NBA King of the Hill Tournament: Put Some Respect on DeMar DeRozan’s Chances

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Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs.

Mar 25, 2020, 06:23 PM EDT

You may have heard that the Action Network is on a quest to find the top 1-on-1 player in the NBA. So far our basketball experts — Matt Moore, Rob Perez, Justin Phan and Bryan Mears — have each ranked their 64-best individual hoopers (For more on their rankings and analysis, click here). On Thursday, we’ll unveil the official bracket, and on Saturday, we’ll start playing out the tournament on Twitter via NBA2K for the whole world to see.

Matt is extremely high on the mid-range reliant DeMar DeRozan in this format — he ranked the guard No. 6 in his top 64. Matt makes his case for DeRozan below.

I’m not exactly the biggest advocate for DeMar DeRozan, NBA player. I’ve consistently tracked both his issues in the playoffs and the running theme of his teams being outscored with him on the floor.

Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea that DeRozan actively hurts teams with an archaic playing style built around isolation mid-range and subpar defense, it is inarguable that he has done enough as San Antonio’s best or second-best player to lift them.

In 61 games this season, DeRozan had a negative plus-minus 40 times. That means that in 40 of 61 games (66% of the time) the Spurs have been outscored with him on the court. People will point to teammates and opponent and scheme and all sorts of things, but even if we allow for all that, we have 40 out of 61 times where the Spurs were beaten by their opponent in the minutes he spent on the floor.


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So it feels weird that I’m about to cape for the former Raptor turned Spur. And yet here we are. My colleagues — Justin Phan, Rob Perez, and Bryan Mears — have DeRozan ranked in the low-to-mid 20’s in our rankings of the best NBA 1-on-1 players.

If you ask NBA players, he will not be mid-20’s.

DeRozan’s game is out of a time machine. He’s straight from that early-00’s style of basketball which was grinding, ugly, and dominated by the mid-range. He grew up in Compton, CA., worshipping Kobe Bryant, and has modeled his game after the Black Mamba more than any player in the league.

You know what Kobe was great at? You know what that era was dominated by?

Isolation, one-on-one basketball.

The problem in the modern context is that style is inherently flawed and inherently inefficient. Doing well in those play sets means a pretty reasonable ceiling of 1.0 points per possession, shooting somewhere around 45% from the field.

DeRozan, on the other hand, is averaging 49% this season in isolation, scoring 1.11 points per possession. He’s elite at this.

When you think of DeRozan, this is probably what you imagine:

The big drops. DeRozan crosses over and hits the pull-up. And he’s great at that, shooting 48% on dribble jumpers (87th percentile league-wide, No. 1 among players with at least 20 attempts).

But what really surprised me was how freaking strong he is. Here’s Tristan Thompson, a really great big defender, and DeRozan just brushes past him completely:

Mouse in the house? He’s getting to his spots. That’s a big thing with this tournament, or it should be, and a key reason why I have him so high: DeRozan can always get to his spots.

“OK,” you say, “but what if he’s guarded by the top guys?”

How about LeBron James:

Or Patrick Beverley:

Or Draymond Green:

Or Paul George:

Or … dare I ask, Kawhi Leonard?

Now, look, over the course of 100 possessions? DeRozan doesn’t wind up doing enough. He’s stoppable, he’s manageable, he’s beatable. But in a one-on-one game to 11? He’s going to have a great chance.

DeRozan has a million counters. Watch what he gives Ben Simmons here:

Even defensively, DeRozan has issues, but he has the scoring set of some of the best guards with a bigger body to be able to manage inside. He’s going to get cooked, which is why he’ll lose to any of the truly elite players and can get beat by a range of other guys.

But make no mistake: DeRozan would be a tough, tough out in a 1-on-1 tournament of NBA players.

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