As we wait for the Spurs to play again, the PtR staff has been answering some of the season’s burning questions. We’ve talked about the center rotation, San Antonio’s struggles in the clutch and the issues with transition defense. Now it’s time to talk about DeMar DeRozan place on the team.
DeMar DeRozan is having the most efficient scoring season of his career and continues to post good assist numbers despite having a lower usage. At the same time, the Spurs are 12 points better with him off the court as opposed to on it and his defense has been abysmal.
Is DeRozan, flaws and all, helping more than he’s hurting the Spurs so far this year? Or would the Spurs be better off without him?
Marilyn Dubinski: Everyone on the starters has horrible on/off numbers because that unit as a whole has been struggling, so it would unfair to pin those numbers entirely on DeRozan. He’s certainly part of the problem with that group — the slow starts, poor offensive spacing, lack of speed, etc — but it’s not just him, and it falls on Gregg Popovich to fix at least two of those three issues either by adjusting his scheme or continuing to tinker with the lineup. That being said, DeRozan is who he is as a player, both for better and for worse. I wouldn’t be against the Spurs trading him if it’s for a piece or pieces that actually make them better (a starting-caliber SF would be nice), especially as it looks more and more like the team and DeRozan’s camp won’t reach an extension agreement. I think both he and the Spurs know he’s an imperfect fit, and in the right situation they could both thrive seperately. But he’s also good enough that simply trading him as a salary dump or for spare parts that will barely play is not to the benefit of the team, assuming their goal remains to make the playoffs.
Mark Barrington: I don’t think his abysmal plus/minus is all his fault. The starting lineup is an amalgam of terrible spacing and mismatched talent sets. They can’t get each other shots, and they can’t handle quick teams in transition. I think they’ve started to play better since they’ve been shaken up the starting lineup with Derrick White instead of Dejounte Murray, and Jakob Poeltl getting more minutes. I think DeRozan is overall a positive for the Silver and Black, but not by a huge margin, because of his bad defense and the poor fit with Aldridge. He has shown recently that he’s willing to increase his defensive effort, and if he can keep that up, it will greatly increase his value, either to the team, or as a trade asset. The roster is going to have to change if the Spurs are going to be contenders, but I’m not sure if the right path is finding complementary pieces for DeMar, or trying to move him in a trade to get complementary pieces for an aging LaMarcus Aldridge. Either way, the clock is ticking, because DeRozan will be a free agent in the summer, so if the Spurs want to trade him, they need to do it soon, and if they want to build around him, they need to sign him before other teams can make offers.
Brunos Passos: Unfortunately the difference between DeRozan shooting a career-best 50.8% from the field, like he is this season, and his career average of 45% is about a point per game. It’s a negligible difference when compared to what the team loses with its weirdly fitting lineups or his defensive impact. It’s not that DeRozan is bad, or that the 12-point drop in performance is completely on him — the Spurs’ problems aren’t singular — but the team would likely be better off with a change that allows them to be more defensively inclined and that frees up the logjam on the perimeter.
Jesus Gomez: This has been the question surrounding DeRozan for years. He’s always been productive during his prime but that production rarely has had a quantifiable positive effect at a team level. There are clear benefits that come with having someone who can sop up possessions as a first option on your roster — namely that other lesser-suited players don’t have to — but beyond that, DeMar’s impact is limited.
Whether the Spurs would be better off without him or not is a trickier issue to determine, but I lean towards yes, provided he’s replaced with a rotation-level player. Sure, DeRozan taking a big role on offense means others don’t have to do more than they are comfortable with, but to accommodate him the team does have to adjust significantly. Bryn Forbes has to start, for example, because someone on the wing has to be able to play off the ball.
DeRozan’s lack of versatility on offense and his waning defensive effort just make it hard to create a case for him as a net positive.
J.R. Wilco: I’ve spoken about this before, so I’ll change my approach (and make it snappy). There are three things I think the Spurs would do well to take care of right away. 1) Improve their defense. 2) Shoot threes better and more often. 3) Get playing time for their up-and-coming wings.
I don’t know how they can accomplish these with DmDr on the roster, but I can think of dozens of ways for them to do it without him.