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Bulls' DeRozan credits Popovich for making him a complete player

The former Spur is lighting up the court in Chicago.

SAN ANTONIO — Former Spur DeMar DeRozan is setting the NBA world on fire this season with the Chicago Bulls.

His play is garnering NBA MVP attention as he does it all for Chicago, leading them to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 27-12.

However, he has not forgotten how much Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich did for him during his time in San Antonio, allowing him to expand his game to new heights.

Speaking with ESPN, DeRozan recalls how Popovich shifted him to the point guard spot. This allowed him to see the game differently and realize he can do more than just be a one-dimensional scorer. 

"Before then, I was a scorer...if I'm 5-for-30, I don't care. If I'm 15-for-30. Like that was my whole mindset. [Popovich] challenged me to the point of understanding the game in the complete whole," DeRozan said. "How to be a point guard. How to be a playmaker. How to dictate the game. How to move without the play. How to play without the ball. How not to turn over the ball."

In three seasons with the Spurs, DeRozan posted 21.6 points per game while leading the team in assists with 6.2 per game along with 49-percent shooting.

Credit: AP
San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) looks to pass the ball as New York Knicks forward Reggie Bullock (25) and center Nerlens Noel (3) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

"It was like, all right, cool, I want to take on this challenge because I don't want to be mad about me being here," DeRozan told ESPN. "You can't just dribble, dribble, dribble; you've got to be efficient with everything you do... slowly but surely, it made me a better basketball player, understanding stuff on the court instead of just scoring"

DeRozan's time with Popovich is paying off in Chicago.

He is currently posting 26.0 points per game along with 4.7 assists and 49-percent shooting through 35 games played.

Popovich was recently asked about seeing DeRozan flourish in Chicago, answering that he is happy for him. 

And seeing DeRozan happy is something he deserves after being traded from Toronto to San Antonio in 2018 as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal.

He was blindsided that he'd be traded from the Raptors and it took time for him to get past it. He was a professional in San Antonio, never making waves, embracing a mentor role for the young Spurs and gave it his all for San Antonio until he was ultimately traded to Chicago.

The Bulls will visit the Spurs on Jan. 25 in his return to San Antonio. It certainly will be a great night to welcome him back, and the tribute video he is likely to receive from the team will be touching. 

Twitter: @KENS5, @JeffGSpursKENS5