PHILADELPHIA — It’s hard to know where to begin to fully quantify the impact DeMar DeRozan has had in the early days of his Chicago Bulls tenure.
You could start on the court, where the four-time All-Star is averaging 25.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4 assists on 49.3/41.2/87 percent shooting splits for the 6-1 Bulls.
You could narrow the focus to the fourth quarter, where DeRozan leads the NBA with 50 points and has knocked down 18 of 32 field goals and 12 of 13 free throws.
You could even zoom in on two huge problem areas for the Bulls last season — too many turnovers, too few free throws — and acknowledge DeRozan’s impact there. He ranks sixth in the NBA with 6.6 free-throw attempts per game as the Bulls have jumped from 30th to tied for eighth in that category. And his 29.1 usage rate coupled with just 1.6 turnovers per game have helped the Bulls jump from 27th in 2020-21 to third thus far this season with just 13 giveaways per contest.
“DeMar is a lot more than just a veteran leader,” Zach LaVine said way back on Bulls media day. “DeMar is still in the prime of his career. Let’s not get that twisted.”
This is accurate. But DeRozan’s influence as a steady, calming presence also can’t be overlooked. In fact, this might be where he has offered the most value.
Think back to August. At his introductory news conference via Zoom, DeRozan offered an emphatic rebuke to those questioning his fit on the new-look Bulls.
“I mean, it’s basketball,” DeRozan said at the time. “Lot of people I see criticizing, talking about ‘fit this, fit that’ have probably never even played basketball. For me, if everybody is on the same page mentality and wants to win, it don’t matter about a ‘fit’ because it’s all gonna come together how it needs to come together to make it work.”
Regardless of if people viewed this answer as defensive or dripping with self-assurance, DeRozan’s words set a tone. He also first gave voice to a theme he has circled back to repeatedly — and accurately. That the Bulls are full of players with chips on their shoulders.
Don’t look now, but the Bulls are 4-1 in “clutch” games this season — contests defined by NBA.com as falling within a five-point margin inside five minutes to play — after posting a 14-21 mark in such games last season.
“He’s incredibly poised. He does not get out of sorts at all. And I think he’s great for our team,” Billy Donovan said. “I think he’s great for Zach. Having a guy like DeMar out there, who plays with a pace and a tempo and a poise, you never take him out of what he’s doing.”
Indeed, DeRozan’s presence as another ball-handler and shot creator has eased the burden on LaVine, who is playing through a small tear in his left thumb. Freed from consistent double-teams, LaVine’s turnovers have dropped from 3.5 to 2.3 per game — and he’s still averaging 25.6 points in his own right.
Watching DeRozan work matchups and consistently get to his spots to unleash his midrange mojo has been a revelation. By his standards, he’s actually off to a slow start from that distance, connecting at just 42.9 percent on eight midrange attempts per game.
But per NBA.com’s stats page, DeRozan is shooting 54.8 percent on 10.4 attempts per game with a defender classified as “tight” (i.e. within two-to-four feet). That’s a testament to DeRozan working the matchup and knowing when to pull a jumper that most defenses know is coming. He’s a masterclass in poise.
“For me, just keeping that calm, not getting rattled and sharing whatever experience I can to keep us together,” he said.
Both Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams have talked about learning from the 13-year veteran. LaVine has gushed consistently about playing alongside another dynamic scorer. Donovan might be asking if DeRozan can get a raise.
That last line is sarcasm. But DeRozan’s impact on this young season is stone cold serious.
Just as he is when asked about the fight and determination the Bulls are displaying to this point.
“That was the reason why I came,” he said. “The conversation I had with the front office, I felt it, sensed it, understood it. As a competitor, that’s something I wanted to be a part of. Being around the guys, they had the same type of mindset.
“To me, it just didn’t seem like words. Everybody is willing to put in the actions, understanding that nothing is going to be perfect. But everyone is willing and wants to win. You see it in the preparation behind the scenes that’s very intense. The time we put in, how much we pay attention to detail. It carries over on the court.
Six victories in seven games would suggest DeRozan is on target again.