Not many successful players change their game deep into their career, but that's exactly what DeMar DeRozan has done this season. The Raptors' All-Star wing was considered a low-efficiency volume scorer for years because of all the mid-range shots he jacked, but he's reinvented himself as a foul magnet who attacks the rim any chance he gets. Now he's a much more complete offensive player who not only gets buckets, but does so efficiently.
His new repertoire was on full display on Wednesday, when he scored 34 points and dished out six assists in Toronto's win over the Celtics, their sixth in a row. He posted up, got to the line and pulled up when the defense gave him room. But most importantly, he attacked the rim.
The knock on DeRozan for years was that he was a throwback scorer who used the mid-range game as his main weapon. He hadn't developed a three-point shot, which severely limited his efficiency and his ceiling as an offensive player. He needed to make a change to unlock his full potential.
But instead of improving from beyond the arc, he decided to focus on his driving game.
That shot redistribution is paying off now. DeRozan leads the league in drives per game with almost 12 and shoots a fantastic 52 percent when he puts the ball in the floor and gets to the rim, per SportVU data. He's particularly deadly as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Only Stephen Curry is more efficient among players who have finished at least 200 possessions in that setting, according to Synergy Sports stats.
It makes sense for DeRozan to be a devastating force going to the rim. He's extremely athletic, can finish with either hand and shows fantastic body control, even after absorbing contact.
DeRozan is getting to the free throw line much more as well. The 26-year-old wing draws fouls at a ridiculous rate not only because he ventures into the paint so much, but also because he knows how to trick defenders into fouling him, like all great scorers do.
Only James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins average more trips to the charity stripe per game, which matters more because DeRozan shoots 84 percent on his free throws. The change in shot selection and his ability to draw fouls, combined with his very good mid-range shooting, have resulted in the most efficient scoring season of his career despite a 27 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc.
DeRozan is clearly an All-Star this season, as he's led the Raptors to the second-best record in the East along with Kyle Lowry. Both guards deserve to take part in the event that will be held in Toronto in February, but they'd both trade that honor in for more success in May. DeRozan has never been able to deliver in the playoffs, and the Raptors have suffered two painful upsets in the first round because of it.
Now that DeRozan has developed a nuanced driving game, he should be ready to adjust to playoff defenses better. He is simply not as predictable as he was before now that he doesn't settle for jumpers anymore. Not only has that made him a better player, but it has also raised the Raptors' ceiling as a team.