Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan won’t win the NBA MVP Award this season. Media hype isn’t in his favor, and the fact that he plays alongside another MVP candidate in guard Zach LaVine means they’re likely to split votes even if the Bulls force writers to consider them more closely.
But with a quarter of the season nearly complete, there’s no doubt DeRozan should be in the debate.
Even with a subpar performance — at least by his standards this season — in a loss to the Pacers on Monday night, DeRozan was 11th in the league in player efficiency rating Wednesday and sixth in scoring with 26.3 points per game for a team that has sprinted out to a 12-6 start.
But numbers don’t necessarily measure the man, and DeRozan’s impact is bigger than stats and analytics. He has made life easier on the court for LaVine, especially late in games when opponents have to choose which of two All-Stars to try to stop. And his off-the-court mentoring has been even more important.
“I’ve never played with a player like Zach before,” said DeRozan, now in his 13th NBA season. “The things he’s capable of doing offensively [are] intimidating, honestly — how easy he can do the things he can do. It heightens my level to go out there and want to be neck-and-neck with him in competing and helping this team win.
“When I played with Kyle [Lowry with the Raptors], he taught me a lot. He was older than me, and now kind of the roles being reversed, [I’m] just trying to teach Zach as much as I’ve learned since being in the league, and just going out there with him has definitely been a fun thing.”
It also has been productive. LaVine was right behind DeRozan in scoring at 25.9 points per game entering Wednesday. The only other team with two players close to that clip is the Timberwolves, who had Karl-Anthony Towns at 23.4 points per game (15th) and Anthony Edwards at 22.2 (18th).
Just don’t talk to DeRozan about anything other than winning and getting better. Asked about the MVP chatter starting to circulate, he quickly dismissed it as just talk.
“I’m going to be honest with you: I never once think about [that],’’ DeRozan said. “Winning takes care of everything, and as long as we do what we’re supposed to on the court, winning [and] everything you desire will come with it, and you take it as it comes.For me, I’m just trying to go out there and play every single game. It’s always an honor just to be mentioned as one of the best in the game — you never take that for granted — but for me, I just want to continue trying to be a winner and win as many games as I can. When all that piles up, whatever comes with it comes with it.”
So if not DeRozan for MVP, who’s leading the discussion so far? It’s pretty clear-cut:
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors. As the best player on the best team, and possibly the best shooter ever, he’s the odds-on leader at this early stage.
2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets. The team’s record isn’t where it should be (9-8 entering Wednesday), but “Joker” is putting up similar, if not better, numbers than he did last season, when he was named MVP.
3. Jimmy Butler, Heat. The former Bull is off to a career year scoring-wise, and has a ridiculous PER of 30.63, third in the league.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. His scoring and field-goal percentage are down a bit, but he’s still an elite force.
5. Kevin Durant, Nets. He’s still one of the greatest all-around scorers the game has seen.