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San Antonio Spurs: DeMar DeRozan as a dark horse MVP candidate

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs stands for the National Anthem before a game against the LA Clippers at STAPLES Center on November 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs stands for the National Anthem before a game against the LA Clippers at STAPLES Center on November 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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What are the odds that DeMar DeRozan becomes the third San Antonio Spurs player to win league MVP?

When the San Antonio Spurs traded for DeMar DeRozan over the summer, there was a healthy dose of skepticism revolving around how the All-Star’s proclivity for the mid-range shot would mesh with the eerily similar game representative of LaMarcus Aldridge. However, just 16 games into the 2018-19 season, it feels safe to say that DeRozan is not only fitting in but also prospering, playing the best basketball of his career.

So, what are DeRozan’s chances of being on the short list for the league’s most valuable player?

On the surface, DeRozan’s numbers stack up well with the rest of the NBA’s elite performers. Across the board, DeRozan is posting career-high figures in nearly every statistical category. This season, DD is averaging 24.9 points, 6.4 assists and 6.3 rebounds a game.

The former Raptor has taken on the burden of being the No. 1 option on offense, knocking down 48.2 percent of his field goals, his highest percentage since his rookie year when he was shooting 49.8 percent but only attempting 6.6 shots per game. DeMar is also shooting a career-best 88.5 percent from the free-throw line.

Beyond the percentages, what’s most significant about DeRozan’s elevated level of play in the Alamo City is his vision and willingness as a passer. With the pre-season injury to Dejounte Murray and a subsequent aliment to Derrick White, the Spurs were left extremely thin at the point guard position to begin the year. However, DeRozan stepped up to share the primary ball handling responsibilities with Bryn Forbes and has emerged as one of the league’s best distributors.

Currently, DeMar ranks 11th in the NBA in total assists, racking up 102 thus far. DeRozan has more assists than point guards such as Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker while just trailing the likes of players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Ricky Rubio.

What’s more impressive about DeRozan’s assist output is the efficient manner in which he’s doing it, registering a career-high 2.55 assist/turnover ratio while posting a 29.1 assist percentage. DD’s ability to effectively dissect a defense and find open teammates are skills he’s been developing over his nine-year career, but there’s something about DeRozan’s style of play injected into the Spurs system that just fits seamlessly.

Although DeRozan has gotten off to an unprecedented start, there are still several hindrances that would prevent him from being in the MVP conversation. First, the Spurs are currently posting an 8-8 record and are fighting for a playoff spot.

Similar to Kemba Walker, who is recording similar stats as DeRozan on a bottom-tier Eastern Conference playoff team in the Charlotte Hornets, team success, or the lack thereof, will be the prevailing determining factor keeping DeRozan off the finalist pedestal.

360 FINISH ???@DeMar_DeRozan is just ridiculous. #GoSpursGo https://t.co/45NatRMUB7

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 16, 2018

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Further, and I want to watch how I word this, but DeRozan is too much of a one-dimensional player to win the MVP in the modern-day NBA. The last San Antonio player that had a legitimate shot at the MVP award was the man the Spurs traded in exchange for DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard, who finished third in the MVP voting in the 2016-17 season behind James Harden and winner Russell Westbrook.

One of the primary reasons Leonard was in contention for the MVP was because of his effectiveness on the defensive end in tandem with his elite offensive repertoire. Leonard was easily regarded as the top two-way player in the NBA, if not one of the top two or three, and finished third that year in the Defensive Player of the Year award after winning the two previous years.

On the flip side, one of the biggest knocks against DeRozan is his defensive prowess; DeRozan currently posts just a 1.8 Net Rating, which ranks 170th in the NBA. In addition, while DD ranks 11th in the league in points per game, I’m wary about his odds to climb up those ranks and put up the gaudy numbers that are historically used as the barometer for individual excellence in the eyes of voters.

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That, in connection with San Antonio’s uncertainty as a playoff team, are the primary reasons why DeRozan won’t be taken as seriously as an MVP candidate despite the career year he’s had to start his San Antonio career.

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