When do you stop putting your best player in the positions on the court that suit them best?
If DeMar Derozan is not the Toronto Raptors's best player - if such a classification matters - he is the second best behind only Kyle Lowry. And for as long as Lowry has been out (he has missed the last 14 games with a wrist injury), Derozan has been the clear-cut best player.
Even if not their best all-around player, Derozan is certainly the Raptors's leading scorer. His 27.0 points per game total ranks not only first on the team (Lowry is second at 22.8), but also fifth in the entire league, behind only Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Davis.
However, DeRozan scores his points in a very unique way that makes fitting his individual talents into an optimal offensive system quite the challenge.
For all of those points scored, DeRozan takes up a lot of the ball to do it. All scorers take up a lot of the ball to do so, of course - DeRozan's usage rate is fifth highest in the league, but then so is his scoring average, and one behoves the other. But DeRozan's share of the ball comes in a more complex manner than those of his peers.
For comparison's sake, look at those peers in leading scorer list, and their playing styles. Thomas, Harden and Westbrook are the primary ball handlers on their team, doing more of the ball handling and half court creating than the rest of their teams do combined. Davis, meanwhile, is the ultimate finisher. A creator too, of course, but be it at the basket, from mid-range, in the pick-and-roll or occasionally from further out, he finds spots, is always a threat to shoot, and can make anything.
DeRozan, however, has to pair with Lowry. This is far from a reluctant or troubled pairing - it is a beautiful one that has propelled the Raptors to a level never before seen in their franchise's history. Better than any Vince Carter season, and certainly better than anything before or after his era. It has however a nuanced one that is hard to replicate with any backup.
For the most part, the duo works. Lowry collapses the defense and does all of the outside shooting that DeRozan does not, while DeRozan emulates Kobe Bryant better than anyone and exposes the defensive weaknesses in between. The duo score about 50 points on any given night, and even when it is known what is coming - Lowry attacking half a seam off the dribble, or just raising up even when contested; DeRozan spinning and jerking from the mid-range and post areas - the shots go in anyway. The duo are seriously good.
But it is Lowry doing the Hardenian bits. It is he handling the ball more and taking the first wave of pressure. When Lowry is out, as he has been, a far greater defensive pressure thus falls upon DeRozan. He responded well initially, scoring 33.8 points per game in the first five games of Lowry's absence. But then against the Milwaukee Bucks, DeRozan shot only 5-13 with one foul shot on his way to 11 points. This is directly to the Bucks' credit. [...]