Lonzo Ball has lofty goals for the Chicago Bulls this season. Championship ones.
And, in fitting fashion for the unselfish point guard, he has lofty goals for his teammates, too – particularly, DeMar DeRozan.
“DeMar has been a star in this league for a long time, and I think this is probably his best year, to me,” Ball told reporters after Monday morning’s shootaround. “He’s showing everybody that he should definitely be MVP this year.”
DeRozan’s torrid first 31 games have put him in that conversation. The Bulls star ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring – first if you zoom in to just fourth quarters – on remarkable efficiency, and has played an outsized role, on and off the court, in the Bulls vaulting from an 11th place finish in the East last season to the top of the conference at the start of 2022.
As for this being the best season of his decorated career, which features four All-Star selections, two All-NBA nods and an Eastern Conference finals appearance with the Raptors? There’s an argument there, too.
DeRozan’s scoring average of 26.8 points per game is the second-best of his career to his All-Star, third-team All-NBA 2016-17 season in Toronto, when he averaged 27.3. But his field goal percentage of 49.5 this season is almost three points higher than that season, his 3-point percentage of 37.3 (a career-high) is more than 10 points better, and, on the second highest usage rate (31 percent) of his career, he’s turning the ball over on a career-low 8.3 percent of his possessions.
What’s more, DeRozan’s statistical impact on the team has been astronomical. According to Cleaning the Glass, which factors out garbage-time possessions, the Bulls are 15.7 points per 100 possessions better with DeRozan on the court than off of it – a 96th percentile mark, and sixth in the league among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes (trailing only Fred VanVleet, Steph Curry, Devonte’ Graham, Patty Mills and Jrue Holiday). The Bulls score at a rate of 115.6 points per 100 possessions with DeRozan on the court (a figure which would rank second among NBA teams) and 107.4 with him off of it (which would be 25th) – in DeRozan’s minutes shooting better, turning the ball over less and getting to the foul line more. The team is 17-2 in the 19 games this season in which he has scored more than 25 points.
Add that to what teammates and coaches describe as a calming effect he infuses during clutch situations, and the slew of signature late-game moments he’s already authored – see: becoming the first player in NBA history to bury game-winning buzzer-beaters on back-to-back nights – and a compelling case rounds into form.
"He's our go-to guy. We always have faith in him when he has the ball in his hands, and as you can see, he comes through for us pretty much every time," Ball said. "And he gives everybody kind of that calm demeanor and helps everybody sail the ship to where it needs to go."
In a recent ESPN straw poll which surveyed a wide pool of likely MVP voters, DeRozan finished sixth behind Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić and Chris Paul. Those will be difficult names to displace, and more than half the season remains ahead.
But if DeRozan – and the Bulls – continue to play like this, it will also be difficult to keep him out of the conversation. Especially if Ball has anything to say about it.