DeMar DeRozan started the game 1-6.
Not until the 7:36 mark in the second quarter on Monday night did the All-Star starter hit his second shot. Then, his third … fourth … fifth … sixth … and seventh. He scored 10 points in 1:46, which somehow only proved to be his second-most impressive scoring burst of the game.
When the final frame came around, the NBA’s leading 4th quarter scorer did what his title suggests. DeRozan rattled off 15 points in under 5 minutes to start the 4th quarter against his former team. He went on to shoot 8-9 in the final 12 minutes with 19 points. The Bulls walked off the floor with a double-digit margin of victory and their fourth-straight win. DeRozan walked off the floor with his third 40-point game of the season and a history-making performance.
— NBA (@NBA) February 15, 2022
DeRozan has surpassed the 35-point threshold in six-straight games (and the 30-point threshold in seven-straight games). He is now the only player in Chicago Bulls franchise history not named Michael Jordan to string together such a stretch (h/t K.C. Johnson). Considerably more impressive, his ability to drop at least 35 points in six-straight games behind at least a 50 percent field goal percentage ties Wilt Chamberlain for the longest such streak in NBA history, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Yes, you read that right. No player has put together a stretch this dominant and this efficient since the 7’1″ Hall of Famer in the early 1960s. And, to be sure, DeRozan isn’t just shooting right around 50 percent over these past six games, the NBA’s 5th-leading scorer has averaged a ridiculous 61.0 percent field goal percentage to go along with his 38.7 points per game.
“Great players – many of them – can score by taking a truckload of shot,” head coach Billy Donovan said after DeRozan’s 40-point peformance. “To me what’s so impressive is the efficiency in which he’s doing it. His shooting percentages are mind-boggling.”
The season DeRozan has put together is no longer just a “fun story.” Sure, we can chuckle at preseason articles and re-share clips of a painfully proven-wrong ESPN panel until the final final buzzer sounds. But – even then – we’re highlighting the silliness of the past instead of the excellency of the present. The story is no longer about what people said DeRozan couldn’t do but strictly about what DeRozan is doing. And what he’s doing is playing basketball as well as anyone in the NBA.
If the 32-year-old was not a bonafide MVP candidate before, he has to be now. The recent dominance has vaulted DeRozan up to a career-high 27.9 points to go along with 5.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. He currently leads the NBA in total points scored, and his 121.1 points per shot attempt ranks in the league’s 90th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. If we go ahead and consider him a guard – which is technically what he’ll be listed as come All-Star Weekend – we can also say DeRozan is the first player since Michael Jordan to average at least 27.9 points on less than two 3-point shot attempts per game (h/t StatMuse).
DeRozan has scored 431 points in the 4th quarter of games this season, which is 1st by a large margin. Giannis is 2nd with 365 points and has just a slightly higher 4th-quarter average (8.5 to 8.3).
DeRozan is shooting 55.0% in 4th quarters and 54.2% in "clutch" time.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) February 15, 2022
To be sure, it’s not this recent stretch or the specific points scored that make DeRozan special, it’s how he gets those points and how he uses that ability to win games. The opposing defense knows exactly the shot DeRozan is hoping to take. He shoots 70 percent of his field-goal attempts in the midrange, which is the most of any player in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass. Yet, with a mix of artistic footwork, expert ballhandling, and pristine timing, he has turned a shot 15-feet from the rim into a layup. Then, as defenses collapse on him over the course of the game hoping to find an answer, it’s DeRozan’s passing that arguably leaves the opponent asking more questions.
Over the last month, DeRozan is 9th in the NBA in total assists and second in total 4th-quarter assists. To be sure, he’s played more games than some thanks to the Bulls’ re-worked schedule, but it’s still indicative of his playmaking prowess that has also made the Bulls such a lethally clutch team.
“To be honest, I love getting hot for the simple fact that I don’t have to keep shooting,” DeRozan said on Monday night. “I can draw their attention and get other guys shot. That’s kind of my approach to the 4th quarter. Be aggressive, score – whether it’s get to the free-throw line or get to my spot – make the defense make a decision. And, from there, I can pick them apart with the passing.”
See, that is what makes an MVP. DeRozan is aware that what he can offer pushes the team to an entirely new level. He uses his individual strength to put the collective group in a position to succeed during the game’s biggest moments. We saw this on full display against the very head coach that helped him reach this new height, as DeRozan assisted on two dagger shots from Nikola Vucevic and Coby White in the final 1:53 against the Spurs.
“It’s not just points,” DeRozan said. “It’s just the comfort of being the player that I am in my 13th year. The confidence, the feel, the teammates that I have, the organization. Just taking heed to that, that’s one thing that sits with me well – not just the scoring. I’ve been a scorer. For me, it’s just being able to be free and play at a high level still.”
All of this and more is what goes into making DeRozan one of the NBA’s purest winning players we’ve watched this season, and Mike Beuoy – who provides some fascinating sports analytics on Twitter – shared a win probability metric that illustrates just that.
Take a look:
Time to have a conversation about this season’s MVP race https://t.co/vMMfSXQp9j
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 15, 2022
Again, we’re no longer talking about a “fun story;” we’re talking about an MVP campaign. DeRozan has been one of the most impactful and dominant players in the NBA this season, and we need to look no further than the previous six games to see just that. But, hey, feel free to look further. The whole thing is pretty darn special.