DeMar DeRozan has always wanted to return to Los Angeles to play basketball. He’s said it over the years and continued to do so prior to and even after he joined the Chicago Bulls this offseason. His desire is, of course, warranted and him joining either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers would have only boosted the title chances of those teams. Yet at this point, he’s in a much better position than either of Los Angeles’ NBA teams.
The Bulls are currently 4-0 after their 111-108 win over the Toronto Raptors. It’s way too early to tell, but there are indications that the Bulls, who are the only undefeated team left in the Eastern Conference, will finish better than last season with DeRozan leading the youthful squad.
It wasn’t too long ago that the four-time All-Star was the young upstart that led the Toronto Raptors to wins and eventually playoff appearances that more often than not ended against LeBron James. Now, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic are the elder statesmen in a roster that also has All-Star Zach Lavine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Coby White, and Patrick Williams. Apart from his on-court contributions, it’s DeRozan’s leadership and other intangibles that will now be valuable for this group.
Playing on a loaded roster has allowed DeRozan to pick his spots, especially as he approaches the latter stages of his career. The days when he could easily blow by defenders and throw down ferocious dunks that would feature on highlights are few and far between, as they have been replaced with a more deliberate approach with a little finesse on the side. Nevertheless, the two-time All-NBA selection remains to be a playmaker and utilizes the pick-and-roll to get his own shot or create plays for those around him. Having teammates like Vucevic, Lavine, Ball, and even Caruso give him solid options to pass to and he has made the most out of it, to their benefit and that of Chicago.
Against the Raptors, DeRozan operated mainly from the elbow where he would pull up for his patented midrange jumper (which he now uses more as he continues to get older) or attack the basket for a trip to the free throw line. It may also have helped that he played in a familiar arena like the Scotiabank Arena, especially when the Bulls needed a crucial basket as their 20-point lead was whittled down into single digits.
DeRozan ended the game with 26 points, four rebounds, and six assists, overcoming a 36.8 percent shooting night by making all 10 of his free throw attempts and two of his four 3-point attempts. The 2016 Olympic Gold medallist has never been a major threat from behind the 3-point line but it helped keep the Toronto defense on their toes. With that performance, his averages now stand at 22.5 points (.419/.375/.833 shooting splits), 5.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists through four games, numbers well within his career averages of 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists.
He will likely be called upon more often, especially when the game is tight and the margins become thinner. While the current landscape of the NBA continues to be heavily influenced by the 3-pointer, last year’s postseason showed that the midrange isn’t dead. With a tough schedule on hand for the next month, Chicago will look to DeRozan as one of its leaders and shotmakers down the stretch.
The Bulls’ next 13 games will come against last year’s playoff teams, with the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz having yet to experience a loss as of this writing. Their games against the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers will also be litmus tests as to how they stack up against two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
Home is where the heart is, and right now, it’s safe to say that DeMar DeRozan has his heart set with the Chicago Bulls. A return to Los Angeles will always be in the cards, but given how things are turning out so far with the Bulls, that may get pushed back further especially as the wins come.