Is Doug McDermott Going to Be a Specialist or a Key Cog for Chicago Bulls?

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Is Doug McDermott Going to Be a Specialist or a Key Cog for Chicago Bulls?
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls paid a big price for the rights to Doug McDermott on draft night. Were they paying for a specialist or a critical player who can help them compete for championships? 

Some view McDermott as merely a shooter who can knock down threes but offers little else. They agree he can stretch the court for the Bulls but feel Chicago overpaid for him.

To determine whether that’s true, we’ll look at the cost of acquiring McDermott and the benefits he brings. We’ll also look at the criticisms.

The complete picture reveals that he’s more than just a role player.

 

The Cost

The cost to Chicago isn’t that simple to define. They traded their No. 16 and No. 19 picks, as well as a 2015 second-round pick to the Denver Nuggets to obtain McDermott. They were also obliged to take back Anthony Randolph in the trade.

They then had to give the Orlando Magic two additional second-round picks to convince them to swallow Randolph’s salary. Thus, the Bulls effectively paid two first-round and three second-round picks for McDermott.

However, that’s not the whole picture. The Bulls currently have nine players under contract for 2015-16, and that’s without extending Jimmy Butler.

Next summer, they’ll have potentially two more first-round picks (their own and a protected Sacramento Kings pick), and they’ll have both their biannual and mid-level exceptions available to them. They may not even have enough roster spots to accommodate all of that.

So, there’s really not much room for a plethora of second-round picks.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Bulls weren’t impulse shopping. ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell suggests as much:

That's why the Bulls spent so much time scouting him over the past few years. And that's why the organization ended up trading so many picks -- two firsts and three seconds by the time they unloaded Anthony Randolph to the Orlando Magic in a subsequent deal -- to get him. It was love at first sight for both McDermott and the Bulls.

They didn’t spend days, weeks or months. They spent years. Consider the possibility that they saw something in him they valued.

 

The Benefits

Some claim that McDermott is just going to be a sharp-shooting specialist. He’s a Caucasian small forward who is lethal from three and graduated from Creighton. The similarities to Kyle Korver are both obvious and oversimplified.

In some ways, the association is fair. Korver, who also spent two years with the Bulls, even told Friedell as much:

There's easy comparisons to make, right? We got a similar skill set, although he's got some post game that I don't have. We come from the same school. We're about the same size, all that. It's easy to say that. But he's his own person, and he's got his own things to his game that I don't have, and he's going to do a great job for you guys. He's really excited to be there. He's going to learn so much from Thibs. It's so great.

Korver is a lights-out shooter, having drilled 42.5 percent of his threes over his 11-year career. Per Basketball-Reference, of players who have made more than 1,000 treys, only Steve Nash has a better three-point percentage. And, if Korver maintains the rate he shot last season, he should leapfrog Nash next year.

David Goldman/Associated Press

In terms of pure marksmen, he’s one of the greatest snipers in the history of the NBA. Comparatively, McDermott is one of the best three-point shooters in the annals of the NCAA. Per Sports-Reference, of players who attempted at least 500 threes in their collegiate careers, his long-range shooting percentage of 45.8 is fourth-best all-time.

And lest you consider that the college three-point line is shorter, bear in mind that McDermott doesn’t appear to have the slightest concern with how far back he is. Many of his shots come from well behind the arc, even by NBA standards.

During the NBA Summer League, he shot 44.4 percent from deep. And he was knocking them down from well behind the line, as visible below:

You may have noticed above how effective McDermott’s shot is off the catch.

Similarly, Korver is brilliant. According to the tracking data provided by SportVU, his effective field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoots was 71.4 percent, best in the NBA of players with at least 150 points.

So, in that way Korver and McDermott share a resemblance.

That similarity isn’t a bad thing. When Korver and Derrick Rose played together for the Bulls, the offense did pretty well. When the pair was on the court in 2010-11, Chicago scored 113.2 points per 100 possessions. In 2011-12, it was 114.9.

So, adding another player who is "merely" a shooter is not a detriment. Some might say, "That's great, but it's not worth the price the Bulls paid." 

However, as Korver said, there are aspects to McDermott’s game that Korver doesn’t have.

Korver is great on the catch-and-shoot, but his offense apart from that is limited. He only created 5.5 percent of his own field goals last season. He banged home just 104 two-point field goals. He made a mere 87 free throws. Korver shoots threes really well, but he is a specialist. 

McDermott is a different animal with a much wider array of offensive talents. He’s not Korver—he’s Korver-plus. Consider this fact: In his NCAA career, McDermott made 867 field goals from two, 274 from deep and 594 free throws. No one else comes even close to that.

In fact, no player is within 100 in each category, and only nine players are even within 200.

Here’s his shot chart, which Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster tweeted.

And all those shots aren’t off catching the ball, either. Consider the scouting report from DraftExpress:

McDermott's efficiency was also extremely well-rounded. He ranks as the most efficient off-screen and isolation scorer, while ranking in the top-3 scoring off put backs, post ups, and cuts. His multi-dimensional scoring ability is thanks to his tremendously high skill level. Ranking 1st or 2nd among small forward prospects scoring 1.37 points per shot around the rim, 1.15 points per pull up jump shot, and 1.31 points per catch and shoot jump shot, McDermott is a plug a play type offensively at the next level. His lack of athleticism may limit him to some degree around the rim (and we haven't discussed his defense), but his feel for the game and high level shot making ability should help him make an impact for a team offensively sooner rather than later.

