In the process of recently breaking down the career of DeMar DeRozan, NBA analyst Brian Scalabrine thought he was paying the Chicago Bulls star guard a huge compliment when he suggested that he should be a leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Award.
However, to Nikola Vucevic — DeRozan’s teammate in college at USC years ago and again now with the Bulls — touting the guard for Most Improved was not only a backhanded compliment, but it was also a direct insult to all he has accomplished this season.
Of course, Scalabrine meant no disrespect to DeRozan in tabbing him as the Most Improved Player. And, of course, Vucevic — who authored a historic offensive night last week in Atlanta — was right to stand up for a teammate who he felt had been slighted while also promoting him for the game’s grandest award.
Those critical of Scalabrine should listen to his reasoning about Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan and the MIP award
For some perspective, you must understand how Scalabrine concluded that Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan has made significant improvements in his game.
In a discussion on SiriusXM NBA Radio’s The Starting Lineup show with host Frank Isola, Scalabrine pointed to DeRozan’s painfully low assist numbers early in his career. He then compared those numbers to the evolution he made as a playmaker in his three seasons in San Antonio. He also pointed out how DeRozan’s improved playmaking is perfect in Chicago, where he has several other stellar shooters and scorers, such as Vucevic.
“Two things happened last year — his assist numbers went through the roof in San Antonio, and, right now, he just has a much better feel for the game,” Scalabrine opined. “Did you know that at one point, he averaged 1.8 assists and the following year (actually 2.0) assists? Last year, I think he averaged (actually 6.9) assists a game?
“So, he’s becoming this guy who you can put the ball in his hands, and he can make plays for you,” Scalabrine continued. “Now (in Chicago), he has good guys around him, the perfect team around him. I don’t know if he’ll get Most Improved, but he should be in serious consideration for getting Most Improved.”
Those comments caught the eye of the good-natured Vucevic and likely surprised him a bit. Considering that DeRozan had just accomplished a feat never before seen in NBA history by drilling game-winning, buzzer-beating shots on consecutive nights, he assuredly thought the 32-year-old DeRozan deserved a much more prestigious honor than the Most Improved award.
“I think be (sic) meant to say most valuable,” Vucevic tweeted to his nearly 154,000 followers.
Even in his 13th year, DeMar DeRozan is putting together his most complete season
In 32 games, DeRozan ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring at 26.9 points per game. That’s the highest he’s scored in five seasons and second only to the 27.3 points per game he put up in the 2016-17 season. Additionally, DeRozan has averaged at least 20 points a game in nine straight seasons. He recently showed a willingness to put in extra time on his shot by returning to the United Center floor after a recent defeat of the Orlando Magic to work on his free-throw form.
The difference between this season and the nine he spent in Toronto is that DeRozan is now a far superior playmaker who regularly makes others around him better, namely Zach LaVine and Vucevic. He shifted from an isolation-heavy player focused on getting his own shot into more of a willing passer during his three seasons in San Antonio. Of course, that had a lot to do with playing for legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who despises few things more than he does players who pound the air out of the ball.
In addition to registering 10 games with 25 points and nine 30-point efforts, he has carved up foes with his passing. His 10 assists on Dec. 27 allowed the Bulls to pile up 130 points against the Atlanta Hawks, while he’s also had nights with eight and seven assists. He’s also added seven efforts with at least six assists.
Can DeMar DeRozan make the leap from NBA All-Star to legitimate MVP candidate?
DeRozan certainly already has MVP support from teammate Lonzo Ball and Vucevic, but is the basketball world ready to crown him with the game’s most prestigious award? Kevin Durant (29.7 ppg), Trae Young (28.4 ppg), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.9 ppg) are scoring more, while Stephen Curry (27.2 ppg) has the Golden State Warriors back on top of the Western Conference.
DeRozan is the newcomer to this group, even though he’s in his 13th NBA season. At 32 years old, he’d be the oldest ever to win the Most Improved Player award. As for the MVP, Karl Malone (35 in 1999), Michael Jordan (35 in 1998), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33 in 1980) are the oldest players to win the league’s top individual honor.
One major factor working in DeRozan’s favor is him helping the Bulls reach the top of the Eastern Conference. That’s a place the franchise hadn’t been since 2011 when Derrick Rose was still healthy and a dynamic point guard.
In a comment that will likely again catch the attention of Vucevic and every Bulls fan on the planet, Scalabrine sounds somewhat skeptical that DeRozan can keep up his MVP-caliber play all season. Time, of course, will ultimately tell if he can continue his torrid all-around play and stay in the MVP conversation.
“Being an all-star and an MVP candidate, that’s a big gap, a huge gap,” Scalabrine said on the SiriusXM’s NBA Radio show. “Everyone thinks, ‘Ahhhh, he’s right there,’ but that’s a huge step to (the MVP award from) where he’s at right now.”
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com