Rookies and generally inexperienced players are traditionally shunned from Chicago's rotation this side of Thibs' rule.
Jimmy Butler failed to crack 10 minutes per game during his first campaign in 2011-12, and Tony Snell finished with 16 nightly ticks to his name last season—a number that screams "seldom used" everywhere other than Chicago, where that many minutes so early in one's career is a phenomenon.
Tightly binding novices and developing prospects to the pine is passe nowadays. More than a few contenders look to sophomoric talents for rotational relief, hoping to offset an expensive and/or aging core.
Rolling with experience, or rather, oppressing rookies has become acceptable practice in Chicago. End results haven't demanded Thibs do otherwise—not even in Derrick Rose's absence. The Bulls have spent the last two years waging playoff crusades (mostly) without him while rarely relying on rookies or overly green prospects.
That needs to change.
With Nikola Mirotic and McBuckets both aboard, Thibs must loosen his air-tight standards and use the newcomers at his disposal. And not only must he use them, but he must start one of them—McDermott, the amateur who offers everything Thibs and the Bulls' starting five needs.
Let's Hear It for the Offense
This, of course, is assuming the Bulls keep McDermott around. They have re-entered the Kevin Love sweepstakes in recent days.
The latter two cannot be traded for 30 days after signing their rookie contracts, so they have that going for them. Even if the Bulls trade for Love, it won't be for a while, forcing them to plan around their current roster and the gaping hole at small forward.
Four of the five starters are common knowledge. Joakim Noah, Rose, Gasol and Butler will all begin the game. Small forward is the only question mark.
It won't be Gibson starting at the 3, because, duh. Thibs' penchant for running with veterans means there's an easy case for Mike Dunleavy. After a strong summer-league performance, the 6'7" Snell could even parlay his one year of experience into a starting job.
Or the Bulls can make the best choice for their offense and immediate ceiling by starting McDermott.
Last season's team was an offensive nightmare without Rose. The Bulls finished 28th in offensive efficiency and 24th in three-point shooting (34.8 percent), and they converted only 38.2 percent of their shots between eight and 24 feet, according to NBA.com.
They were a floor-spacing nightmare.
Rose stands to help many of their problems if he can remain healthy. Last time he was (semi-)healthy, in 2011-12, the Bulls ranked fifth in points scored per 100 possessions.
But that was a team with weapons it doesn't have now—Kyle Korver, for instance—and, more importantly, one that could depend on Rose. The Bulls aren't that team anymore. Rose cannot be their only perimeter shot-creator, yet, right now, that's exactly what he is.
Nearly 70 percent of Butler's makes came off assists last season, and he's Rose's primary running mate at the moment. Exactly 85 percent of Dunleavy's makes, and more than 75 percent of Snell's baskets, came off assists as well.
Off-ball scorers are pivotal, but the Bulls need players who can do both from the outside in. They don't have them right now. They ranked 29th in unassisted field goals last season, which is fine if—like in the case of the San Antonio Spurs (26th) and Los Angeles Clippers (27th)—it's working.
Except it wasn't. It isn't.
Butler continues to be an offensive enigma, and Snell, as a self-sustaining scorer, is still raw. Dunleavy has never been much of a put-the-ball-on-the-floor guy, either.
McBuckets gives the Bulls that guy. Oft-mistaken for a shooter and nothing more, he can put the ball on the floor, elude defenders and create his own offense, as Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney further explains:
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.
Shooting—spot-up shooting, specifically—is only one aspect of his vast offensive repertoire. That he can score on his own is huge for the Bulls' stagnant offensive system, which ranked dead last in post-up and isolation efficiency last season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
General manager Gar Forman, to his credit, is already acknowledging McDermott's mixed bag of tricks. From Mahoney:
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. 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.
Spot-up shooting is still a gift of McDermott's. It's one of his many offensive gifts, but it's one of his best, hence the overwhelming buzz. His range is unlimited, and he's deadly from beyond the arc, where he buried 44.4 percent of his attempts during the summer league.
The Bulls, as previously constructed, didn't have such offensive fortitude. They ranked 24th in standstill shooting last season, connecting on just 38.4 percent of their standalone attempts overall (33.4 percent from deep).
Catch-and-shoot opportunities are going to come in volume next season. There's a dearth of perimeter shot-creators and abundance of passing-savvy bigs (Noah, Gasol), so, like the folks over at Blog A Bull note, the Bulls will count on an abundance of low-post action:
Gasol's presence would also mean the Bulls will be largely operating with a two-post offense. Gasol and Noah are each gifted passers, but the idea of playing four-out with Mirotic at power forward is part of what makes next season so intriguing. Surround Rose with Dunleavy, McDermott and Mirotic, and he's going to have a lot of space to operate in the halfcourt.
Starting McDermott gives the Bulls that hybrid offensive option—someone who can work on or off the ball while providing consistent offense others won't.
The Defensive Conundrum
Citing McDermott's defense alone isn't enough to disprove his value.
Coach Thibs seems to have tacit bylaws in place, chief among them being: Play defense, or don't play at all. The Bulls run an exhaustive defensive system that exploits both team-oriented and man-to-man sets. Grasping it is difficult for people watching at home, let alone rookies being abruptly thrown into the fray.
And it's not like McDermott is a stalwart defender. He readily admits he has a lot to improve upon.
"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,” he said, via Mahoney.
Spot on. Just like his shooting.
If there's a team that can afford to start a defensive liability, it's the Bulls, who ranked second in defensive efficiency for 2013-14. And they did so with Carlos Boozer—who is only exceptional at guarding invisible gremlins—as a starter.
Moving forward with the 34-year-old Gasol can be classified as a lateral move on that end. He's not especially quick nor does he have the vertical leap necessary to protect the rim.
Incorporating both him and McDermott into the starting five—not to mention a recuperating Rose—makes for a serious challenge. But it's a challenge the Bulls have to face anyway.
Inserting McDermott into the second unit means he'll be seeing time alongside one elite defender in Gibson. The bench doesn't have the defensive depth to cover up for numerous liabilities. Not even if Thibs plans on never, ever sitting Noah.
Putting McDermott alongside Butler and Noah from the jump makes more sense. Noah is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Butler can defend the opposition's best wing scorer while also providing help on a whim.
Opponents shot just 36.7 percent between 16 and 24 feet against the Bulls in 2013-14. If there's one area in which they can afford a slight drop-off, it's there, on there perimeter, where McBuckets plays.
Making the Right Call
What McDermott does on offense is too valuable for the Bulls to ignore.
Pinning him to the bench, like so many rookies before him, would be a grave mistake. Limiting his playing time because he doesn't fully understand Chicago's defensive schemes would be equally counterproductive.
Offense is where the Bulls struggled most last season. It's been their Achilles' heel for two years. And Rose alone isn't going to save them. Not this time. Even if he can, he shouldn't have to.
Who should be Chicago's starting small forward?
Whiffing on Carmelo Anthony hasn't prohibited the Bulls from constructing a more well-balanced roster. For the first time in two-plus years, they have a (presumably) healthy Rose and the personnel to become something more than a one-trick pony that sees its championship hopes go up in flames thanks to an anemic offense.
Potential Love trade notwithstanding, Chicago has the means to change its identity. The Bulls have the requisite tools to redefine their offense without significantly harming their defense. They, namely Thibs, just need to step outside their oyster and embrace the revolution—beginning with McDermott.
Start him. Use him. Depend on him.
Let him fill the hole at small forward and provide the starting lineup with everything it still lacks.
Make the un-Bulls move, knowing that, this time, it's the right one.