Doug McDermott and Bulls: Perfect union or destined to disappoint?
The No. 11 pick in the 2014 NBA draft called to mind a popular menu item from the world’s largest fast food chain. The Denver Nuggets had selected forward Doug McDermott, bringing about a fortuitous marriage of player and team name: Dougie McNuggets.
But to the dismay of Internet pun artists everywhere, reports of a trade a few minutes later forced Dougie McNuggets into retirement. Denver was sending McDermott to Chicago for the Nos. 16 and 19 picks (forward Anthony Randolph also went to the Bulls). The trade, later announced by commissioner Adam Silver, resulted in an even more perfect union of player and team, for reasons not related to nickname or small, fried-chicken bites.
In Chicago, McDermott will be tasked with breathing life into a putrid offensive team. His college credentials suggest he is ready. In four seasons at Creighton, McDermott compiled more than 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, helped the Bluejays make a smooth transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East, earned first-team All-America honors in three consecutive years – the first player to do so since 1985 – and, in his final season, took home every major national player of the year award.
Creighton games became appointment viewing for college basketball fans, opportunities to watch a sublime scorer go to work. McDermott may never be regarded in the same light with the Bulls, but he has the potential to make an impact right away. The question is whether his game will translate to the pros.
“I’m just excited to be here,” McDermott said at his introductory Bulls press conference Monday. “I’ll do whatever they want me to do – whether it’s off the bench, starting, whatever. But I feel like I’m ready, right from the get-go. I played four years, unlike a lot of the guys that maybe went higher in the draft. But I feel like that’s helped me. I went through a lot of adversity, seen just about everything on the college floor for four years.”
There are valid reasons to doubt McDermott's pro prospects. Most of his damage at the college level was inflicted upon inferior competition – MVC teams such as Evansville, Missouri State and Southern Illinois. McDermott also played for a team that, during his four years, seemed to prioritize offense over defense (only in McDermott’s junior year did Creighton rank in the nation’s top 80 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com).
And while McDermott led the nation with 26.7 points per game his senior season, the track record of players who held the same distinction is not stellar. Ever hear of Erick Green (2013) or Reggie Hamilton (2012)? Further, players with block (0.5 percent) and steal (0.4) rates as low as McDermott’s have not panned out in the NBA, either. Whether he is quick enough to defend small forwards or big enough to defend power forwards are legitimate concerns.
Yet McDermott defenders – those who scoff at the notion that he is merely a “good college player” – have no shortage of ammunition. For one, there are McDermott’s offensive statistics. Not only did he score a ton of points, but he was also extremely efficient, posting an offensive rating in his final season that ranked among the nation’s top 60 (124.4) while maintaining a top-15 usage rate (32.9). For a comparison, No. 2 pick Jabari Parker, regarded by many as the most ready pro prospect in this draft because of his offensive skills, registered a 111.7 offensive rating while using 31.8 percent of Duke's possessions.
McDermott was one of two college players (No. 6 pick Marcus Smart was the other) invited to participate in a USA Basketball minicamp last July. NBA players came away impressed with McDermott and multiple scouts and general managers relayed positive reviews to his dad and coach at Creighton, Greg.
“I think he answered a lot of questions about what he can do and can’t do athletically and his ability to score because of that experience,” Greg McDermott told SI.com.
If that experience did not answer questions about McDermott’s athleticism, perhaps the 36½-inch vertical leap he recorded at the pre-draft combine helped (he also tested well in the lane agility drill). It is also worth noting that while McDermott spent the first three seasons of his career in the MVC, he fared well in games against major conference competition and had no issues adjusting to the Big East. Greg points to Doug’s performance on senior night: McDermott dropped 45 points on a Providence team geared to stop him when he needed 34 to reach 3,000.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about McDermott is that he is merely a good shooter who lacks the athleticism to manufacture his own looks. Nor was McDermott, as posited by one scout, ever "basically a stone-cold [power forward]." A popular comparison is Hawks swingman Kyle Korver, a lethal long-range gunner who also played at Creighton and with the Bulls for two seasons. Chicago general manager Gar Forman, who said the Bulls followed McDermott for all four years of his college career, made clear that shooting was not the sole motivation to trade up for McDermott.
“On the floor, we’ve talked about Doug’s ability to shoot and how we think he’s a fit with the players that we have, but also that his game is so much more than just shooting,” Forman said Monday. “He’s a versatile player, he can play inside and out, he’s got a very high basketball IQ, and I just think he fits the makeup and character of what we’ve got going – the culture that’s been created here with the Bulls.”
A quick glance at McDermott’s shot chart makes clear that he is a diverse scorer. According to data from Synergy Sports Technology, 24.7 percent of McDermott’s possessions in his senior season were post-ups – the largest percentage of any play type. McDermott deploys a vast arsenal of fakes, drop steps and body feints to throw defenders off balance. He is also particularly adept at getting his shot off quickly; he posted an excellent 1.31 points per possession on catch-and-shoots last season.
McDermott readily acknowledges he can improve as a defender. Yet there is reason to believe that coach Tom Thibodeau – who on Monday said there is a “big learning curve” for rookies trying to defend in the NBA – can integrate him into the Bulls’ disciplined system, which in recent years has helped mask the limitations of players such as Marco Belinelli, Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson.
“I have to get better defensively -- I think everyone does -- and this is a perfect spot to improve, just because they’ve been so great defensively and I have a lot to learn,” McDermott said.
Point guard Derrick Rose’s knee injury after 10 games last season (his second major knee injury in 18 months) set in motion a tailspin for an offense that finished the season ranked 27th in efficiency and last in field goal percentage. With Rose on the mend – and with Luol Deng being shipped to Cleveland midseaon – Chicago lacked the shot creation necessary to compete against elite teams by conventional means.
The Bulls turned to Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and D.J. Augustin – none of whom even remotely qualifies as a go-to scorer – and hoped that effort and hard work and attention to detail on defense would get them through. That approach worked during the regular season, with the Bulls winning 48 games and securing the No. 4 seed in the East. But it failed in the playoffs, where Chicago was knocked out in the first round by the Washington Wizards after scoring more than 95 points in regulation only once over five games.
The Bulls will hope McDermott can alleviate their offensive woes. While Thibodeau has not been known to give rookies major minutes, McDermott could earn a significant spot in the Bulls’ rotation if he can get up to speed defensively. Even if Chicago is unable to land Carmelo Anthony, its offense should be improved next season with a healthy Rose, other free-agent acquisitions, possibly European forward Nikola Mirotic and McDermott.
“I couldn’t ask for a better spot under coach Thibodeau and all the great players on their team,” McDermott said on draft night.
You will find no McNuggets on the court inside the United Center next season. Only McBuckets.