Could anyone have predicted the DeMar DeRozan Era in Chicago getting off to this great of a start?
It didn’t take much time for DeRozan to dispel notions that he wouldn’t be able to thrive in his new situation. After opening the season with four wins to get out to the team’s best start in 25 years, the new-look Bulls have proven that their early-season success was sustainable, and much of it can be credited to DeRozan.
As they approach the midway point of the season, the Bulls are in sole possession of the East’s best record and stand just a few games behind the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors for the best record in the league.
DeRozan’s been just as impressive as his team has been, averaging 26.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, arguably the best all-around numbers of his 13-year career. Suffice it to say the 32-year-old has been the best player on one of the NBA’s best teams all season.
It’s only right we have the MVP conversation.
Until recently, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have understandably dominated most MVP discussions, while Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant and, to a lesser extent, LeBron James and Joel Embiid have each made up ground rather quickly. With over 40 games to play, a relatively down month of December for Curry coupled with a stretch of inconsistency from the Nets has the race for 2022 MVP wide open.
So why not DeRozan?
DeRozan checks all the boxes of an MVP — he’s got the numbers, his team is winning and he’s stepping up when it matters most.
In early December, TSN’s Nick Metallinos used a late-game takeover at Madison Square Garden to illustrate just how good DeRozan had been in the fourth quarter up to that point in the season. No less than three weeks later, TSN’s Scott Rafferty took a deeper look at DeRozan’s fourth-quarter numbers to show just how much damage he is doing in the final frame.
And that was before DeRozan made history by hitting game-winning buzzer-beaters on back-to-back nights.
After DeRozan’s second game-winner, Zach LaVine perfectly summed up his running mate’s value by saying, “I thank God we got DeMar DeRozan on our team.” That presence as a calming force is the value DeRozan brings that can’t be measured by any stat.
Who knows where Chicago would be without him?
As for the stats that can be counted, DeRozan’s 26.2 points per game currently rank seventh among qualified players, behind only Antetokounmpo, Curry, Durant, James, Embiid and Trae Young — four former MVPs, one of last season’s MVP finalists and a future MVP candidate. Not bad company.
So why not DeRozan?
Over the course of his 13-year career, DeRozan has finished in the top 15 in MVP just twice — in 2016-17 he finished 11th and in 2017-18 he finished eighth. As good as he was in each of those seasons, he’s been even better this year.
A three-year stint in San Antonio played a big hand in DeRozan’s continued improvement on the other side of 30, as evidenced by his comfort in an atypical role with Chicago this season. Per Cleaning The Glass, DeRozan has played 74 percent of his minutes at the power forward position this season, continuing the trend of a gradual increase that began in San Antonio.
As if his playmaking being on full display from the four position isn’t impressive enough, he’s doing so alongside other ball-dominant creators in LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic.
This season, DeRozan has been malleable, yet dominant, which is quite impressive when you think about it.
Perhaps the biggest sign of DeRozan’s commitment to winning is an increased willingness to go to his 3-point shot. Before writing off DeRozan’s 2.1 3-point attempts per game, it’s important to acknowledge that he’s shooting a career-best 35.2 percent from beyond the arc and has hit 25 3s through 35 games. For perspective, DeRozan made a total of 35 3s during his entire three-year stint with the Spurs, which spanned 206 regular-season games.
DeRozan’s willingness to take — and make — 3s is a part of what this team needs in order to be at its best. Even the most negligible difference in floor spacing can open things up for everyone on the floor.
It also helps that both of DeRozan’s buzzer beaters were from beyond the arc. The impact on winning can’t be much more direct than that.
Ultimately, winning is what DeRozan’s MVP case will boil down to. In the 2016-17 season, the Raptors finished third in the East with a 51-31 record while they finished first in the East with a franchise-best 59-23 record in the 2017-18 season.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR forecast, the Bulls are currently projected to finish atop the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record. If DeRozan can sustain this level of play for the remainder of the season and propel this franchise to a No. 1 seed for the first time in 10 seasons, the MVP noise should get louder and louder.
His place in the discussion will be rightfully earned.