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As scoring declines across the NBA, DeMar DeRozan's free throw grifting remains elite

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 20, 2024

Multiple 70+ point games popped up around the league around early January, sparking a conversation about whether scoring in the NBA had gotten out of hand.

Teams are pumping out historic offensive ratings on an annual basis. Star players are grifting their way to double-digit free throw attempt every night.

Have new NBA rules made it too difficult to defend? Should the league implement new changes to even the playing field? Has the offensive boom soiled the integrity of the game?

These discussions reached a peak at the first-ever 200 point showing at the All-Star game in February. But since then, scoring mysteriously dropped across the league. Over the last few weeks since the All-Star Break, teams are scoring less. Players are getting to the line less. The result is a decrease in team points by nearly four per game, and in fouls committed per team by 1.9.

Conspiracy? Coincidence? The league recently looked into this trend and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that there was “no directive from the league office to reduce scoring” across the league, in spite of those major shifts.

All of this has happened around the rest of the league, but Chicago Bulls fans probably haven’t noticed.

Why?

Because since the break, no player has taken more free throws than DeMar DeRozan.

While the rest of the league is struggling to replicate their offensive production, DeRozan continues to zag.

In 53 games prior to the All-Star Break, DeRozan attempted 7.2 free throws per game, on par with his previous season.

Since then, DeRozan is taking 9.4 free throws per game.

To put that into context, in his recent deep-dive into the topic, NBA writer Tom Haberstroh found that the league’s rolling 10-game average of free throw attempts per game hit a season low on March 11. That means on that date, teams were, on average, attempting just 9.1 free throws per game over the previous 10 days.

DeRozan is outperforming that number by himself.

“I just read the game, I have a feel for the game,” DeRozan said when asked how he is still so effective at getting to the line. “Whether it’s using pump fakes or understanding when a guy is gonna reach. You know, I try to, you know, play play the right way. Not necessarily manipulating to where I’m just flailing. Just trying to use guys physicality to my advantage.”

Grifter extraordinaire

Prior to All-Star Break, DeRozan was drawing shooting fouls on 17 percent of his shot attempts, a figure that would put him in the 94th percentile of the league. He’s up to 21.1 percent after the break, a 97th percentile figure.

The patented pump fake gets most of the attention, and for good reason. The combination of his automatic mid-range shot with a convincing sales pitch on the pump always gets the defender to jump first.

But recently, a different move has been working even better for him.

The low-pickup sweep through is too tantalizing to avoid. On drives or face ups, DeRozan will lower the ball with to lead the defenders hands down. From there, he can extend his arms and sweep the ball up to draw contact on a reaching hand.

“I think the low pick up (is working better) now because it’s just a natural habit to reach and play with your hands,” DeRozan explained. “I think when you get your your angles right. It’s all about how aggressive you be going downhill and reading it. Knowing how to time it up perfectly. It just feel. I’ve been doing it so long.”

DeRozan’s mastery of the motion goes beyond the technique and execution. He also knows exactly who to target.

“Just being smart with it, knowing when you could take the young guys that’s undisciplined on the defensive end,” DeRozan said.

“Yeah, that’s all it is,” he said of targeting untested young players. “For sure.”

What the kids are saying

DeRozan’s tricks are the first thing on the scouting report whenever teams prepare to play the Bulls. Still, he’s being fouled on one-in-five shooting attempts.

“I’ve definitely been a victim before,” Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson said. “It’s just one of those things, you know he’s gonna do it and it’s still hard to guard like. It’s just so believable. He’s a mid-range assassin and if you don’t get a good contest, or time it up to where you get your hand up, right when he’s gonna release, he’s gonna make it.”

Even when they know it’s coming, young players still can’t help themselves.

“He shoots those shots, you know, like those are shots that he shoots,” Rockets forward Jabari Smith said. “And those are shots that you try to make tough and you kinda have to stay down in a sense, because he’s been faking. So it’s just tough in that way. And he throws it pretty hard. He’ll bump you and pump, it’s tough for people who haven’t seen it before.”

What makes it so convincing?

“He’s so good with his eyes selling the ball fake,” rookie Amen Thompson said.

It’s even more difficult to restrain from reaching on the sweep through move, because instincts take over when he’s showing the ball.

“Just sweeping through and manipulating the game, it’s something he’s good at. You just gotta be prepared for it,” Smith said. “The words out but it’s just hard to stay disciplined in the moment when you compete and try and stop him from scoring.”

Even those who have been close to DeRozan — studied his tactics in person — have trouble staying disciplined.

“My first two years I played with him, he was like a big brother to me,” San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson said. “I study his game and thinks like that, and I still catch myself at times wanting to jump.”

So what are you supposed to do in defending him?

“If you don’t jump he’s gonna shoot it,” Johnson said. “And his mid-range is automatic. So it’s a lose-lose situation. Best you can do is jump second and get a hand up because he’s perfected what he does.”

“Yeah for sure,” Thompson answered when asked whether DeRozan preys on young players.

“I would do the same.”

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