DeMar DeRozan’s Throwback Game Excels In The Face Of Today’s NBA Culture

As a result of Demar DeRozan's ascension into one of the best players in the league, the Toronto Raptors are in second place in the Eastern Conference. Much like last season, they are winning differently than their NBA contemporaries. The recent success of the Raptors reminds everyone that iso-ball and the midrange game isn't completely dead.

Clearly, looking at online Canadian sportsbooks give the Raptors the best odds of dethroning the Cleveland Cavaliers come playoff time. DeRozan's MVP-like play is one reason why.

As the years passed, the ethos of the league has changed. Teams are prone to rely on three-point shooting, spacing and attacking the rim. Decades ago, teams established their identity by playing through the post or a ball-dominant guard. While that’s the case for some mediocre ball clubs, the elite ones are adapting to life behind the three-point line. As seen with championship teams such as Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland, the three-point shot is a major key.

When looking at their accomplishments, it’s hard to argue against the new-look NBA. Although the innovative approach is flourishing, DeRozan and the Raptors are an anomaly that’s thriving in the face of today’s culture in basketball.

On the surface level, DeRozan has new school flavor. His sneakers are vibrant, his persona oozes swagger, and his dunks are ferocious. When peeling back the layers, DeRozan’s game is a throwback.

His 47 three-point attempts this season pale in comparison to Klay Thompson’s 227, but that’s fine. If this were hip-hop, DeRozan is Kendrick Lamar wedged between the Drakes and Desiigners of the world. Although his old-school approach isn’t duplicated, he finds a way to create a niche as one of the best.

To be frank, he’s a messiah of the mid-range game. In an era where many live and die by the three, DeRozan is at his best from 17 feet and closer.

Advanced analytics note the midrange shot is an inefficient way to score. But for DeRozan, he continues to excel. His 50 percent shooting percentage from two-point range allows him to create space for the offense. While the spacing doesn't open up the floodgates for shooters, it allows him to do what he does best, and that’s taking his opponent one-on-one.

The sweet science of playing in the midrange area requires plenty of talent. With less space to use, jab steps, crafty footwork and balance are key components of a successful in-between game. DeRozan implements those skills. Coupled with supreme athletic ability and an arsenal of offensive gifts, he’s a matchup nightmare. Even in an era where defensive rules are trickier, it doesn’t stop him from dictating the game from the mid-post.

In an interview with the National Post, head coach Dwayne Casey stated:

“Teams are switching (slow-footed big men) on him, and he’s done a great job of exploiting that. But also, with that, too, our guys have spaced much better. We’ve done a better job of spacing, getting out of his way, creating an opportunity for him,” Casey said.

“(His shot-making) has allowed us to get our defense back and get set. Because it is such a, it’s not a ball movement, it’s more of a one-on-one iso-type situation. Which is, he’s one of the best in the league at doing that.”

The Raptors rank 25th in assists, and are still one of the best offensive teams in the NBA despite their out-of-date style. While their approach is different, it works. Although it may seem easier to guard him while close in proximity, it becomes problematic because of mismatches.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding DeRozan’s willingness to fall in the love with three-point shooting, the eighth-year pro is averaging a career high 27.9 points per game. At the start of the season, it was questionable whether he could sustain his marvelous play. After fifteen 30-point games and an Eastern Conference Player of The Week nod, the tone of those conversations have certainly changed.

As a nonconformist in today’s NBA, the two-time All-Star has been amazing. While most players in the league are following a trend, DeRozan is bucking one with style reminiscent of an earlier time.

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