DeMar DeRozan proving he’s still the San Antonio Spurs alpha dog
"DeMar DeRozan has helped carry the San Antonio Spurs in clutch situations"
For much of the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs were carried by their bell-cow scorers, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. But with a shoulder surgery sidelining Aldridge for the remainder of the regular season, it was unclear what DeRozan’s role on the Spurs would be during the team’s time in Orlando.
Spurs coaches spoke on the importance of player development over the final eight games and, by all accounts, DeRozan had bought into that. He has talked about how he enjoys playing with the young guys and has done a phenomenal job of stepping back and letting Dejounte Murray and Derrick White take on more prominent roles in the team’s offense.
White’s emersion as a top player in the bubble would not have been possible without DeRozan handing off some of his offensive responsibilities. He’s given White the room to grow and Derrick has taken off because of it.
One of the most iconic quotes from DeRozan over the past few weeks was his comparison of the young Spurs to ‘wild pit bulls’ running around. It’s an apt comparison. The young Spurs are full of energy, fun as hell to watch, and still make silly mistakes from time to time. But through it all, they’re still taking their queues from their pack leader, the alpha.
DeMar is the pack leader for the San Antonio Spurs young players
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and maybe that’s true. What we’ve seen from DeRozan over these past six games isn’t anything particularly new, it’s just been him at his absolute best.
Playing as the teams starting power forward, DeRozan has been an active participant in an offense that’s been focused on driving and kicking and driving and kicking, until something opens up near the rim or they find an open look behind the arc for three. The results have been astounding.
The bubble Spurs have posted the 5th highest offensive rating in the league over the past six games, putting up 116.3 points per 100 possessions on their opponents. The whole flow of their offense has changed for the better. But when time’s get tough, the Spurs still revert back to their old ways a bit and lean heavily on their star player to carry them across the finish line.
Make no mistake, the Spurs are using this season restart to work on player development and set themselves up for next year but they’re still going out there with the intention of winning every game. And Gregg Popovich knows that with the game on the line, there’s no one on the team better suited to have the ball in their hands than DeRozan.
Just look at what happened at the end of the nail biter against the Memphis Grizzlies. Late in the game, with the score close, the Spurs went to classic DeRozan. He used possession after possession, picking out his man, dribbling the clock down, and then canning a mid-range jumper right in their grill. It didn’t matter who it was, DeMar was going to get his.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/02/0021901246/701/13ab5134-4701-0c3f-5fae-e8156d5c2268_1280x720.mp4
After a clutch Jaren Jackson Jr. three tied the game up, DeRozan was going to get one more chance to play the hero. Every Spurs fan, probably everyone watching, knew what was coming. Except for poor Dillon Brooks. DeMar calmly moved past the 3-point line, crossed over, pump-faked, got Brooks up in the air and drew contact, then knocked down the two necessary free-throws to close out the game. As vintage of a DeMar DeRozan performance as you’ll ever see.
That wasn’t the first, or the last, time that the Spurs have leaned DeMar to carry them home. Yesterday, after a -13 third quarter put their victory against the New Orleans in danger, the Spurs turned to DeRozan to put the victory on ice. He responded by going 6-8 from the field, hit all of his free throw attempts, and poured in a game-leading 15 points in the final quarter to give San Antonio one of their best wins of the restart.
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He’s truly been an assassin in clutch moments for the Spurs. Over the last six games, there isn’t a player in the league who has been more of an asset to their team in the final quarter. He’s averaging 10.3 points per game in the fourth, outpacing players like Damian Lillard and Bubble All-Star TJ Warren.
Hand up, I’ve been as big of a proponent of the Spurs moving on from DeRozan as anyone over the past few months. But this version of DeMar is one that the Spurs could use going forward. He’s perfectly walking the line between taking over and handing off some of his playmaking and scoring responsibilities to the young guys. I don’t know about you, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the young guys run wild for the first three quarters and then settling in for a throwback performance from a Kobe acolyte in the fourth.
Who knows what the future holds for DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs. He’s got his player-option, which he apparently hasn’t thought about at all, to consider. With the uncertainty around the salary cap, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come back to San Antonio for another year. If he’s willing to stay in this same role as the cagey veteran closer then that wouldn’t be a bad situation at all.
Those are questions for another day. For now, DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs have their destiny in their own hands. Win their final two games and sneak into the playoffs, everything else can be figured out after that.