I'll be the first to admit that I counted the San Antonio Spurs out of this year's playoff race. I didn't have the highest of expectations for the team, as there was simply too much talent for them to compete in the Western Conference, especially with an aging roster. I figured that this might be Gregg Popovich's last hurrah before retiring.
And I was right about all of this. Well, kind of.
The Spurs got off to a really cold start, and trade rumors were already swirling. However, they've really picked things up as of late, and are 6-4 in their last 10 games, which brings their record to 17-21 as of January 13th. Because the bottom 9 seeds of the West is a free-for-all, the Spurs sit currently at 9th, in a week they could be at 7th or 14th. However, there is one big reason why the Spurs are still in the thick of this playoff race, and that reason is DeMar DeRozan.
After being a perennial all-star in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors, DeRozan was famously shipped off to the Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, and wound up on the couch after a first-round exit while watching Kawhi and the Raptors lift the Larry O'Brien trophy in June. That must have lit some sort of fire in DeRozan, because he has come out with a VENGEANCE in these past 11 contests for San Antonio, and he's led San Antonio to a 6-5 record with his stellar play as of late. Let's break down his hot streak in each major statistical category:
- 27 Points
- 4.9 Rebounds
- 5.5 Assists
- 64.7% FG (10.1-15.9)
- 42.8% 3FG (3-7 total)
- 86.9% FT (6.5-7.5)
He's capitalized on this by winning Western Conference Player of the Week for his efforts over the past week, as the Spurs went 3-1 over that stretch. This included three wins over three Eastern Conference powerhouses, which were the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and DeRozan's old team, the Raptors, and he added exclamation to that victory with a vicious posterization of Chris Boucher. However, DeRozan's best game of that period (and possibly one of the best games of his career) came in a loss against Memphis, where he scored 36 points on 11-18 shooting, shot 13-14 from the charity stripe, snagged 9 rebounds and dished out 9 assists. DeRozan is also the first player in Spurs history to score 20 or more points in 10 consecutive games, and shoot over 50% in each of those contests.
As far as the season goes, DeRozan is having (arguably) the best season of his career in season #11 for #10. He's averaging 22.4 PPG, an improvement from last season, to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 5 assists per contest. What's been the most impressive feat of DeRozan's season is his shooting, as he's shooting a career-best 53.5% from the field and a career-best 54.4% from 2-point range. He's hardly shooting threes, which is a good thing in DeRozan's case because that's not his strong suit, the mid-range game is, and DeMar knows that. 95.9% of DeRozan's shots this year have come from 2-point range, as his trails only Ben Simmons among guards, and his 8.3 2-PT FG made per game ranks first among guards. Another big reason for DeRozan's success is his ability to finish around the rim, as he's shot 171/260 on shots around the basket, good for 65.8% which is miles ahead of the league-average 57.3%.
It's a shame that DeRozan isn't getting any All-Star recognition for his performance, but with players like James Harden, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker posting ridiculous stats, it's tough to find room for DeMar as well. He's doing a great job at keeping this San Antonio team afloat, and he's proving that he's still one of the top scorers in today's league with his string of elite performances. If San Antonio manages to fall apart down the stretch, I wouldn't be surprised if he was dealt to a playoff contender that could use his type of scoring (looking at you, Orlando Magic). However, no team coached by Gregg Popovich can be counted out, and with DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and more contributing every night, the Spurs cannot be taken lightly by opponents. Nonetheless, this season is another stellar one to add to his impressive resume, and at some point we have to ask if Springfield is a possible destination for DeMar once his career is complete.