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San Antonio Spurs: Appreciating DeMar DeRozan’s defensive emergence

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Dallas Mavericks look on during the game on March 12, 2019 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. 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 2019 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Dallas Mavericks look on during the game on March 12, 2019 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. 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 2019 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Since arriving in San Antonio and subscribing to the wisdom of Gregg Popovich, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has shown significant growth as a defender.

One knock against star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan over the course of his career has been his average defense. Two-way effort is key to building a legacy in the NBA, so many skeptics have noted DeRozan’s non-commitment to that side of the ball as a knock against his overall stature as a player.

That script was flipped once DeRozan was traded from Toronto to the Alamo City.

Lackadaisical defensive effort doesn’t fly under the regime of San Antonio Spurs’ architect Gregg Popovich. As all truly committed athletes do once joining the Spurs, DeRozan has put in the work to become a solid defensive asset both on and off the ball.

Steal. Finish through contact. Count it. @DeMar_DeRozan | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/Ba1cDZoGTV

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 13, 2019

During stretches when the team was out of sync defensively over the course of this winding season, we’ve seen DeRozan’s individual effort sink. Teams knew to attack San Antonio from the three-point line after the ACL injury suffered by All-Defensive selection Dejounte Murray in the preseason. In a time of need, the Spurs turned to DeRozan to be something he historically struggled to become: a reliable perimeter defender.

It was only a matter of time before the Spurs began clicking around their team-based defensive values that focus on playing with high-intensity while limiting fouls.

San Antonio is on a seven-game win streak that’s seen team-defense and calculated offense pummel opposing units. This has been in large part due to DeRozan’s leadership while steamrolling to the playoffs once again.

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In the month of March, DeRozan ranks sixth in deflections per game with 3.5 each night. The pride of Compton has shown a refined sense of urgency while matching up against some very difficult opponents between the shooting guard and small forward positions. By interrupting lanes and picking off passes, DeRozan is generating offense on the opposite end of the floor and setting a tone for the rest of his teammates.

DeRozan has corralled 12 steals over his last five outings for 2.4 steals per game in that stretch. He’s also held opponents to an average shooting percentage of 44.1 percent during the Spurs’ current winning streak, just below the league average of 46 percent from the field.

Coming to San Antonio has provided DeRozan with an unlikely opportunity to evolve himself as a well-rounded player. The Spurs are notorious for putting their players in the position to learn new ways to approach the game. DeRozan is a motivated competitor with a hunger for greatness, so improved defense was a natural progression for him at 29-years-old.

Next. 2019 NBA Draft: San Antonio Spurs Frontcourt Prospects

Watching DeRozan hone his craft under the tutelage of San Antonio’s distinguished coaching staff has been a treat for the superstar’s wide range of fans.

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