Breaking it Down: How the Raptors attacked the DeRozan-Butler matchup

In the two games DeMar DeRozan appeared in against Jimmy Butler last season, Jimmy Butler had his number. Butler, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and a tenacious on-ball presence, lived inside of DeRozan’s jersey, frustrating him into a 3-of-17 shooting night on Nov. 13 and a 7-of-19 outing on March 25. DeRozan went off against Chicago for 27 points on March 20, but Butler missed that game.

All told, DeRozan totaled 30 points in 73 minutes against Butler, shooting 10-of-36 from the field and taking just 10 free-throw attempts. Butler, meanwhile, hung 44 points on 14-of-18 from the floor and took 17 free-throw attempts. DeRozan’s career numbers against Butler are more impressive, but that covers the early years of Butler’s career when he wasn’t quite the two-way force he became last season.

Given DeRozan’s struggles with Butler last year, Monday stood as a nice test. DeRozan was entering the game red-hot, scoring 20-plus in nine straight outings with big outbursts against Kawhi Leonard (28 points), Khris Middleton (27, 22), Paul George (20), and Wesley Matthews (28) as his occasional or primary defenders. He was playing the best basketball of his career over the three weeks preceding the matchup, and it stood as an opportunity for him to best yet another solid wing defender.

Looking forward to the game, I tweeted about my excitement for it, referencing the Froggy Fresh song “Jimmy Butler is Your Father.” The tweet wasn’t meant to be an insult or doubt about DeRozan in any way, it was just my goofy, ill-advised way of describing last year’s meetings with a pop-culture reference that nobody would understand.

I’m really excited to see a surging DeMar DeRozan against Jimmy Butler tonight. Butler is usually his father.

— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 28, 2015

DeRozan seemed to take some offense with the wording, which I understand – without knowing the reference, and without seeing the tweets that preceded or followed, it seems like an unnecessary inclusion of family and an insult. It wasn’t meant that way, but that’s on me for reckless tweeting.

@BlakeMurphyODC I got one father & it ain’t him!

— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) December 28, 2015

None of that is relevant to the game, except that I felt I should be open it happened in the event anyone thinks it colors my analysis of DeRozan’s performance on Monday.

That performance, by the way, was excellent.

DeRozan may not have hit 10 consecutive games with 20 points, but he turned in a really strong performance opposite heavy attention from Butler and help at the ready from the rest of the Bulls’ fifth-ranked defense. The Raptors would ultimately lose by seven, but they were plus-eight in DeRozan’s 36 minutes, and he finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, just the third time he’s ever neared a triple-double with eight-plus across the board. He shot 7-of-14 from the floor and got to the charity stripe eight times, the latter a remarkable note since the Bulls foul less often than almost any team in basketball. The assists undersell the job he did distributing off the bounce, too, as Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson had remarkably cold nights off the bench in support.

The Raptors tried to get DeRozan’s offense going early, working to get him switches on the game’s opening two possessions. On the first play, they run DeRozan off of a screen, a dribble hand-off, and another screen (essentially three screens) to get him a switch on to Taj Gibson, allowing DeRozan to pull up for one of his red-hot mid-range jumpers.

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Here’s that same play again later, used to get DeRozan a switch on to Pau Gasol, though DeRozan ultimately pulls the ball out and then misses on a tough drive.
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On the next play of the first quarter, they ran a simple pick-and-roll with Bismack Biyombo. Butler opts not to ice and chase DeRozan to the middle, so DeRozan swerves back toward the sideline for a switch on to Gasol. DeRozan gets clear for a clean mid-range look and misfires, but it was another good way to get him a look away from Butler early.
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Getting early switches was great but isn’t something the Raptors could expect to do all game. DeRozan scored five points in the first quarter, and he also dished four dimes, using the heavy attention being paid to him to create for teammates.
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Look at all of the attention being paid to a DeRozan drive against Butler.
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Here’s another example of DeRozan breaking down Butler to the point of requiring help, opening up an easy assist.
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Again, look at all of the attention on DeRozan. Valanciunas gets a two, but were he a better-passing big, he had the weak corner wide open, too. DeRozan wouldn’t have had ana ssist in that case, but the play would have been made possible entirely from his dribble-penetration.
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Here’s another case of DeRozan finding Carroll clean on a cut, this time from a post-up on Butler.
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Right before Carroll starts his cut, look at how many players have an eye on DeRozan in the event Butler needs help. This particular post-up resulted in a Carroll miss, but it created an opportunity for several potential cuts.
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Here’s a great play from midway through the third that highlights how the Raptors got DeRozan into advantageous situations (insomuch as Gibson can be considered a “good” matchup for anyone, given his own defensive acumen) and flashed his playmaking.
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I had a few more examples in my notebook (he scores against Butler on a dribble hand-off with Valanciunas with a few minutes to go in the fourth, a pure “I’m getting this bucket” take, and then a really tough left-handed bucket on a switch on to Gibson the possession after), but this is probably all the ghetto internet connection I’m using this afternoon can handle. The game showed a nice mix of everything that’s made DeRozan so effective in December and may make him the East’s Player of the Month: The team’s putting him in good positions to succeed, he’s in turn doing the same for others, and he remains more or less unstoppable when his mid-range shot is falling.

Add Butler to the list of top-flight defenders that DeRozan’s played well against during his hot stretch. And put Otto Porter on notice Wednesday that DeRozan’s been avenging those he’s previously had poor performances against (DeRozan averaged 20.3 points in the playoffs but shot 40 percent and averaged just 4.3 free-throw attempts).

DeMar on Wiz: “I wouldnt call them a rival but all the guys that were here remember how we went out & that leaves a bad taste in your mouth”

— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 30, 2015

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