Few Teams Defend DeMar DeRozan Better Than the Raptors, Can the Bulls Adjust?

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Why Toronto is a Terrible Play-In Matchup for the Bulls and How They Can Adjust

Chicago Bulls

There are a handful of reasons why the Toronto Raptors are arguably the worst Play-In Tournament matchup for the Chicago Bulls, but one stands above the rest.

DeMar DeRozan’s former team might as well be his kryptonite. Nick Nurse’s squad has been one of the few teams that have been able to shut down the Bulls’ All-Star this season, and it’s a primary reason why they won this year’s season series 2-1.

Indeed, DeRozan has averaged just 14.0 points per game in his three meetings with the Raptors this year. His 42 combined points scored in those games were by far the fewest against any team Chicago played at least three times this season.

Even more impressive for the Raptors’ defense, they weren’t just forcing him to miss shots. Toronto was keeping one of the toughest-shot-makers in the NBA from even sending the ball toward the net. DeRozan was held under 11 shot attempts nine times this season, and three of those times were against this Raptors’ defense.

So why is Toronto so good at keeping DeRozan in check? Well, part of it is by design and part of it is thanks to the talent on their roster.

To speak to the latter point, few teams have the kind of length at the wings that the Raptors do. Whether it be OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, or even Gary Trent Jr., Toronto has multiple talented defenders to throw at the Bulls’ top scorers. Each offers relatively superb positional size and defensive instincts, with Anunoby being the crème de la crème.

Anunoby spent the second-most amount of his time guarding DeRozan this season (23:17), per the NBA’s matchup data. During this time he held him to just 14 points and five total shot attempts. DeRozan was able to get to the line for 9 FTAs, but his sheer lack of field goal attempts speaks to how much trouble Anunoby gave him when it came to creating offense.

Aside from Anunoby’s defensive gifts, however, it was also the Raptors’ game plan that ensured DeRozan wouldn’t beat them. Time and again they sent two defenders at the veteran scorer. In his first performance against the trap in November (which was also without Zach LaVine in the lineup, by the way), he was responsible for five of the team’s 17 turnovers.

Anticipating a similar defensive approach one night later, DeRozan prioritized getting the ball out of his hands fast. While the Bulls still struggled against the Raptors’ defense with a staggering 21 turnovers, DeRozan dished 7 assists and helped the offense shoot 52.5 percent from the field. Chicago went on to win 111-97.

All things considered, the Bulls will hope for a similar outcome on Wednesday night. DeRozan should fully anticipate the Raptors throwing the kitchen, bathroom, and mudroom sink at him to start the game. And, fortunately, it sounds like he is already mentally preparing for that:

“I’m going to deal with it. Playing against Nick and playing against those guys,” DeRozan told reporters (h/t Darnell Mayberry). “They try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them. We got a couple of days to game plan. We’ll put together some. I’m aware of it for sure. For me sake, I definitely have me own theory for how I’m going to deal with it.”

Not only will DeRozan have to be ready to make quick decisions to beat the Raptors’ lethal trap, but his teammates are going to have to be equally invested. Being decisive in both your off-ball movements and passes will be pivotal for everyone. Let’s not forget, a double team means someone is open. The Bulls must do their best to take advantage of a rotating Raptors defense by either finding guys for wide-open jumpers (and hitting them) or attacking open cutting lanes.

FWIW: In their one victory over the Raptors this season, Chicago ended up with 30 assists. In their 13 games with 30 or more assists this season, they hold a record of 10-3.

Of course, this isn’t the only thing the Bulls will have to accomplish to take down the Raptors and advance to the second Play-In Tournament game. But it is a key piece of the puzzle. Toronto’s defense has been their saving grace all season long, so the less you can allow them to dictate the game on that end of the floor, the higher your chances of pulling out a win.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.