While the Toronto Raptors ended up with the best player in this summer's blockbuster trade, the San Antonio Spurs got a perennial All-Star in the prime of his career. One of the league's smoothest scorers, DeMar DeRozan will give a Spurs team that finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency last season a much-needed go-to weapon in the backcourt who can keep the franchise relevant in what is expected to be a highly competitive Western Conference next season.
If it doesn't make the Spurs winners of the trade now, it could change the narrative in 12 months' time depending on how both situations play out.
San Antonio should be a great place for DeRozan as well. The 6-foot-7 guard doesn't have the most modern game, but Gregg Popovich will likely let him play to his strengths as a midrange scorer. Whereas most teams put an emphasis on shooting more 3-pointers last season, the Spurs finished third in attempts and fifth in makes from midrange. DeRozan finished in a similar position compared to his peers, ranking third in makes and attempts from that distance on the season.
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One of the two players who finished ahead of DeRozan was LaMarcus Aldridge. Now that they're both on the same roster - plus Dejounte Murray, the franchise's starting point guard who has made a total of 18 3-pointers in his NBA career - the Spurs will probably lead the way in midrange scoring next season.
|Player||Midrange FGM||Midrange FGA||Midrange FG%|
|1. LaMarcus Aldridge||235||553||42.5|
|2. Khris Middleton||224||454||49.3|
|3. DeMar DeRozan||214||504||42.5|
|4. Russell Westbrook||211||530||39.8|
|5. Klay Thompson||196||399||49.1|
Time will tell if the Spurs can build an elite offense around DeRozan and Aldridge, but they at least have two players who are comfortable creating their own shot. For Aldridge, he does most of his work with his back to the basket, where he generated 43.4 percent of his offense last season at a rate of 0.99 points per possession (80.4 percentile). For DeRozan, he's developed into a reliable isolation scorer, both out on the perimeter and in the post.
The combination gives San Antonio two strong options when they go up against teams that switch a lot on defense, such as the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Either DeRozan will take a slower-footed big out to the perimeter or Aldridge will use his size advantage to bulldoze a guard on the block.
The Spurs will also be able to give DeRozan the ball in the post if a smaller player switches onto him. Having stolen Kobe Bryant's moves, DeRozan is only a year removed from ranking at the top of the league in post-up efficiency.
The two All-Stars should complement each other well in pick-and-rolls, too. DeRozan did his best work as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls last season, and Aldridge will space the floor for him at a higher rate than Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka did in Toronto as a pick-and-pop partner. Surrounding them will be the likes of Marco Belinelli, Lonnie Walker, Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes, Dante Cunningham and Davis Bertans, players who can stretch defenses out to the 3-point line at an above average rate.
A lineup of Mills, Belinelli, DeRozan, Gay and Aldridge, for example, would give the Spurs five players that defenses have to respect outside of the paint. With Mills, Belinelli and Gay standing on perimeter while DeRozan and Aldridge run pick-and-pops, the Spurs should be able to generate high quality looks from 3-point range, midrange and at the rim, especially with DeRozan taking strides as a distributor last season.
The player DeRozan was last season might not be the same one we see next season either. DeRozan adds something new to his game every year, 3-point shooting being his primary focus in the 2017-18. Under the guidance of Popovich and Chip Engelland - the latter being the Spurs' assistant coach who has the reputation around the league of being a "Shot Doctor" - perhaps DeRozan improves even more in that area in San Antonio. If he does, it would go a long way in filling the void left by Leonard on offense.
How DeRozan fits defensively isn't as smooth considering he's replacing a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. In addition to not having come close to making an All-NBA Defensive Team in his career, Toronto was a much better defensive team when their leading scorer was on the bench in all but one of his nine seasons with the Raptors. DeRozan has the tools to be a decent defender; he's just never put it all together to be a consistent presence on that end of the floor.
Fortunately for DeRozan, he's joining a team that finished fourth in defensive efficiency last season despite Leonard appearing in only nine games, much of which is a testament to Popovich's system. The Spurs lost two more versatile defenders this summer in Danny Green and Kyle Anderson, but they still have Murray, who made the All-NBA Defensive Second Team as a sophomore, as well as capable rim protectors in Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl and Pau Gasol. If Popovich can either get more out of DeRozan or figure out ways to hide him, they might not experience too much of a drop off defensively from last season.
Even though it's unlikely to be enough for the Spurs to be true title contenders, it'll almost certainly keep them in the Western Conference playoff race.
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