Chris Farr doesn’t believe Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is all that much like Beyonce.
Farr, a basketball lifer who has been an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets and Fresno State and has trained DeRozan since he entered the NBA Draft in 2009, notes that Beyonce “woke up like this.” DeRozan did not.
Farr is referring to DeRozan’s penchant for eschewing three-pointers in favour of midrange shots, a shot quickly becoming antiquated in today’s pace-and-space NBA. Against the odds — and the odds do, statistically, value three-pointers over midrange jumpers — DeRozan has become one of the deadliest offensive forces in the NBA.
“You are what you are, you know what I mean?” Farr said to Business Insider. “I tell everybody, Beyonce wrote the song ‘I woke up like this.’ DeMar didn’t wake up with a three-point shot. … He can make three-pointers, but he’s better at making midrange shots. So why would you not be efficient and just play to your strengths?”
This past summer, the Raptors made a bet that DeRozan could continue to grow those strengths, signing him to a five-year, $140 million contract. Thus far, DeRozan had made it look like a smart bet.
Coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 23.5 points per game on 44% shooting and helped lead the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals, DeRozan is putting together another career year. Through 17 games, DeRozan is averaging 29.2 points per game, third in the league, on 48% shooting, to go with 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per night. He began the season with a scoring deluge, scoring 30 or more points in eight of his first nine games, becoming the first player to do so since Michael Jordan.
Remarkably, DeRozan has done it by doubling down on his best weapon: the midrange jumper. This season, DeRozan is taking over ten midrange shots per game, two more than the next closest player and three more than he took last year. He’s knocking down 46% of his attempts, up from 38% last year. Conversely, he averages just 1.8 three-pointers per game, making just 25% of his attempts on the season.
DeRozan’s midrange antics are the product of a laborious offseason honing his skills. As part of the US Olympic team, DeRozan paid Farr and his personal trainer Jason Estrada to join him in Rio and continue his offseason regimen. There, he would wake up early, work on strength and conditioning with Estrada or shooting and ball-handling with Farr, join the Olympic squad for practice, take a break, and then occasionally put in a second workout at night.
“He decided to go the extra mile and say, ‘You know what, I wanna make sure that I’m staying on top of my game every single way possible, off the court, from a strength standpoint, to prepare me for the season,” said Estrada, a kinesiologist and trainer who owns a gym in Los Angeles, California. Estrada, who’s been working with DeRozan for over five years, said many other players didn’t bring their personal trainers and coaches with them to Rio.
Farr believes that the time spent with the Olympic squad helped elevate DeRozan’s game.
“He had been around all that greatness,” said Farr. “I mean, the guys, [the] accolades, MVPs and scoring champions, and his desired to be a part of that. He’s hungry for it. He worked for it, and I’m telling you, his desperation to make the Olympic team, to be an All-Star, to lead his team to a championship, that’s what pushed him over. His desperation made him determined to work harder, and that’s what he did.”
Farr said that the stacked roster meant reduced playing time for DeRozan. In turn, this created a need for more workouts. “If you’re playing 17 minutes a game or 15 minutes a game, then you have to make up the difference in the workouts. And so he thought about it and he took that approach to everything. So he worked doubly hard because that’s why he brought me there. He brought me there to work, and he did work.”
Aside from many midrange repetitions, Estrada said DeRozan’s workouts consisted of an increased focus on stretching and pliability. “A lot of it involves his own body weight,” said Estrada. “We don’t really touch a whole lot of weights like an Olympic lifter.” Estrada said the “multi-directional movements” are meant to emulate what DeRozan does on the floor.
Perhaps nobody in the NBA plays quite like DeRozan. As mentioned, he’s the midrange king, and this year, he’s been hellbent on getting to his spots on the floor, slithering around picks and weaving through defenders.
Occasionally, DeRozan’s game can be dribble-heavy, causing the Raptors offence to stagnate. But when he’s faced with a matchup he likes, his improved ball-handling shines as he wriggles his way to the basket.
DeRozan is also fifth in the league in total “clutch” points (defined by the NBA as the final five minutes of the game, with the score within five points). He’s shooting 46% in these situations, getting to his spots with ease, as he showed in a 34-point outing against the Hornets.
DeRozan’s efficiency late in games is also a product of his tireless offseason work. Estrada believes, despite DeRozan’s heavy workload this offseason, he can keep this up throughout the year, thanks to their strength and conditioning program, which focuses heavily on recovery and eating “clean.”
In the last two seasons, DeRozan has struggled in the playoffs. Last year, despite the Raptors reaching the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, DeRozan shot just 39% from the field. Farr thinks there will be a difference this season, once again referencing a musical act.
“I watched him go from, like that singing group, from Boyz II Men. I watched him from a young man to a grown man now. He’s a grown man now. … And when he got to go to the playoffs, he was a young man. He’s a grown man now. He will be prepared for the journey now.”
There was scepticism in the NBA world when the Raptors handed DeRozan such a large contract this offseason. While the Raptors couldn’t afford to find a player of DeRozan’s calibre in free agency, some wondered if tying up so much money in an unconventional scorer would limit the Raptors’ ceiling. Instead, DeRozan took the contract and continued to improve, looking more and more like an elite scorer that could carry the Raptors deep into the playoffs.
“If you work for the money, it’s gonna come,” said Farr. “You don’t have to think about getting a max contract or this and that. It’s a habit to work hard. So if you work hard and you got talent, it usually adds up to somebody believing in you, and I guess it was Mr. Toronto, the owner of the Raptors, and they decided to consummate by giving him that paycheck. But he worked for it, he worked for it.”
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