’s starting unit of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan ranked second in Points Minus Opponents Points, trailing only the Golden State Warriors’ star-studded five. Additionally, the trio of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul are the only set of teammates that rank in the top 35 in John Hollinger’s Value Added statistic.

Doc Rivers.jpg
Photo via Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

However, before we examine the Clippers bench this past season, it’s imperative that we understand what decisions the Clippers front office has made over the past several seasons.

The Good: 

  • Trading for J.J. Redick
  • Trading for Austin Rivers, a young lottery pick who did not fit well in New Orleans.
  • Re-signing Chris Paul
  • Re-signing Blake Griffin
  • Re-signing DeAndre Jordan
  • Signing Luc Mbah a Moute to a multi-year contract

The Bad: 

  • Orchestrating a trade would send future 20 PPG scorer Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Jared Dudley
  • Signing C Byron Mullens to a multi-year contract (out of the NBA within a year.)
  • Signing Glen Davis to a multi-year contract (out of the NBA following Davis’ second year with the Clippers)
  • Signing Danny Granger to a multi-year contract (out of the NBA within a year)
  • Signing Jordan Farmar to a multi-year contract (out of the NBA within a year)
  • Signing, and then giving up on SF Joe Ingles who would go on to be an above average player.
  • Signing C Spencer Hawes to the mid-level exception only to trade him the following year
  • Signing Paul Pierce to a multi-year contract
  • Signing Austin Rivers to a three-year 35 million dollar contract
  • Re-signing Jamal Crawford to a multi-year contract
  • Opting not to protect their future 2011 lottery pick in the trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland ( The Cavs’ ended up drafting Kyrie Irving).
  • Signing Marreese Speights to a multi-year contract

The aforementioned “good” signings secured a fantastic nucleus for the Clippers, but the “bad” signings contributed to years of post-season failure and have led to a perpetually poor bench.

This Clippers team did not have a good bench going into the 2016-2017 season, but this season was thought to be the year where that all would change. With the continued growth of Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson, the addition of a proven point guard in Raymond Felton, instant offense in Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass who was coming off of the most efficient year of career with the Lakers, the Clippers bench appeared to be poised to be serviceable.

Unfortunately, The bench has not lived up to its expectations. The Clippers tended to play four guys off of the bench and none of their bench players provided a positive impact on their team, barring Marreese Speights who was only marginally a plus.

Box Plus Minus’ For The Clippers Bench: 

Austin Rivers: -1.6

Raymond Felton: -0.9

Wesley Johnson: -1.8

Marreese Speights: 0.7

Brandon Bass: -0.7

Paul Pierce: -4.4

Alan Andersen: -4.9

Five of The Most Used Four-Man Bench Units For The Clippers Bench: 

Bass, Crawford, Felton, Speights: -11.4 points per 48 minutes

Crawford, Rivers, Speights Felton: -3.2 points per 48 minutes

Felton, Johnson, Rivers, Speights: -2.9 points per 48 minutes

Crawford, Felton, Johnson,Rivers: -2.8 points per 48 minutes

Bass, Crawford, Rivers, Speights: -1.6 points per 48 minutes

This is not a formula for a deep postseason run. Paul, Griffin and Jordan routinely perform at an elite level, but it takes more than a prolific starting five to go far in the NBA playoffs.

Clippers Big 3.jpg
Photo via Larry W. Smith / EPA

Overall, when healthy, the starting five for the Los Angeles Clippers shows up, but is indubitably hindered by a lackluster bench. The narrative that Griffin and CP3 are “chokers” is as far from the truth as possible. Paul’s playoff PPG(18.7 vs. 21.2) and BPM(7.6 vs. 8.5) are higher in the playoffs than they are in the regular season and Griffin’s PPG (21.5 vs. 21.0) and BPM(4.1 vs. 3.7) are almost identical to his regular season statistics.

The Clippers front office must keep the “Big 3” intact this summer, while also beginning to construct a formidable bench if they want to have any legitimate chance at postseason success.

Deconstructing DeMar DeRozan

Photo via AP Images

Widely regarded as one of the top-two shooting guards in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors enigma, DeMar DeRozan, experienced a breakout season this year as he increased his scoring average from 23.5 PPG to 27.3 PPG.

DeRozan has captured the hearts of older NBA fans everywhere as they revel in the nostalgic inefficiency of his mid-range game. During the course of any given Raptors game, fans around the world can experience DeRozan’s newly controversial style of play.

The smooth 6’7 wing, receiving the ball at the inviolable arc, proceeding to bastardize Daryl Morey’s sacred ideology as he employs a series of deliberate and calculated through-the-legs and half spin moves while we await the inevitable: an off-balance mid-range jump shot.

As basketball traditionalists decry the popularization of the Three-Pointer in the modern NBA, “The Lone-Mid-Ranger” has come to their aid to remind everyone that the mid-range is still an effective source of offense.

