Checkmate: DeMar DeRozan

Game, set, match

After a horrendous showing in Game 1, DeMar DeRozan declared that he wouldn’t go 5–19 from the field again.

He was right, but just barely: DeRozan shot 5–18 in Game 2, and he was benched for the entirety of the fourth quarter.

After just two games, it’s become abundantly clear: Frank Vogel and Paul George have checkmated DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto’s leading scorer in the regular season has scored 24 points on 37 shots. 26 of those field goals were “contested” as deemed by NBA Stats. He only converted five of those 26 contested looks.

Or put it this way: DeRozan has tried six free throws against five turnovers.

The Pacers have solved DeRozan, and it’s no longer prudent to keep looking to him as the No. 1 option. It’s not for a lack of trying — DeRozan is still attacking the paint with everything he’s got — but the Pacers are just executing the gameplan with an all-world defender in George.

DeRozan can attack the Pacers in three ways: pick-and-roll, isolation, spot-ups. The Pacers have solutions for all three.

When he’s in the pick-and-roll, the Pacers have dropped a big back at the rim to dissuade the drive (he’s been blocked 5 times by Myles Turner alone), and even the midrange pull-up has been difficult with George’s lightning-quick recoveries around picks. DeRozan can either force up a rushed floater, or try to beat a waiting big at the hoop, but due to some loose interpretations of verticality, DeRozan hasn’t been able to get to the line, nor has he been able to explode to the rim for athletic finishes.

When DeRozan is going for spot-ups, he’s been unable to generate open looks within the offense. George is face guarding him on the catch and his length makes it difficult to hit DeRozan in-stride the moment he flies off a down screen. Nevertheless, with DeRozan being unable to shoot from distance, his midrange jumpers aren’t a worry in the first place.

That leaves isolation, and with George being bigger, faster, quicker, longer, and smarter, DeRozan doesn’t really stand a chance.

The Pacers have checkmated DeRozan, and continuing to feature him as the No. 1 option will only lead to more failure. And with DeRozan being a liability on defense, he might end up watching more fourth quarters from the bench.

That being said, using DeRozan in limited doses could still prove useful. He should be viable when:

  1. When the defense loads up on DeRozan, try to draw the rim protector’s attention, and pass to Jonas Valanciunas (who’s been fantastic thanks to all the help given on Kyle Lowry, DeRozan, and Cory Joseph’s drives).
  2. When George is on the bench. Stagger DeRozan’s minutes in the second and third quarters to catch the Pacers when they’re rolling out Rodney Stuckey to check DeRozan.

No matter how much he struggles, demoting DeRozan won’t be an easy sell. He’s a star player and he’s carried the Raptors this far. But if Game 2 proved anything, it’s that the Raptors are better off in this series when DeRozan takes a back seat. It never quite made sense to direct the offense to attack Indiana’s best defender, anyway.

Hopefully, Dwane Casey has built enough of a rapport with DeRozan after five years together to relay that gameplan.

Game notes:

  1. Norman Powell might be the Raptors’ best defense against George. He’s just as quick as George, and while he’s giving up five inches in height, Powell’s 7-foot wingspan can still disrupt George’s jumpers. So long as Powell can stay in front of George, prevent penetration, guide him into help defenders, and avoid fouls, you can live with George shooting some jumpers.
  2. DeMarre Carroll is not fully up to speed and it’s painful to watch him operate. The Pacers quickly recognized that he wasn’t quick enough to keep up with George, and started running him off pin-downs until Carroll was out of the play.
  3. The Lowry and Bench lineup has been the Raptors’ best unit all series, and there’s no reason why that framework couldn’t thrive for 30 minutes a game. The goal should be to maximize minutes where Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and Lowry can be together. Flanking them with Valanciunas/Bismack Biyombo and Powell/Terrence Ross should work.
  4. Ross’ injury worries me. He hasn’t looked great in this series save for a few threes in the second quarter tonight, but his quick feet on defense and spacing is absolutely crucial.
  5. Myles Turner is a fucking problem. He’s massive.
  6. It would help if the officials were more diligent in calling for 3-second violations. The Pacers are leaving Ian Mahimni and Turner in the paint for entire possessions — especially when DeRozan has the ball.
  7. I can’t believe Frank Vogel is still playing all-bench lineups. The Raptors need to continue crushing those. The Joseph-Ty Lawson match-up, in particular, is severely lopsided.
  8. I also can’t believe Luis Scola is still starting, but whatever. He lines up opposite Lavoy Allen. Neither player should play, so they cancel each other out. It’s like Vogel and Casey agreed to some mutual truce.
  9. Valanciunas has been amazing on defense. I did not expect this. He was a beast in the first quarter. The key for him will be to (a) avoid foul trouble, and (b) maintain his energy so he can be fresh for the fourth quarter. Remember: he’s not used to playing 40 minutes a game.
  10. Huge props to Casey to having the gumption to bench DeRozan. I wrote about that decision more in-depth here.
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