DeMar DeRozanThere’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.

Comments (19)

  1. He’ll get it right this summer, no doubt in my mind.

  2. I’m actually surprised that his mid-range % isn’t higher. Not sure if a breakdown is available month-to-month but if you look at how much he’s improved his mid-range game from last season to this season, I’d be surprised if he didn’t improve a fair bit with his 3 point shooting. That said, I don’t love his form to begin with and I’m not sure if he has any natural long-range on that shot.

    I’m more concerned about him picking it up defensively and on the glass, and he is going to have to improve his passing as the double teams become more frequent.

  3. dribbles: Some more info about DeMar’s mid-range game for context: He’s shooting 47.6 percent on shots between 10-15 feet this season compared to 31.0 percent last season, but I didn’t mention that because I wanted to focus on the distance closest to the 3-point line. He’s measurably improved a significant amount from mid-range since last season.

  4. Good post, Scott. Last year, I thought I saw an attitude of willingness-to-do-the-work in DeRozan and then, those games in the summer league showed that he might be on the verge of taking the next step. These last few months, he’s shown that he has. Still a ways to go but I quite believe he’ll get there. If he starts taking – and making – those threes, he could be not just a good player, but a very good player in this league. Here’s hoping.

  5. Can you talk about something that matters heading into the offseason ie the future of Colangelo and Triano and why most seem to be clamouring for a return of both and crediting them for putting this “plan” in place when it was put in place by Chris Bosh leaving and Michael Jordan nixing the Evans/Banks/Calderon for Diaw/Chandler trade?

    DeRozan is just a guy, his improvement isn’t going to lead to a substantial improvement for the team and at this point, he’s just one of the looters in this riot padding his numbers while having the opportunity to take as many shots as he wants in a situation he probably wouldn’t be able to replicate on most other teams.

  6. “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.”

    ^liked this part the best. and while this was a great post breaking down Derozan’s offensive game… I agree with PBI that we’ve got bigger fish to fry this offseason. Not having a decent coach, not having an NBA center, and not having a GM who can sign an NBA center are the ones that come to mind. And if we don’t fix those things, it’ll be just another season of this ‘team-wide malaise’ as you so rightly put it, and I for one will probably find another team to follow.

  7. PBI: I prefer the team in this state than in the state it would have been if Bosh stuck around. It’s unfortunate the next draft appears to suck but I don’t think it’s black and white that getting rid of Colangelo and Triano would actually “fix” anything in this organization.

    Triano has a one-year option to potentially coach this team next season when it’s going to suck no matter who coaches it. Colangelo’s contract is up and his status is still up in the air. I will probably wait until decisions are made about their future with the team before I bother to spend time commenting on them. This team is what it is right now, and changing those jobs isn’t going to fix much over the next season or two.

  8. Refreshing post and attitude, Scott. Seems like Internet Raptor blogging and fandom has become just a constant re-hashing of the same old debates with no real solutions in sight, so this sort of stuff is nice to see…

  9. I’m really getting sick of that logic.

    The Raptors would suck if I coached them next year too but that doesn’t mean I should be coaching a professional basketball team. I don’t know why people people pick and choose when they want to buy into the impact of coaching and the front office.

    The Raptors are in a horrendous situation when it comes to their roster makeup, the coaches they have put together to develop and guide that roster and the man who has put together that roster and coaching staff but just because there isn’t an overnight fix does not mean that the whole organization/fan base should just shrug their shoulders and just keep the current regime in place.

    It’d be nice to have a different perspective than the same thing I’ve been hearing from Eric Smith, Paul Jones, Jack Armstrong, Leo Rautins, etc. all season. The franchise is in a terrible spot but I’m being told by everyone that the people who have helped put them in that position should be given a continuously extending leash and whenever a change is suggested, it’s the same old tired rebuttals.

  10. heh heh..great article and response post scott :P

  11. PBI: I know you, and the only way you’d be satisfied is if I did nothing but criticize this organization with everything I wrote about them. Whether or not that’s what they deserve, you’re in the minority of people who want to read that. I’m not blind about the state this franchise is in. I started this blog in 2002 and they’ve never won a playoff series under my watch. They have been one of the five most incompetently run franchises in the league as long as I’ve covered them, and I would never dispute that. What more do you want?

    FIRE EVERYONE! RELEASE THE WHOLE TEAM! BURN THE ACC DOWN! HULK SMASH!

