Bulls' DeMar DeRozan could hit 20,000 career points in special place

DeRozan on verge of milestone with special trip ahead originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

There is something perfect about it happening in San Antonio.

There is something perfect about DeMar DeRozan's most monumental milestone yet coming in the city that, upon being surprisingly traded by the Toronto Raptors in 2018, changed him as a basketball player and a man.

When the Chicago Bulls visit the Spurs on Friday night, DeRozan will have the opportunity to become the 54th NBA/ABA player to eclipse 20,000 career points, an achievement he will also share with active players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

"I wanted to save it for Pop," DeRozan joked after the game, referring to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "Going back to a place that I spent some time, learned so much from, a place that embraced me, wasn't nothing but love. And it was definitely a learning curve for me in my career at a critical time in my career — and Pop really helped me a lot in my career. I think it'll be cool to be able to do it there."

After scoring 17 points in a 124-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, DeRozan is just seven points away from the 20,000 mark. So consider it extremely likely he crosses the threshold on Friday.

Unless, of course, Popovich has other plans.

"You know what's crazy? That's something he would definitely do," DeRozan said in response to a light-hearted question about the likelihood of Popovich levying a box-and-one on him to prevent him from scoring. "That's why, if it happens, it'd be special against Pop. Soon as I get seven points I'm gonna go thank Pop."

DeRozan, not one to obsess over statistics, said his proximity to 20,000 points first registered on his radar down the stretch of last season. Since, he has simply competed and allowed the chips to fall where they may.

But he did not deny the significance of the milestone.

"Just knowing the amount of players that played in this game for 75 years, it's crazy. Not too many people even get to that point," he said. "Some of my favorite players that I watched never even got to that point. To be there is definitely crazy."

DeRozan's teammates recognize the gravity of the moment as well.

"There's only so many (20,000 point scorers) in NBA history," said Zach LaVine. "And he's going to get a lot more in his career.

"I've said this enough: I think DeMar DeRozan is a Hall of Fame player. He's someone a lot of guys looked up to. I remember coming into the league and looking up to him as well. Just seeing how he has progressed his game, how good he is. Twenty-thousand, you have to take your hat off and give him his flowers. I can't wait until he gets it."

Only six of the 44 non-active players ahead of DeRozan on the NBA/ABA all-time scoring list are not Hall of Famers: Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Tom Chambers and Antawn Jamison. And some of that group will be on their way soon.

But such a conversation was too lofty for DeRozan on Wednesday, when instead he heaped praise on the Spurs' fanbase for accepting him as he was, and reflected on the scope of his career.

"Every day that I get to come to work, put on an NBA jersey, I'm beyond grateful," DeRozan said. "To be here still, playing at a high level, having fun, competing, it's beyond an honor for me."

DeRozan is indeed playing at a high level, entering Friday averaging 24.8 points on 60.7 percent true shooting in his 14th year. Last season, he averaged a career-high 27.9 points (and scored 2,118 total, also a career-high). In an ever-evolving strategic landscape in the NBA, he remains true to his roots as a midrange maestro and difficult shotmaker.

And he is consistent, having appeared in the most games (962) of any player since being drafted in 2009, and ranking second in minutes logged to James.

"No," he said when asked if he would have believed it if someone detailed to him the breadth of his success. "Just being a kid from Compton, man, my only goal was to make it out of Compton and have a better life. Whatever that was.

"When I got to the NBA, I wanted to be a guy that lasts and be around for a long time. To be here it would be something I never would have imagined."

Now, he is on the doorstep of making it reality.

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