Ex-Files: Former Raptors DeRozan, Gay finding new strengths with Spurs

San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan controls the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

In the months since DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors broke up via the blockbuster trade that brought Kawhi Leonard north of the border, both he and Canada’s team have changed in meaningful ways.

As it turns out, that’s a recurring theme among players who, for one reason or another, left Toronto winters behind for other locales.

With DeRozan returning to Scotiabank Arena for the first time since the separation, here’s a look at how he and other former Raptors have done this season in their new homes.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

Looking at DeRozan’s season is a bit like when a picture of your ex pops up on Instagram and, for the most part, they’re doing well and —- for the most part — you’re happy for them, but all the reasons why you two didn’t work out together are still on full display.

DeRozan is still getting to the rim at a similar rate as his last five years in Toronto, he’s still drawing fouls at an elite level, and he’s still as averse to taking three pointers as ever.

Only four per cent of DeRozan’s shots have come from beyond the arc. Four. Contrast that with 71 per cent of his attempts coming from the mid-range — a number that both ties the career-high he set in 2016-17 and clocks in higher than every other wing player in the NBA — and it’s clear that the most recurring criticism levied against him in Toronto still persists.

At this point it’s a broken record, but that reluctance to expand his range is a major factor in his true shooting percentage (TS%) sitting at 52.4 per cent — just above the likes of Justin Holiday, Trae Young, and Rodney McGruder. Not quite the kind of statistical company you want your franchise player keeping.

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But it’s not all post-breakup stasis for DeRozan. Advanced shooting metrics aside, he’s averaging a respectable — albeit below his standards — 21.4 points per game, buoyed by connecting on a career-best 68 per cent of his shots at the rim.

He’s also averaging career-highs in both how many of his teammates’ made shots he assists on at 27.6 per cent, as well as assists overall with 6.1 per game.

That emergence as a facilitator has helped counterbalance his outdated shot selection, and plays a meaningful part in him being featured in three of the Spurs’ five most effective offensive lineups.

This version of DeRozan isn’t identical to the one who played in Toronto, but it certainly rhymes. And as was the case with the Raptors, the Spurs’ success will hinge on mitigating DeRozan’s shortcomings while squeezing out every possible point from his old-school jumpers and newfound playmaking.

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Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs

Rudy Gay is the kind of feel-good story that 2019 desperately needs.

His basic box score averages of 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game aren’t career-highs or team-highs, but the way he’s gotten to them is significant. In his third season since suffering a career-altering torn Achilles tendon, and his 13th in the NBA overall, he’e putting together his most efficient campaign since entering the league.

So far his TS% is hovering around 60 per cent, a massive increase from his career average of 53.5 per cent. While the vast majority of his shots still come from the mid-range — just 22 per cent of his attempts are three pointers compared to 51 per cent of them coming from inside the arc — he’s connecting on them at near league-best levels.

Gay has made 44 per cent of his three pointers overall, but that number rockets up to 51 per cent when launching from the corners — ranking in the 93rd and 97th percentiles respectively among forwards in the NBA.

Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs

A cursory glance of Poeltl’s season shows little evolution from last year.

He has still yet to expand his range offensively, he still struggles to make free throws — he’s shot just 55 per cent from the line to this point — and his basic averages of 5.2 points and 4.7 rebounds are near mirrors of what he contributed in 2017-18 as a Raptor, although he is posting those numbers in about four less minutes per game.

But where he has made strides is, like DeRozan, as a playmaker. Poeltl’s assist percentage is 11.7 per cent — double the mark he posted in his sophomore season with the Raptors. While that certainly isn’t Nikola Jokic territory, it’s progress, progress that’s been on full display with the Spurs’ bench units.

San Antonio’s two best offensive lineups overall feature Poeltl playing centre, with their most effective combination scoring a massive 148.6 points-per-possession on an effective field goal percentage of 72.6 per cent — both league-best numbers among lineups that have played at least 100 possessions together.

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Bruno Caboclo, Memphis Grizzlies

Famously known for being “two years away from being two years away”, the phrase heard around the world when he was drafted in 2014, Bruno Caboclo appears to have finally found a home in Memphis.

It only took five years.

Since signing with the Grizzlies, Caboclo has averaged 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 20 minutes of action each night, and within those early numbers are some notable wrinkles.

Offensively, Caboclo’s long-range shooting has been weird. He’s connecting on just 11 per cent of his corner threes — traditionally seen as the easiest type of three to make — and nailing 43 per cent of his threes from every other spot on the court on a similar number of attempts.

Defensively, he’s blocking 3.2 per cent of opponents’ shots at the rim, which ranks among the best rates in the entire NBA — even though it hasn’t translated into league-leading block averages yet.

Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic

In a little over 26 minutes per night off the bench, Ross is in the midst of a career year. He’s averaging 14.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, both career-highs, and is among the most efficient wing players in the league at shooting from the mid-range.

However, it’s interesting that, for someone who made his name by dunking, he’s making just 53.2 per cent of his shots within four feet of the basket — his lowest mark since his third season in the NBA and one that places him in the bottom-third percentile among all wing players this year.

That isn’t to say he can’t still put on a show from time to time, and it’s likely premature to say he’s leaving his athletic prime altogether. But three years removed from his last time playing in Toronto, that iconic 2013 NBA Dunk Contest performance and all the hopes for what levels he may jump to next are starting to look awfully far away.

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