    I’ve learned the importance of nuance as I’ve matured in life and in this business. You’re the same old parade-pisser you’ve always been. If you’re wondering why nobody is willing to take the stance you want to read, it’s not because everybody is an ass-kisser. I’m not beholden to MLSE in any way so I can write or say whatever I want. It’s because most people would rather not wallow in doom and gloom all the time. If you’re so miserable with the state of this team and its coverage, I recommend taking up a hobby that actually satisfies you or starting your own site to express your views so you can see how many people want to read it.

  12. You don’t know me, dude, we’ve met twice and that was years ago.

    I’m not sure why you’re getting so defensive and trying to insult me instead of addressing anything I brought up. I’m just pointing out my frustration with how this team is covered. I don’t think it’s asking too much from the media of this city (which you fall into) for a balanced view of this team instead of just making excuses for the people already in place.

    I’m not trying to dictate your content, you can do whatever the hell you want.

  13. @ Alex T
    I think some of the rehashing is because the same problems keep reappearing – or at least it seems like it.
    I think this is one of the better posts of the year.

  14. Seriously if we had gotten Chandler we could have still had Bayless and we would still have Davis…. we would be in good shape looking forward…. but even still I feel like if we are able to get rid of Calderon and Andrea we will be in good shape either way. Calderon is good but he has some downfalls (like being injury prone).

    Just for the record yeah that is right DAVIS NOTCHED ANOTHER DOUBLE DOUBLE how many double doubles has Andrea had this year? Further more how many 15ppg and 10 rbs have both players had in comparison. Davis should have been starting since day one. To bad he missed training camp with that injury.

  15. PBI…

    First off, I’m not sure why you’re harping on this particular topic on this particular blog. Both Scott and Joseph have been more than willing to call this team out on its lack of effort, lack of talent, poor play, and questionable management or coaching decisions. (Scott in particular with his video breakdown has been able to get quite specific on these things at times.) Certainly, a person doesn’t want consistently glass-half-full coverage will want to avoid a fair amount of Holly’s contributions, but they’re all bylined, so that’s not a problem.

    Secondly, I’m not sure why you expect the print and TV media to think it to be smart to continually attack the Raptors in every opinion they write. Not only does that not make sense from the content-is-there-to-attract-consumers point of view (writing nothing but negatives about a team will turn away a lot more consumers than it brings in), but as a writer, I’m sure that sooner or later it becomes extremely tiresome to not write about anything good for a change. (And let’s not forget that some Toronto outlets have done a good job of providing solid information and analysis – the real business of a media property, at least in theory – that might paint the team and its management in an unfavorable light – such as the Globe’s special series on MLSE.)

    I do understand, I think, why you might *want* the print and TV media to continually attack the Raptors in everything they write. You want to see the GM and coach replaced, and in your mind that’s only going to happen if the media attacks the team unceasingly until they’re gone.

    If that’s the case, consider the other Toronto-team-that-sucks, the Maple Leafs; I think they demonstrate why that idea is misguided. The Leafs have had that kind of ongoing focussed criticism, and it has led to changes of GM and coach – and it hasn’t done any good (yet); they still suck, if a little less so this year. Now consider this: the Leafs and the Raptors have the same owner, MLSE. MLSE has seen what happens when they make change for the sake of change with the Leafs, and how there’s no point over the long term in making a change of coach or GM just to get the heat off of your team. Rather, I expect they’re convinced that there’s no point in making a change unless there are one or more better candidates to specifically target as a replacement.

  16. DeRozan has the mechanics to be a good 3 point shooter, and as it was said in the article, he just needs to practice his consistency with them. I’m fairly confident that over the next couple of years he will add that shot to his game. I just hope he doesn’t go all Vince Carter on us and become a chucker.

  17. Come on PBI you love being the guy who complains at every chance he gets don’t start crying when people start calling you on it.

  18. PBI is right, stop the BS and start talking about the real issues – this team is awful.

  19. Scott – here’s a vote for the balance & tone of your coverage as you already provide it.

    I prefer to be a basketball fan, rather than a “GM/Season Mode” video game fan. I’m sick of blogs that just ramble about player trades and swapping out management pieces. When it comes to that stuff, if you’ve got no insider info you’ve got nothing to talk about. It’s all speculation and rumour steeped in whining.

    I’m all for posts that discuss the, you know, basketball aspects of basketball. If you’re looking for drama, stick to reality TV. Snookie would love to have you.

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