There’s no point in sugar-coating what a miserable season it has been for the Toronto Raptors. The organization can spin all it wants about how they knew this was going to be a rebuilding season, but with one game remaining the best they can hope for is to finish third-worst in the standings. Looking for bright spots in the midst of this debacle has been a challenging exercise, to say the least.
Among the players who saw regular playing time on the Raptors, it’s tough to argue against the claim that nobody showed more improvement than DeMar DeRozan did in his sophomore season. In transitioning into an everyday starting role that should end with him being the only Raptor to start all 82 games, DeRozan increased his minutes played average from 21.6 per game in his rookie season to 34.7 minutes per game this season and he literally doubled his scoring average from 8.6 to 17.2 per game. And he’s continued to improve as the season has progressed — in 21 games since the beginning of March, DeRozan averaged 20.4 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and a truly impressive 88 percent from the free throw line.
As a 21-year-old, it’s understandable that there are still holes in his game — and they’re fairly big ones. His defense may have actually declined from last season, although that’s probably attributable to his increased playing time and heightened role in the Raptors’ offense. Also, it’s pointless to point the finger at a single player’s defensive inadequacies on this squad when their inability to stop opponents from scoring at will has been a team-wide malaise for the past two seasons. DeRozan’s other significant area for improvement is his three-point shooting — an aspect of his offensive repertoire that isn’t so much underdeveloped as it is non-existent.
A Basketball Prospectus article from last week claimed that DeRozan “has been quietly putting together one of the worst three-point shooting seasons in NBA history” based on the fact that among players who took at least 30 three-point attempts in a season, only 10 players had worse shooting percentages from that range than the 9.8 percent rate DeRozan sported at the time. While there’s no denying that DeRozan can’t shoot the three, it seems like the minimum attempts qualifier was arbitrarily picked to enable DeRozan to be included in that group.
If you raise the minimum to something more statistically significant like 100 three-point attempts in a season, you get 38 seasons in which a player shot 25 percent or worse from beyond the arc — including such notable scrubs as Charles Barkley (three times!), Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and recent Hall of Fame inductee Chris Mullin. It’s worth noting that more than half those seasons occurred when the player was 24 years old or younger during the season.
My point here is that DeRozan is still young, obviously works hard on his game, and he has plenty of time to improve his shooting. But what specifically does he need to improve about his shooting? According to hoopdata.com, DeRozan’s mid-range shooting from 16-to-23 feet improved from a 38 percent success rate in his rookie season to a 40 percent rate this season — with a league average of 39.5 percent from that range, we see that he’s solid from mid-range, but not great. But why the huge dropoff from mid-range to long-range? To answer that question, I emailed a couple of people I consider to be among the leading basketball experts in shooting form and basketball analysis: shooting instructor Dave Hopla and ubiquitous NBA blogger Sebastian Pruiti.
You might remember Hopla from his previous stint as a Raptors assistant coach during the 2006-07 season and you can now find him at davehopla.com where he promotes his camps, videos, his “Shooter’s Club” and an upcoming shooting app. Here is Hopla’s take on DeRozan’s three-point shooting form:
First of all DD doesn’t shoot a lot of 3′s, it is an area that he definitely needs to improve upon. From what I’ve seen, DD is inconsistent with his footwork from the three-point line. His feet are never the same, sometimes his feet are too close, other times they are too wide. Also at times, he is not aligned with his target. Then on his finish, sometimes he drops his hands, sometimes just his balance hand drops and then when he does freeze his follow-through he has a tendency to finish low with his elbow finishing below the eyebrow. His finish should be upwards and the elbow should be fully extended above the eyebrow, when a shooter does this, he gets good arc on his shot and is not a line drive shooter.
Because I feel like my job is to simplify this stuff as much as possible, let me put it this way: DeMar’s three-point shooting mechanics are all messed up. Pruiti, who writes for his own invaluable NBAPlaybook.com blog while also contributing to The Basketball Jones, Basketball Prospectus, SB Nation and probably a bunch of other places, saw similar mechanical issues with DeRozan’s form but seems to be optimistic that he can improve:
I think he can improve his shooting at least to the level of his long two-point shooting. The reason why I think that is he basically has the same form up with his upper body (whether that needs improving or not, it is hard to tell. He does have success with it from two), with him taking the ball way over his head and letting it go.
The problem I have seen with DeRozan is with his lower body, specifically his tendency to float forwards on his shot. What I mean by that is instead of jumping straight up and down, DeRozan jumps out. The other problem with this is that he does it very inconsistently, he’ll jump like five feet forward on one shot and a foot forward the next. It is really hard to adjust things like how much arc, spin, and strength you are putting into a shot when you are inconsistent with your motion (that is why Ray Allen’s borderline OCD helps him so much during shooting). If DeRozan hits the front rim on one shot, he doesn’t know how to adjust.
We can illustrate Pruiti’s points with a couple of video clips from his extensive NBAPlaybook collection on YouTube. Here we have DeRozan’s typical form on a long two-point shot:
Now here’s an unsuccessful three-point attempt by DeRozan — note the leg kick which differs from his two-point shooting form:
Since he’s shooting from a longer distance, it might be acceptable for DeRozan to have slightly different form on shots beyond the arc compared to mid-range shots — but he clearly needs to have his three-point shooting mechanics fine tuned so he can develop a consistent form and stroke. Like many disciplines in sports — whether it’s hitting a curveball, throwing a deep pass in football or hitting jump shots and free throws — one of the keys to success is concentrating on controlling your body so that your arms, legs and head move in-game the way you learned in practice. When you consider his impressive ability to control his body on drives to the basket and his reportedly strong work ethic and desire to improve, there’s no reason to believe that DeRozan won’t make significant improvements in his long-range shooting — with the right coaching, of course.