A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Stats Tuesday – The future of Demar Derozan and the possessions game catching up to young players

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DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors {| class=...As a Raptors fan, I’ve been asking myself “What to do with a problem like Demar Derozan” Sound of Music style

By the old way of judging players, Derozan scoring 17.2 points and 16.7 points a game in the 2nd and 3rd seasons would seem evidence he’s a player to build around in a starting lineup. It’s not easy to get 16 point a game+ scorers.

Advanced stats say otherwise. A .530 TS% and .503 TS% the last two years and little other impact on the game but scoring, bring him to a PER of 14.4 and 12.8, the former below average and the latter awful.

The boogieman for Derozan’s career going forward is possessions. Using the equation of FGA+0.44*FTA+TOV to measure scoring possessions, he averaged 18.0 and 18.6 possessions a game. This is a lot. To use a comparison, last year Paul Pierce used 19.9, Joe Johnson used 18.8 last year, Danny Granger used 19.1. So Derozan’s 18.6 possessions a game last year is fairly close to star wings’.

The problem for Derozan is the only reason he’s getting these possessions at his current caliber of play is the poor quality of his team’s offensive options. He does not have the talent to be a top scoring option on an elite team, based on what he’s shown so far. The way we know this is the players who do have “top scoring option on a great team” talent, if given the keys on a bad team, will typically produce at a much higher volume than Derozan did last year. Granger in 2008-2009 averaged 25.8ppg, then 24.1ppg in 2009-2010. Joe Johnson averaged 25.0ppg in 2006-2007. By comparison’s Derozan’s 17.2 and 16.7ppg seasons are fairly meek, especially at a poor efficiency.

In basically any situation, a score first player is going to get less possessions on a talented team than on a poor one. This seems inherently obvious – The star offensive player has to carry the team with less help. Granger used 24.6 possessions in 2008-2009 to 19.1 in 2011-2012 on a much better team. This is a possessions drop of -23%, while his points per game drop from 25.8 to 18.7 was a -28% drop. Likewise from 2006-2007 to 2009-2010 (when the Hawks peaked as a team at 53 Ws), both Joe Johnson’s possessions dropped from 25.5 to 21.6 and his scoring drop from 25.0ppg to 21.3 are right around -15%.

Two other players show this well to me. OJ Mayo’s peak scoring season was his rookie year at 18.5ppg, but by his 2011-2012 season has dropped to 12.6ppg, a -32% drop. In that span his possessions have dropped from 19.9 to 14.2, a -28% drop. Michael Beasley in 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 dropped from 19.2ppg to 11.5ppg, a -40.2% drop, while his possessions dropped from a whopping 21.6 to 13.2, a -39% drop. What happened to these players appears to be pretty simple. Their games didn’t change very much but their possessions did. Instead of getting star caliber possessions on an untalented team, they got a role player’s number of possessions on a talented one. The difference for the careers of Mayo and Beasley of these possessions is significant. When putting up 18-19ppg, they were seen as core players. But nobody wants an 11-12ppg one dimensional scorer when he’s inefficient and has no other impact on the game, in this case both players being defensive liabilities. Mayo and Beasley do not have a role player-friendly skillset, as role players favor efficiency and other elements like 3pt shooting/spacing, rebounding, defending. They have a top option’s skillsets but aren’t good enough to use those possessions on a great team. This makes them inconsequential to winning games. As a result Memphis and Minnesota felt free to rescind their qualifying offers and let them sign with Dallas and Phoenix for no value returning back.

That’s the big concern for players like Derozan, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Henderson, Rodney Stuckey and a lot of other players getting a high level of scoring possessions on weak teams with little other impact on the game. A drop to 13 possessions a game would be a -28% drop from Derozan’s 18.0 possessions in his sophomore year (using that as his best scoring season), using the same drop from his 17.2ppg that year would bring him down to 12.3ppg. A drop from 18.6 possessions in his 3rd year to 13 of -31%, would lead to a drop from 16.7ppg to 11.5ppg. This would put Derozan in the same situation as Mayo and Beasley, relegated to a role player game they can’t bring value in – An inefficient, one dimensional scorer at an insignificant volume and thus, an expendable bench player.

If Derozan wants to avoid that fate, he needs to start transitioning to a role player-friendly game. This would involve either having a consistent spot up 3pt shot, or learning how to be a standout defender and trying to fit a Tony Allen and Thabo Sefolosha mode for a team, embracing that 10-12ppg future, but doing with enough defensive value to get minutes, possibly starting minutes. I believe this is more likely than Derozan learning to shoot 3s, based on the difficulty of shooting skill changing late in the game, but most young players learning to defend once they become veterans. Derozan also has the mentality and work ethic to fit a player with defensive tenacity.

A concern though is from the perspective of player development. A team like the Raptors might not have the foresight to ask a Derozan to be “just” a defensive role player instead of a scorer. Scorers are generally valued more than defenders and every team wants an offensive star to sell to fans. The Raptors have been building Derozan as if he’s their future scoring star for years and this may have made Derozan himself believe that’s his future and game as well. For a player like Derozan in this current position to adapt to a Tony Allen-esque destiny would take huge humility and commitment by both the team and the player. It’s possible for players like Derozan, Evans and Henderson, but it might take them wearing their 3rd or 4th jersey until it fully comes together.

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger

Email: julienrodger@gmail (If you send me a question, I’ll get around to a weekly/monthly mailbag if I get enough)

Written by jr.

September 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm

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