If the Chicago Bulls want to raise the ceiling of this group, one of their best players, DeMar DeRozan needs to re-evaluate his role as the team’s needs have changed from last season.
“Without Lonzo [Ball], with Zach [LaVine] being less than 100%, they almost were forced to go to DeMar ‘hero-ball’, DeMar isolation,” explained K.C. Johnson during the ‘Bulls Talk Podcast’ on March 14. “I think when he gets kind of more in that San Antonio mode – taking a little bit of a step back, being a facilitator, and the offense features Zach a little more – I think the potential goes higher.”
Johnson described how a similar start to this season as last year’s finish has given way to a resurgent LaVine who is averaging 35 points per game over his last five outings. This is despite DeRozan attempting to take over in the closing quarters of those games. They have still been able to connect on some spectacular plays.
This alley-oop was certainly thrilling and speaks well of their chemistry and unselfishness.
But LaVine’s attempts have gone from 11.4 in the first half of games to 10.2 FGAs in the second half and, even more stark, just 3.6 attempts in the fourth quarter during this stretch – second behind DeRozan’s 5.8 looks.
“It comes down to that ‘alpha male’ scoring mentality,” Johnson said. “And guys…resort to their strengths and resort to what they’re comfortable with. What’s DeMar comfortable with? Taking over games down the stretch. And he’s done it so many times that you can understand why he would want to resort to that.”
DeRozan has long been recognized as a fourth-quarter maven and with good reason.
The Bulls’ top twosome is one of just four pairs of teammates to both be in the top 20 in total points scored this season,
A shift towards LaVine, however, is more beneficial for the Bulls’ future.
“Especially with the way the modern NBA is going – the athleticism, three-point shot – I think it’s the right shift,” Johnson said. “I really do.”
DeMar DeRozan Became a More Complete Player with Spurs
Johnson was clear that he was not trying to take away from DeRozan’s greatness as a player, and DeRozan has spoken very highly of his time spent in San Antonio under head coach Gregg Popovich.
“Before then, I was a scorer,” DeRozan told ESPN last season. “If I’m 5-for-30, I don’t care. If I’m 15-for-30. Like, that was my whole mindset. He challenged me to the point of understanding the game in the complete whole,” DeRozan said. “How to be a point guard. How to be a playmaker. How to dictate the game. How to move without the play. How to play without the ball. How not to turn over the ball.”
DeRozan doubled his assists from the Toronto Raptors (3.1 per game) as a member of the Spurs (6.1) and even averaged 6.9 dimes his final season under Popovich.
He has averaged 5.0 assists per game as a Bull and 5.8 over this five-game heater for LaVine.
Bulls’ Future Coming Into Focus
DeRozan, 33, has far exceeded expectations as a Bulls. But LaVine is five years younger and, to Johnson’s point, fits the direction the pro game has long been trending in better.
That is by no means to say that DeRozan is washed up.
For that very reason, the Bulls might want to explore their options to better outfit the roster with pieces that complement LaVine – who is in the first year of a five-year, $215 max deal compared to DeRozan who has just one more year on his deal after this season – better.