DeMar DeRozan has never stopped looking for new layers to add to his game.
After 14 seasons in the NBA, DeRozan has a wealth of options in his toolbox. A pump fake that sends even the most veteran defenders skyward. A back-to-the-basket shimmy move that shakes open the perfect window of space to launch his midrange jumper. A sneaky swipe at the ball to pick off at least one steal each game.
But DeRozan knows the game is changing — and that he’s changing with it. And in his third season with the Chicago Bulls, DeRozan has found new ways to adapt himself to a roster that has refocused around point guard Coby White.
A six-time All-Star, DeRozan approaches any change to his role with an adaptability he feels has supported and defined his career.
“I try to go into everything open minded,” DeRozan, 34, said. “I never really tried to throw myself off mentally or to try to get caught up in thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to change this, I’ve got to do that.’ If I go into things with an open mind, I can figure it out.”
It’s not a new DeRozan — maybe just a slightly updated version.
He still leads the team in scoring by a narrow margin, but his 22 points per game entering Saturday’s 125-96 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies are his lowest since coming to Chicago. He’s taking only 6.7 attempts from inside the arc — his fewest since the 2014-15 season in Toronto. And while DeRozan will never abandon the midrange game that set him apart, he’s averaging the highest volume of shots behind the arc — 2.8 per game — of his career.
This shift has allowed DeRozan to find and feed teammates at a higher rate, averaging his highest rate of assists (5.3 per game) since joining the Bulls. And this has helped to boost the high-assist, high-movement offense the Bulls hope to succeed with.
“He’ll always be DeMar, but you can see that he’s trying to play a little different,” center Nikola Vučević said. “He’s not just another scorer. This year especially, he’s been letting some of the other guys lead the way and taking over later. Him being the leader that he is and having that experience and confidence in himself, he’s able to build that same experience and confidence in others.”
DeRozan has felt it’s important to approach the game with a simple principle: He always has more to learn.
This is especially important for players as they progress in their career, losing the athleticism that might have powered their early success, especially in the air around the rim.
For DeRozan, this mindset was most important when he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, with whom he took more of a lead-guard role under coach Gregg Popovich. In Chicago, DeRozan’s growth has been more subtle.
“By the time I got here, I was 12 years in the league,” DeRozan said. “By the time I came here, I was just fine tuning on and off the court, as a professional, as a basketball player. I’m just completely rounding out my whole game, personality, understanding and IQ.”
DeRozan isn’t alone in this transition. Vučević similarly was asked to adapt his game from a primary scorer to a distributor with a high-shot volume while taking two fewer 3-point attempts per game than he did with the Orlando Magic.
It took Vučević nearly 18 months to embrace and adapt to the new role. But the payoff has been clear this season as the center serves to unlock the Bulls offensively.
“You appreciate it more the older you get,” Vučević said. “You know how difficult it is to change when you get older, when you’ve been doing something for so long, when you’re comfortable doing it that way. You have to get out of your comfort zone.”
On paper, this isn’t a banner season for DeRozan: He’s not scoring at his typical clip and likely will break a two-year streak of being named an All-Star. But his role has been instrumental in facilitating a breakout season for White while keeping the Bulls afloat amid LaVine’s absence.
And as he approaches the decision of whether to stay in Chicago on an extension, DeRozan feels this mindset is important in setting a standard with the team — he’s comfortable adapting and growing his game for a team as long as the result is wins.
“In my career, whatever’s asked of me, I try to do that to the best of my ability,” DeRozan said. “It gets to a point where it’s not just about you, it’s about the team. Whatever is asked from me from the team aspect, to make us better, to make the guys better, I’m all for it.”