San Antonio Spurs: Diving deep on DeMar DeRozan’s mastery of passing

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San Antonio Spurs

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 05: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs react to a call during a 121-113 Laker win at Staples Center. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs have made DeMar DeRozan one of the league’s great underrated players and his passing is a great reason for it.

With great talent comes the understanding that criticism is on its way, as San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan has come to learn. After years of being thwarted by LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, the four-time All-Star got shipped to the River City in a deal that sealed his fate as the forgotten savior of the Toronto Raptors. Now for the silver and black, DeRozan works in silence, allowing his game to do the talking as he learns from one of the all-time great sports franchises.

Part of what’s taken DeRozan from being a good player to a great one is his knack for passing. He’s posted his best passing numbers in each of his seasons in San Antonio and the Assist Percentages to match. Though the team has struggled to reach that next level and he’s oftentimes the first man to catch blame, he’s playing on a team designed for the future instead of the present.

10 of the team’s 16 players are 25-years-old or younger with minimal playoff experience and no prolonged exposure to the NBA’s pace of play. Meanwhile, the older players have shown signs of decline, leaving DeRozan stuck in the middle to pick up the pieces. The losing has taken its toll but hasn’t discouraged the former All-NBA wing from trying to get the best from his teammates.

DeMar DeRozan is one of the league’s most underrated floor generals in 2020.

Statistics back up the fact that DeMar is producing assists at an unexpectedly high rate. Even without totaling as many as he did last year, he’s posting numbers that put him in range with players like Ben Simmons, LeBron and Luka Doncic, who rank top-five in assists this year.

With a commanding offensive presence that puts defenders on their toes, DeRozan has learned to apply his scoring threat to create better looks for his teammates. His mastery of the pick-and-roll has hit another level, making him a dual-threat as a scorer and initiator. Defenders tend to throw double-teams at him when he gets closer to the basket, which allows him to find open teammates for easy buckets. Knowing to make those passes is one thing, but placing them accurately for teammates takes a different level of concentration that DeRozan has learned to capitalize on.

When DeRozan posts up here against the Charlotte Hornets, you can see all five defenders look directly at him and react. When he notices the attention, DeRozan’s improved IQ flashes. He realizes that dumping the ball off to a flashing Derrick White is a better option than trying to take the shot that all five defenders are anticipating. DeMar bounce passes the ball slightly out of Terry Rozier’s reach, giving White the window to take a soft floater before anyone could react.

Over his previous four seasons, DeRozan has averaged 2,706 minutes per season and committed an average of 81.75 bad passes for turnovers in that span. He only missed two games this year and was healthy all year, so we’re assuming he finishes the season having played 80 games. With that in mind, he’s on pace for 67 turnovers by bad passes this season. That’s his fewest since he had 67 bad passes in 2016 and finished with 315 assists — 30 fewer than he has right now.

His ability to recognize defender’s reactions and outwit them has helped a Spurs team that’s out-working its opponents to cover up mediocrity.

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