Tyler Lashbrook of SB Nation points out the following:

Per DraftExpress (video above), he scored 1.44 points per possession off screens, 1.31 off catch-and-shoot situations and 1.154 off the dribble. That puts him atop DraftExpress' Top 100 in each of those categories. That's absurd.

Of all draftees, McDermott was the most efficient player off the dribble, and that’s in spite of typically facing double- and triple-teams. Sure, NBA defenses are going to be tougher, but is he really going to plunge from the most efficient to not being able to do it at all?

And for those who want to decry that numbers lie and only care about the eye test, when is the last time you saw Korver do this?

Original GIF

McDermott is a more complete scorer than Korver.

Is he going to carve up defenses with his handles and explosiveness like Rose? No. But creating shots doesn’t always have to mean driving the lane. Skilled footwork and an elite jumper can produce a lot of points off the bounce. Look for McDermott to offer that.

His game resembles Paul Pierce’s in many ways. Neither has elite athleticism, but both have more than advertised. Both players also have a wide-ranging skill set and are crafty implementing their various weapons. And McDermott is a better shooter than Pierce.

He is more a Pierce-Korver hybrid than a pure Korver or Pierce.

 

The Criticisms

One criticism is that he won’t get playing time because head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t play rookies.

There are reasons to believe that trend will not continue, however.

First, McDermott is on a different plane in terms of NBA readiness compared to the previous incoming novices. He had a four-year college career. He won the Naismith Award. He’s been part of the USA select team two years in a row.

Also, while it was “just summer league,” he was arguably the best player in Vegas. At least the players thought so. According to HoopsHype.com:

Bulls forward Doug McDermott was the top vote-getter in a HoopsHype poll in which we asked 34 summer league players which three peers they found the most impressive in Orlando and Las Vegas. McDermott, who averaged 18.0 ppg, 4.0 apg and 2.8 apg at the Vegas Summer League, came right ahead of Cavs draftee Andrew Wiggins and Chicago teammate Tony Snell. 

His performance was also enough to elevate him to second on NBA.com's Rookie of the Year preseason rankings.

Yes, it’s just summer league, but it speaks to his readiness. It indicates that he is as ready as any rookie to play in the NBA. 

He’s not just better prepared than previous Bulls rookies; he’s also the best fit with the starters. According to Friedell, Rose had high praise for him:  

We've had some great shooters in the past, but with him, I've never played with a young shooter. He'll be the youngest player and the youngest, best shooter I've ever played with, so I can't wait to play with him. He seems like he takes the game very serious [for] a young player. He knows the game, and his father [grew] him into a basketball player.

As a great shooter, he’ll stretch the court for Rose, burying threes off kick-outs. He’ll take advantage of Joakim Noah’s tremendous passing skills out of the high post and Pau Gasol’s out of the low post.

And while he doesn’t have enough skills to be the primary option, he can create shots and take the pressure off Rose when he has to. He will be the best shot creator Rose has played with under Thibodeau.

Finally, the argument that Thibodeau has little patience with rookies actually works for him.

Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

For the first time in the Thibodeau era, the Bulls are heavily vested in two rookies. Joining McDermott is Nikola Mirotic, the No. 23 pick in the 2011 draft. Mirotic bought out his contract with Real Madrid and joined the Bulls this summer. Additionally, Tony Snell, the 20th overall pick from 2013, will be getting more minutes in his second year.  

If McDermott also comes off the bench, the Bulls would have their three youngsters all in the same unit, playing at the 2, 3 and 4, which wouldn’t give much margin for error. That’s an array of mistakes begging to happen.

It makes more sense to split up the rookies, putting McDermott in the starting lineup and then letting Mike Dunleavy Jr. come off the bench to add leadership to the second unit.

There are also legitimate questions about McDermott’s defense, and there's a legitimate argument to be made that Korver is superior to McDermott on that end of the court. However, that wasn't true until Thibodeau got a hold of him. And, if he can help Korver, he should be able to help McDermott. 

McDermott lacks the lateral quickness to be a reliable on-ball defender, but he’s a solid team defender. Lashbrook looked at some of the film and broke it down:

He is, however, a very smart team defender. He was almost never in the wrong spot against Baylor. Creighton played soft hedges on pick-and-roll situations and McDermott did just fine in that scheme. He was able to contain penetration then recover back to his man. Off the ball, McDermott was almost always in the right position, whether it was sinking from his man in the corner to help off a pick-and-roll, laying back off bigs on the perimeter to help in the paint or any other kind of coverage.

And here’s the important thing to understand about Thibodeau’s defensive schemes: He doesn’t care if you get beaten because you weren’t good enough. He starts yanking players when they’re blowing assignments.

He can figure out how to hide a player's deficiencies, but only if that player does the things he is supposed to do. McDermott’s high IQ lends itself to Thibodeau’s system.

The Bulls don't play man defense, so it's not that much of an issue with McDermott. Thibodeau helps the weaker defenders use their feet and positioning to guide opponents into the better defenders. 

McDermott’s primary job would be to shuttle opponents from Butler to Noah or Taj Gibson. He has enough ability to stay in front of players for short spurts. He has the smarts to know where to be and when to be there.

McDermott will not be a good defensive player, but he can be accounted for.

Offensively, though, he’ll be a huge boost.

Sure, he has yet do do anything in the NBA, but you can say that about any rookie. But everything he’s accomplished in college and in the NBA Summer League screams that he’s more than just a specialty player.

Along with the return of Rose and the other key acquisitions, he could be the key to getting the Bulls over the hump and back to the NBA Finals for the first time since Michael Jordan patrolled the court.

 

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