That's Pretty Interesting: Where do DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs go from here?
San Antonio is struggling, and the four-time All-Star has a hazy future. Also in the weekly column: What of Bogdan Bogdanovic?
DeMar DeRozan remains DiVisive. On the one hand, in the San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the wing has been "a monster" and a great leader despite the team's struggles. On the other, on Spurs blog Pounding The Rock, DeRozan is described as a "sieve," with 14 YouTube clips pulled from their last three games to support the claim that his poor defense is their biggest issue. Both were published Tuesday.
DeRozan is averaging a team-high 22.2 points on the season, plus 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He still isn't taking 3s, but nonetheless has a 59.1 percent true shooting percentage because, per Cleaning The Glass, he has made 49 percent of his long 2s, easily the best mark of his career.
San Antonio, however, has a 116.2 defensive rating and a minus-7.5 net rating with him on the court. For reference, the Golden State Warriors' league-worst defensive rating is 115.2, and the Charlotte Hornets' minus-7.9 net rating ranks 27th.
These numbers are even more extreme over the last five games. In that stretch, DeRozan averaged 28.2 points with a 67 percent true shooting percentage, plus 6.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists … but the Spurs surrendered 120.1 (!) points per 100 possessions and were outscored by 8.1 per 100 in his minutes.
The pro-DeRozan argument is that, while San Antonio has lost 11 of its last 13 games, he is doing his part. He cannot reasonably be expected to do much more as a scorer, and the Spurs didn't acquire him thinking that he'd replace Kawhi Leonard as a stopper at small forward. He shouldn't even be playing small forward anyway, and San Antonio should be able to make up for his defensive deficiencies. He is a convenient scapegoat for a flawed roster.
The anti-DeRozan argument is that trying to camouflage his weaknesses is too hard. The Spurs were worse on both ends with him on the court last season, and the same was true more often than not in Toronto, even when he was making All-Star Games. As Tim Bontemps pointed out in a bleak but accurate ESPN story, Popovich started Trey Lyles for 14 games and is still starting Bryn Forbes to offset DeRozan's lack of 3-point shooting. Even if it's not fair to pin San Antonio's terrible defense on DeRozan, his style puts the coaching staff in a no-win situation: It has to play defensively challenged lineups because, otherwise, their awful spacing would ruin the thing the Spurs actually have going for them: the offense.
My take is that DeRozan is an unconventional player who just doesn't make sense on this team, especially with a healthy Dejounte Murray. I feel bad that, as the defending-champion Raptors continue to flourish, he is once again serving up aphorisms about resilience. ("Somebody once told me a mountain can't be a mountain if it's smooth, whatever that may mean," he said, via the Express-News.) His numbers are not some kind of mirage, and he can be a spectacular offensive player, but it is much easier to say he would fit better elsewhere than it is to actually find a suitable trade, largely because of the weaknesses that the anti-DeRozan crowd has been yelling about forever. He's not a typical wing; he's more like a shorter Ben Simmons with midrange shooting in place of elite defensive versatility (and good passing instead of great passing). I realize how weird that sounds.
DeRozan's future is made more complicated by the fact that he owns a $27.7 million player option for next season. To try to make sense of this, let's look at the possibilities on both sides.
- Decline the option, enter free agency. This sounds appealing on the surface because it's an extremely weak free-agent class … but it seems unlikely that any of the rebuilding teams projected to have enormous cap space -- Cleveland, Charlotte, New York, Atlanta and Memphis, dubbed the Forsaken Five by John Hollinger -- will be interested in DeRozan, who will turn 31 next summer.
- Pick up the option, delay free agency until 2021. This locks in the $27.3 million, which is nice, but it's not the ideal move if DeRozan's priority is to find a place where he is comfortable as soon as he can.
- Try to negotiate an extension. This would shock me, but if the Spurs are open to it, all DeRozan has to do is decline his player option and he can extend his contract right now. The most he could make this way is about $150 million over four years, which is less than he could earn on a max as a free agent.
The Spurs can:
- Do nothing. It's not the most exciting outcome, but given their track record of almost never making in-season trades, it might be the most likely one. The risk, though, is that DeRozan could walk, with San Antonio getting nothing in return.
- Trade him. This seems like the cleanest way forward, but a trade requires a trade partner, and the ones that people most often connect with him -- Miami, Orlando, Detroit -- don't make a ton of sense to me. (If I had to talk myself into one, it would be the Magic, I guess.)
- Trade other players. Maybe the Spurs can maximize him by changing the environment around him. He and Aldridge do not complement each other, and ideally DeRozan would be surrounded by players who can both stretch the floor and defend at a high level. If I were running things, though, I'd be more concerned with putting Murray in a better context.
- Try to negotiate an extension. San Antonio could decide that the wisest thing it could do is keep him on its books, if only so it can potentially trade him down the road. Worked out OK for Toronto.
DeRozan recently pulled all his photos from Instagram, which predictably led to speculation that he's on his way out. With the Spurs seemingly going nowhere, this isn't exactly illogical. I just wish I had a better idea of what will come next.
Same thing, but for BogBog
The moment that Buddy Hield got his contract extended, it felt like Bogdan Bogdanovic's days with the Sacramento Kings were numbered. Bogdanovic was never going to agree to an under-market extension with an $11 million starting salary, the most the Kings could offer under the CBA, and because of all the money they spent on Harrison Barnes and all the money they will have to spend if they want to keep De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, trading their sixth man seemed inevitable.
