Is DeMar DeRozan a Legitimate MVP Candidate?

DeMar DeRozan

Getty DeMar DeRozan is playing the best basketball of his NBA career, and getting MVP buzz.

At 32, and having recently joined forces with Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls, DeMar DeRozan is enjoying a career-year.

The forward is averaging 26.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and recently made NBA history after hitting back-to-back three-point buzzer-beaters in two days, per Basketball-Reference.

With the Bulls currently occupying the first seed in the Eastern Conference, it’s fair to raise the question whether DeRozan deserves to be in the MVP conversation.


First, Some Caveats

Before we venture too far into this, some caveats.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who won the award last season, would be the runaway favorite for the award this season as well, if his team had a stronger record. Jokic is once again obliterating most advanced metrics this year and the Nuggets’ numbers with him on the court, compared to him on the bench, essentially swings from championship contender to lottery-bound.

Point here being: If the Nuggets begin to win more, any argument for DeRozan – or in fact any other player – becomes moot.

Another caveat is the presence of LaVine, who at this rate seems like a lock to make his second All-Star game, and is a strong candidate to make an All-NBA team as well. Having a player of LaVine’s caliber alongside DeRozan – while effective for the win column – might lead voters in other directions, such as voting for Golden State’s Stephen Curry, currently the MVP favorite per FanDuel Sportsbook, where DeRozan is ranked sixth.

Finally, there’s narrative and historic context. While a player should never have to pay for past performances, voters will absolutely remember DeRozan’s playoffs struggles and take that into account when voting, as to not appear as if they’ve made the wrong choice, should DeRozan struggle in the playoffs again. That’s despite the fact, that the MVP is a regular season award.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it.


DeRozan’s MVP Validity

DeRozan’s raw numbers, as presented above, may not look flashy in a league where near triple-double averages have become the norm, but they carry substance nevertheless. Per NBA.com, DeRozan leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 8.0 points in the final frame, while hitting 53.1% of his shots and 87.7% of his foul shots.

Needless to say, DeRozan’s late-game heroics play a significant part in Chicago’s current 24-10 record, which should be taken into account. After all, winning matters in the context of the MVP award. Helping your team close out games is a strong argument.

Another argument for DeRozan is his ball control. Of the league’s Top 20 scorers, DeRozan averages the fewest amount of turnovers at 2.1 per game. His 8.3 TOV% ranks 27th in the NBA, and of the 26 players in front of him, only Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey (21.0%) comes close to sniffing his AST% of 22.2 on the year.

Finally, DeRozan is one of the most productive players in the league with the ball in his hands.

Per NBA.com, DeRozan touches the ball 59.8 times per game. Of those touches, 32.3 of them becomes passes, of which 4.6 becomes assists. That’s the highest assist-to-pass ratio (14.2%) on the Bulls, and the sixth-highest mark in the league of players with 25 games or more played.

19.4 of those touches turn into shots, where he is currently sporting a TS% of 58.8, which is 3.2 percentage points higher than league average.

In short, statistically speaking, he’s simply one of the most efficient and safe offensive players in the NBA.


Competition

This is where things begin to fall apart for DeRozan a bit.

Curry has done more with less, averaging 27.7 points per game while leading his Warriors to the league’s best record so far. Curry’s explosive three-point shoot has catapulted him into a TS% of 61.1 and his all-around game of 5.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists carry weight.

In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo is statistically having a down year to his usual standards, yet still putting up 27.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while playing defense well enough for another All-Defense nod. The Bucks are 25-13 on the season, good enough to where any disparity in wins between the Bucks and Bulls wouldn’t pull DeRozan ahead.

Finally, Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant. The 33-year-old is averaging a league-leading 29.8 points per game, adding 7.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists nightly. The Nets, 23-11, are right behind the Bulls and could take off in the winning column when Kyrie Irving returns on Wednesday, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Durant’s numbers, similarly to those of Antetokounmpo, are quite simply superior to what DeRozan offer.

In conclusion: DeRozan is deserving of being included in the MVP discussion, but it seems ever-likely he will finish behind the above three players, and likely four if Denver begins to improve on their team record.

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