But is it?

Before advanced stats and efficiency-laden rhetoric pervaded efficiency NBA analysis, there was a time, as recently as the early 2000’s, when a plethora of teams relied on wing players who lacked comfortable range out to the 3-point line.

Of course, this is no longer the case as most of the best wings in the NBA today boast range out to three, and it feels as though every role-playing wing has garnered the highly coveted reputation of a “three and D player.” Derozan breaks this mold, as he finds the majority of his offense from isolations and Iverson cuts that lead to mid-range jumpers.

DeRozan over Haslem.jpg
DeRozan takes his patented mid-range jumper (Photo via Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Here is a look at DeRozan’s shooting percentages and shot distribution this year:

DeMar DeRozan’s Shooting Percentages During The 2016-2017 Season: 46.7 FG%, 26.9 3FG%, 84.2 FT%

DeMar DeRozan’s Shot Distribution during the 2016-2017 Season: 15.8% of DeRozan’s shots were from 0-3 feet where he shot 67%, 21.6% of his shots were from 3-10 feet where he shot 48%, 23.6% of his shots were from 10-16 feet where he shot 49%, 30.9% of his shots were from 16 feet-3 point line where he shot 38.5% and finally, 8% of his shots were from behind the 3-point-line where he shot 26.9%.

These statistics are significant because they illuminate Derozan’s truly unique shot chart. The NBA has branded DeRozan as a high-flying slasher, but he takes a smaller percentage of his shots from 0-3 feet than sharpshooters like Stephen Curry, Bradley Beal and C.J. McCollum. What’s more, is that he attempted approximately 7% fewer shots from 0-3 feet than he did in 2016 which is a troubling trend.

If we compare DeRozan’s shooting tendencies to his elite wing contemporaries, the results are startling. For the sake of argument, the elite wings in the NBA are: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Klay Thompson.

Of these stand-outs, the only ones who take a smaller percentage of shots from 0-3 feet are Paul George and Klay Thompson. It is worth noting however, that before PG13’s injury with USA basketball, he took a larger percentage of his shots around the hoop than DeRozan. On the other hand, Klay Thompson is a three-point shooter who only takes 0.2% less shots from that distance, while also 47% of his shots from three and making them at an elite volume and percentage.

When compared to his peers who excel at getting to the rim, DeRozan’s measly 15.8% of his shots from 0-3 feet is overshadowed by LeBron James’ 43%, Jimmy Butler’s 28% and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s nearly 50%.

DeRozan dunks during 2016 All star game.jpg
DeRozan dunks during the 2016 All-Star Game (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

DeRozan’s dearth of escapades to the rim, coupled with his lack of three-point shooting, make it incredibly hard for DeRozan to be a truly efficient NBA star. Of the 24 NBA All-Stars this year, DeRozan was fourth worst in True Shooting Percentage as he was only ahead of Paul Millsap, John Wall and Carmelo Anthony (Millsap having made the team for his defensive ability and Anthony being an injury replacement).

During the past seven NBA seasons, there have only been three NBA All-Stars with a negative BPM (Box Plus Minus) for their careers: Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman and DeMar DeRozan.

Since 1994, there have only been two players with negative BPM’s that started in an NBA All-Star Game: B.J Armstrong and DeMar DeRozan.

While these aforementioned players were solid in their own right, they did not come close to the supposed greatness of DeMar DeRozan. Don’t get me wrong, DeRozan is a very talented player and is spectacular at what he specializes in. Unfortunately for Demar, his specialty is better served as a useful bailout mechanism for when the shot clock is winding down, not as a primary source of offense.

So, how can DeRozan improve his game and become a more significant contributor? DeRozan possesses the physical tools and the ball-handling ability that should allow him to get to the rim more often than he currently manages to. He is too talented with the ball and too athletic to not attempt a higher percentage of shots from 0-3 feet.

Furthermore, Derozan has no excuse to not be a “plus” defender with his athleticism and 7’0 wingspan. Derozan must also improve his three-point percentage and take more than 1.7 three- pointers per game. In fact, if DeRozan were to replace all of his mid-range shots with three-point shots and then proceed to shoot 29% from the three, his efficiency would not change.

According to Hoopminer.com, this season DeRozan attempted more shots per game from 10-16 feet than the Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks did during the 2012-2013 NBA season and this eye-opening trend has only continued during the subsequent years. This being said, I do not expect Derozan to change as he is one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA and has achieved enormous individual success with his current style of play.

However, as we saw in this year’s playoffs, DeRozan struggles playing off the ball and has a tough time creating for others, which is something he desperately needs to improve upon in order to ascend to the next level in the pantheon of the NBA’s best players.

Overall, DeRozan is far from a complete player, let alone a complete scorer, and has his work cut out for him should he want to enter the category of the truly elite NBA players.