DeMar DeRozan is taking it personally. The 32-year-old Chicago Bulls forward put up 38 points in a convincing victory against the Lakers last night, after racking up 35 against the Clippers at the Staples Center. The “Bulls are back” whispers are a little more audible these days, as fans ever-so-tentatively allow themselves to feel some hope. The veteran DeRozan has been an enormous difference-maker for the team in their first ten wins, averaging more points per game than any of his teammates (and more than every player in the NBA save KD and Steph), and it sounds like he’s been possessed by some of that notorious Michael Jordan spirit that led the 90s Bulls to their unstoppable six-ring decade.
DeRozan’s got a few chips of his own on his shoulder, as he told the press after his performance last night in Los Angeles.
“People [were] saying I was washed for the past few years,” he said. “The narrative that I won’t fit — there’s all type of chips that I use, that’s my motivation. I could go down the list — being counted out, being looked over. There’s so many chips on my shoulder that I carry, but I want to enjoy this ride.”
Preseason opinions were not very favorable toward DeRozan’s move to the Bulls, with an August survey listing the trade as one of the worst moves of the offseason and Bleacher Report naming the trade the “summer’s worst signing.” There were talks of limited shooting range, bad defense, and a poor fit with Zach LaVine and the younger lineup in Chicago.He had a lot to prove, and prove he has. In using that doubt and disrespect as his motivation to go to work, he’s reflecting the mentality of his most famous Bulls predecessor (although I’m not sure anyone can really ever reach the near-psychotic motivations of Jordan).
We’re all familiar with MJ’s insane drive, of course, and The Last Dance gave us a look into just how far-fetched his motivation could be (including making up a fictionalized encounter with another player that he talked himself into believing so that he could put up 40 on the poor kid), but that also came from his need to create controversy about his level of play where there was none. DeRozan’s motivation isn’t all in his head — those doubters were real, though they may not be for much longer, with MVP consideration conversations starting to circulate.
He’s hitting the best stride of his career around the same time that a lot of NBA guys go into retirement. He’s leading the league in fourth quarter shooting and he’s at the highest 3-point percentage and mid-range percentage of his career. He’s fitting in seamlessly with LaVine and Lonzo Ball, and while he’s not perfect, he might just be the answer to the Bulls’ Eastern Conference prayers.