Sacramento Kings Acquiring DeMar DeRozan: Will They Finally Level Up?

Sacramento Kings Acquiring DeMar DeRozan: Will They Finally Level Up? article feature image

You're not going to find anyone with anything bad to say about DeMar DeRozan, who the Sacramento Kings traded for on Sunday night.

Sacramento sent Harrison Barnes to the San Antonio Spurs along with an unprotected pick swap in 2031 and Chris Duarte to the Chicago Bulls in a sign-and-trade for the six-time All-Star. The move is the culmination of a multi-season effort by the Kings to move Barnes for an upgrade on the wing to play with All-Star cornerstones De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.

DeRozan is a pro's pro. A veteran with seven playoff runs who has done it all, seen it all and hooped through it all. Teammates adore him for his warm personality and sincerity. Media love him for his perspective and integrity. Fans love him for the highlights and his absolutely absurd collection of clutch buckets through the years. DeRozan is a throwback to a time when the mid-range dominated the game, and the best skill you could have was shaking someone with a post-up 18-foot fadeaway.

He was the best player on the Raptors' perennial 50-win team in the mid-2010's, or at the very least tied with longtime friend Kyle Lowry. He was the best player on the Spurs in the late 2010's. And he was the best player on the Bulls in this latest failed iteration.

Derozan's addition should be seen as nothing but a positive for Sacramento as they try and keep pace in the Western Conference arms race and regain the ground they lost last season after a 3rd seed loss to the then-defending champs in 2022.

But unfortunately, it's more complicated than that.

Kings to Acquire DeMar DeRozan: Will They Finally Level Up?

The Raptors held a +8.7 net rating with Kyle Lowry on-court without DeRozan. That slipped by 3.7 points when Lowry was on the floor with DDR. But that's against starters. No big deal, even though the Raptors were four points worse with just DDR on-court than when he was on with Lowry.

The Spurs were +2 in net rating, beating opponents by two points per 100 possessions with LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor without DeRozan. That fell to -1.9 when he shared the court with DeRozan.

In 2021, Zach LaVine showed flashes of All-NBA potential. He was on the rise. The Bulls sought to capitalize by trading for Nikola Vucevic, and then later, DeRozan. Before DeRozan arrived, with a lottery-team roster, the Bulls were -0.3 in net rating when LaVine was on-court. Over the next three seasons, the Bulls were +0.5 with LaVine on-court when DeRozan sat. With LaVine next to DeRozan, that number dropped to -1.9.

That's three different situations, with three different coaches, including Gregg freaking Popovich, where the team was worse with one of their best players on the floor next to DeRozan.

In DeRozan's defense, the Bulls were better with DeRozan by himself than LaVine was by his, the Spurs' bench was better than their starters, and the Raptors had a lot of success.

None of this has much to do with flaws in DeRozan's game itself. He's not a selfish chucker, and has in fact developed into a terrific passer. He's a better defender than he was as most players become with age.

You can't identify the specific ways in which DeRozan hurts your team. It just never seems to work as well as it should, especially next to other talented players. He's best suited by being the focal point of a team, with other players in orbit around him while he works his mid-range magic. Except that will always wind up being slightly less efficient than average team, despite him being one of the best mid-range scorers we've ever seen.

It just… doesn't work.

Most notably, the concern has to be that something in his play limits his teammates' potential, whether it's quick scoring guards like LaVine (or Fox) or gifted post-up players like Aldridge (or Sabonis). Maybe the player most vulnerable to the addition of DeRozan and the usage he brings is third-year player Keegan Murray who was electric last season despite a down year from 3-point range.

The best way to think of it is as a circuit. DeRozan brings his own electricity to the equation. But he doesn't pass current to the other components you need. He doesn't increase the collective energy the five-man lineup puts out.

It's possible that this Kings teams is the answer, that De'Aaron Fox's improved scoring and 3-point threat (37% on volume last season) fits great next to him. Maybe DeRozan and Domantas Sabonis, two of the craftiest players you'll ever see, will create magic in confined spaces.

But there have been issues with Sabonis in the playoffs, and the same is true of DeRozan. DeRozan's teams have never finished a playoff run having won his minutes. He had to play LeBron in Toronto, and neither the Bulls nor Spurs were equipped to truly compete. Still, it's notable that DeRozan's play-style doesn't seem to adapt to the playoffs well, and that was absolutely a narrative with the Raptors.

DeRozan is an incredible clutch player, now playing alongside 2023 Clutch Player of the Year De'Aaron Fox. Those possessions can often be unstable, but it's hard to argue against the notion that the Kings are well-equipped for close games late.

But this is a soon-to-be 35-year-old midrange scorer making $25 million to try and get the Kings to the next tier of contention. There's nothing you can say about DeRozan that makes this a bad signing, or a bad use of assets for a Sacramento team wandering back in the non-playoff wilderness after one wonderful breakout season. It's a feel-good story.

It just doesn't seem likely it's going to work, either. That's the story of DeRozan's career. Best of intentions, pure hooping, dazzling basketball.

Just not enough winning.

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Sacramento Win Total Analysis

The good news is that DeRozan does lift the regular season floor for the Kings. Like I said, he's an objectively good player. Based on the Kings' offseason, I've moved the Kings up two points on power rating (how much a team is favored vs. an average opponent on neutral court), a difference of about five regular season wins.

The Kings outperformed their expected record based on point differential last year, finishing with 46 wins vs. an expected 42.9 according to Cleaning the Glass, and my power rating had them a bit below that. I have them projected for roughly 47 wins based on this move.

A one-win improvement over last year may not seem like much, but the Kings were also only 20-19 in "clutch" games last season, 6-5 in games decided by 3-points or less. The addition of DeRozan could help them weight a few more coin flips in their direction.

The Kings are still underrated in the market for division, remaining at +350 after the trade for DeRozan, despite having a strong chance at stealing the Pacific late last season after winning it the year before.

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Sean Treppedi
Jul 17, 2024 UTC