It might still be, but, as Fox deals with an ankle injury, Bogdanovic has made a case that he is too good to trade, barring an offer that blows Sacramento away. Against the Phoenix Suns last week, he went off for a career-high 31 points on 11-for-14 shooting, including 7 for 19 from deep, with seven assists. In six games without Fox, he has averaged 20 points and 7.3 assists in 32.1 minutes (still coming off the bench) while making 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Bogdanovic has been the Kings' best pick-and-roll player by a mile; when he passes out of the pick-and-roll, they have scored 1.357 points per possessions, via Synergy Sports, a mark that puts him in the 93rd percentile. He often seems like he is getting himself into trouble, only to somehow spoonfeed a teammate an open shot.
After an 0-5 start, Bogdanovic might be saving -- or at least salvaging -- Sacramento's season. The Kings are 7-9 now, and have gone 4-2 with Bogdanovic in the lineup and Fox sidelined, the two losses coming in heartbreaking fashion: by one point against the Lakers and two points against the Celtics, both on the road. (Bogdanovic missed last Friday's game in Brooklyn and the Nets destroyed them.)
"He's huge for us," Kings coach Luke Walton said, citing his ability to shoot and run the show. "His ability to get in the lane and create for others, especially while Fox is out, is something that we desperately need. Because that's who we are, and that's how we want to play. You know, we're not really an iso team. We have shooting, we want to get in there, draw two [defenders], kick. And he's one of those guys that can really do that at a high level for us."
Bogdanovic is overqualified for a bench role, and I agree with The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks that the Bucks should try to poach him and turn him into their Malcom Brogdanovic. (I also keep imagining him with the 76ers and the Magic, and if the Timberwolves aren't fully committed to Andrew Wiggins as their primary playmaker, Bogdanovic would look great next to Karl-Anthony Towns.) But even considering the payroll and his imperfect fit next to Fox and Hield, I would be reluctant to move him.
Before giving up on the idea that Bogdanovic can be a part of their core, the Kings would be smart to aggressively stagger Bogdanovic and Fox when the latter is healthy, at which point the most elegant solution to their logjam will be to drastically reduce Cory Joseph's minutes. I can't imagine taking the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands.
'I'll time your ass over to the training room'
There is an anecdote in my in-depth profile of Celtics rookie Grant Williams involving about 50 bags of extra buttery popcorn. Microphone in hand, Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Garrett Medenwald told that story to Williams' family and friends at his graduation party at a hotel in Knoxville. Those guests also heard about the time Williams dropped out running a "17," a width-wise sprint back and forth across the court that players were supposed to complete 17 times in a minute.
"I knew he wasn't hurt, I knew he was just tired," Medenwald said, and he didn't acknowledge Williams right away. "By the time I got over to him, I kind of gave him a look. And he looked back at me and he said, 'G, I'm ready to go, time me right now.'"
In Medenwald's view, Williams already had his chance.
"I'll time your ass over to the training room," he told Williams.
Williams totally transformed his body in college in what Tennessee calls "fat camp." He said that Medenwald pushed him "harder I think than I've been pushed my entire life." Medenwald said that Williams needed to get to the brink, where "there's no other option but to find a way to get this done. And once he got that through his mind, the sky was the limit for him." The name of the program might need an update, but it was undeniably effective.
Eventually, "I was the guy that would finish top-five in every sprint," Williams said, a far cry from being called out for bobbling his head when he was running tired. This past summer, Medenwald visited Williams in Boston, and it wasn't out of any professional obligation.
"I knew that it was for my betterment and not for any personal spite," Williams said. "And that's why I feel like we became so close and that's why I think we're in this position now where he went from being a coach of mine to now we're hanging out and going to get food and dinner together."
The Nets in the clutch
If you define crunch time as being ahead or behind by five points or less in the last five minutes, the Brooklyn Nets' 55 crunch-time minutes are the most in the league, per NBA.com. That is still a tiny sample, but it's notable that Brooklyn has a plus-16.8 net rating in those minutes, with an offensive rating of 120.5. Eastern Conference player of the week Spencer Dinwiddie's game-winner in Cleveland, then, was not an aberration.
You could say that Brooklyn shouldn't need clutch heroics to beat the Cavs and the Knicks, a fair point but one that the Nets probably don't want to hear at the moment, given that they are without Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert and are just trying to get by. They have won four straight and are 9-8 heading into Wednesday's nationally televised game in Boston, which admittedly would feel like a much bigger deal if not for Irving's injury.
… and on that note
No game this season has had a funnier ending than this:
The Bulls' bonkers finish in Charlotte is also up there.
10 more stray thoughts: When are the Bulls going to change their defensive scheme? … In light of recent events, I would like to direct you to my story from July about undrafted Raptors rookie Terence Davis … I was high on the Mavs, but even I didn't think they'd have the best offense in the league … I highly recommend Britt Robson on Jeff Teague's move to the bench, and not just because he called Wiggins "the boffo bouquet of the 2019-20 season" … Pay more attention to Jonathan Isaac … I miss Eric Gordon … Being wrong about Dwight Howard is one thing, but if the Lakers actually continue to make the Rondo-LeBron combo work on offense, I can never doubt them again … Stop teasing us, Ben Falk … A perfect sentence: "'I have gotten asked about that gif a lot,' Mourning told Business Insider." … Jordan McRae!
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