Doug McDermott Could Be Biggest X-Factor for Chicago Bulls' Title Chances

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Doug McDermott Could Be Biggest X-Factor for Chicago Bulls' Title Chances
Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Even before a pair of knee injuries robbed Derrick Rose of nearly two full years of his prime, the Chicago Bulls offense wasn’t exactly an NBA Maserati. During the interceding two seasons, it’s devolved into a three-wheeled Model A with a hand crank—simply getting it to move being a fantastic feat by itself.

Rose’s return, coupled with the arrival of four-time NBA All-Star Pau Gasol, will surely help bring the Bulls attack back into the 21st century.

The real key to Chicago’s title chances, however, may well rest on the righteous right hand of a 22-year-old rookie from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

His name is Doug McDermott. And if he comes even reasonably close to living up to his “Dougie McBuckets” nickname, the Bulls stand a very real chance of recapturing their championship past.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Over four games at the Las Vegas Summer League, McDermott averaged 18 points, four rebounds and 2.8 assists on 44 percent shooting from the field (ditto from distance) and a cartoonish 96 percent from the stripe in a little under 29 minutes per contest.

It was—along with those of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and T.J. Warren—easily one of the steadiest and best showings of any 2014 lottery pick, and a promising bellwether for a Bulls team pining for perimeter production.

It’s never wise to put too much stock in summer league. This is, after all, the same showcase that once made Josh Selby, Kedrick Brown and Anthony Randolph look like surefire Hall of Famers.

Still, for what he’ll be expected to do for the Bulls—namely, stay in his lane and can open jumpers off Rose drives-and-kicks—McDermott’s performance serves as early validation of Chicago’s decision to move up in the draft to nab the 6’8” All-American.

While it’s too early to tell whether McDermott can be a full-time starter out of the gate, his competition isn’t exactly steel stiff. That’s no knock against Mike Dunleavy; the sweet-shooting veteran forward was and remains perfectly serviceable.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

But at 33 years old and coming off a season in which he started 61 of a possible 82 games, Dunleavy is in no way a long-term solution. Coupled with McDermott’s more versatile offensive repertoire, the writing is all but on the wall—bumps, lumps and learning curves aside.

There’s little doubt that McDermott’s biggest, most NBA-ready strength is his ability to get off a shot from virtually anywhere on the court. Any and all doubters need look no further than DraftExpress.com’s 15-minute scouting video.

At the same time, McDermott isn’t interested in adhering to type, lest he become just the next Adam Morrison or Jimmer Fredette: Two transcendent college scorers who never found the right translation template. Here's what McDermott told ESPN Chicago's Nick Fredell

I feel like that's my biggest strength right now. I feel like I'm trying to add things to my game every day. I feel like I'm a lot more than a shooter. I think I'm a complete player, and having a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he's only going to help me.

McDermott doubtless has a ways to go before meeting Thibodeau’s exacting standards—particularly on perimeter defense, which has long been the former Creighton standout's most glaring weakness.

McDermott’s post defense, on the other hand, is solid, which should give Thibodeau more flexibility in terms of how he approaches positional switches with his prized pick on the floor.

McDermott is bound to weather some growing pains on defense. But with a revamped frontcourt core featuring Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol—an enormous upgrade over the infamously anemic Carlos Boozer—Thibodeau can afford the occasional slow slide and botched switch from his newest acolyte.

Besides, as Bleacher Report’s D.J. Foster recently underscored, picking McDermott was about one thing and one thing only: bolstering by far the team’s biggest systemic weakness.

Is it that simple for Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls? Draft a great shooter and reap the rewards? It might be. Chicago was 26th in three-pointers made and 24th in three-point percentage, so McDermott's skills are certainly a huge need. Demand, meet supply.

There are good shooters, and there are great shooters. McDermott is the latter. The mid-major star shot over 40 percent from behind the arc in all four of his seasons, which is incredible in its own right. McDermott wasn't just one of the most efficient and prolific scorers in this year's draft class; he was one of the best ever. Just look at this shot chart via ShotAnalytics.com:

At 22 years old, McDermott doesn’t boast the upside of a Parker or Wiggins. But that’s never what the Bulls needed. With Noah fast approaching 30 and Rose’s long-term status still a delicate question mark, Chicago’s window, while in no way closed, isn’t exactly widening.

So long as McDermott can approximate or even outright mirror Dunleavy’s production, the subsequent shot to the Bulls offense—buoyed as they’ll be by Rose and Noah—should be enough to give their devastating defense the cover they've so desperately lacked of late.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

For as putrid as the Bulls' production has been in Rose’s absence (they finished 24th and 27th in offensive efficiency the last two years, respectively), it’s easy to forget the two-way force they once were: During Rose’s last full regular season back in 2011-12, Chicago finished first in defensive efficiency and fifth in offensive efficiency, the only team that season to finish in the top five in both categories.

Drafting McDermott doesn’t guarantee Chicago’s re-emergence as a top-flight title threat. But considering the knees healed and needs addressed, the Bulls might’ve made, if not the pick most brimming with upside, then certainly the one tailor-made for immediate impact.

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