How Chicago Bulls Can Maximize Doug McDermott's Skill Set

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How Chicago Bulls Can Maximize Doug McDermott's Skill Set
Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls went out of their way to acquire college hoops star Doug McDermott, and they will aim to utilize the polished prospect immediately. As one of the most NBA-ready rookies you'll ever find, the 6'8" small forward could give the club a huge boost if it takes full advantage of his skills.

He's known as a prolific shooter, and for good reason. He hit 274 triples for Creighton at a 46 percent clip, and many of those threes were launched from pro range. But he's going to be more than just a spot-up threat if the Bulls know what's best for them.

Sure, McDermott won't be the type of featured scorer who consistently creates off the dribble or explosively carves up opponents in the low post. However, he can fill up the hoop from a variety of spots on the floor and collaborate seamlessly with teammates to streamline a more efficient offense.

The return of Derrick Rose and the addition of talented forwards Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic should help catapult Chi-Town's offense from the league basement (league-worst 93.7 points per game in 2013-14). So McDermott won't be burdened as a potential "savior."

Nevertheless, he could be a key component who helps take the squad from good to great. Although he's a rookie, he can step right in and make an impact, as former Creighton star and former Bull Kyle Korver noted to Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com.

"He dealt with every kind of defense [in college]," Korver said. "He's been prepared for the NBA in so many ways. Just in how he was guarded all the time, the pressure that was on him...He's a younger guy, but emotionally he's very mature."

How can Chicago maximize his talent most effectively?

 

Timely Curl Screens

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Aside from strategically placing McDermott on the perimeter to stretch the defense while Rose isolates or Joakim Noah operates, the Bulls can use several motions and screens to keep defenses guessing.

Curl screens aren't prevalent in the NBA compared to college systems such as Creighton's, but the Bulls have shown a willingness to use them more than other clubs. In my estimation, they should sprinkle these in even more with McDermott aboard.

He's got a reputation for accurate shooting, and Chicago can use that league-wide scouting report to its advantage. 

Most opposing defenses will wisely keep tabs on McDermott and chase him over screens to prevent him from popping out for three-point opportunities. The Bulls can manipulate their foes' mentalities against them with their 4-out, 1-in curl set.

In the past, Thibodeau has relied on this set to free up shooters and small forwards such as Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton and Mike Dunleavy. You can just imagine defenses overplaying McDermott and failing to cover the lane as he gets similar curls for layups or short jumpers.

This formation could be particularly dangerous with Chicago's 2014-15 lineup. Opponents will be wary about Rose and Noah, and McDermott's individual defender will be focused solely on trailing him over screens. At least a couple of times per game, the Bulls should turn the rookie from a shooter to a rim-runner.

He might not get a clean look at the rim every time like he did at Creighton, but he will get several high-percentage opportunities for layups or floaters. If help defenses rotate over to clog the lane, McDermott is a deft passer who will quickly find the open man.

 

The Elevator Play (via Horns)

Chicago is the type of team that works hard in continual motion to find close-range shots. And that's a good thing. But every once in a while, a set play for a three-point shooter can give the group a spark and demoralize opponents.

The elevator play would be a great option for the Bulls to run out of their Horns set. It basically involves the shooter crossing the court horizontally and then cutting up vertically to the top of the key between two teammates. Once he passes between his comrades, they slide together to close the "elevator door" on his defender while he catches and fires away.

Watch how the Golden State Warriors run it for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of their initial Horns setup:

The shooter doesn't always have a ton of time to receive the pass and release a shot, so the play is ideal for players who have great footwork and quick deliveries. McDermott fits that description perfectly, as he's a deadly catch-and-shoot resource.

The Bulls haven't used many plays like this recently, but don't be surprised if the coaching staff is drawing up some variations for the rookie as we speak.

 

Pick-and-Pop

Another effective movement out of Horns or other sets is a pick-and-pop option with a screener and a ball-handler.

With dynamic ball-handler Rose bringing the ball up the court, opposing defenses will do their best to contain him.

If Chicago sets up McDermott on the elbow extended or on the wing, he can set a ball screen for Rose and then turn as a pick-and-pop target.

When his defender freezes for even a split second while reacting to Rose, McDermott will have enough time and space to turn and catch a pass from the former MVP. In best-case scenarios, he'll have enough daylight to let it fly from beyond the arc. Otherwise, he should still be able to pump fake and attack the closeout. And as we mentioned before, his passing ability is sharp when defenses overplay him.

Chicago's summer league squad gave McDermott some good spacing out of this set against the Denver Nuggets (0:45 mark): 

McDermott is the ultimate pick-and-pop weapon with Rose because defenses can't stay home and play conservative. He will stretch the defense while forcing a third defender to rotate into the paint. And when that happens, Rose will collaborate with veterans Gasol and Noah to expose even the slightest rotational gaps.

 

Mid-post and Elbow Buckets

Those who think McDermott is just another highly accurate shooting specialist are underrating his craftiness off the bounce and his ability to score inside the arc.

He made 867 two-point field goals during his collegiate career, which is a sizable amount for someone often classified as a three-point gunner. He can drive, use floaters, hit step-back jumpers and score off the aforementioned curl cuts.

B/R Chicago Bulls scribe Kelly Scaletta explained how McDermott is dynamic despite an unspectacular set of tools:

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

With that in mind, the Bulls should look for McDermott in the mid-post area or at the elbow for quick post-ups or fadeaway jumpers. The rookie is already a phenomenal mid-range shooter via the "Dirk Leg" fadeaway, and he can score on post-ups much like Wally Szczerbiak did in Minnesota.

Whenever opponents put a 6'5" wing on him to chase his shooting, he should take them to task in the paint or from the high post. And if foes want to put power forwards on him, he can take them out to the perimeter and drive past them.

As you can see, Chicago can use this polished rookie for much more than standing around or coming off pin-downs or baseline screens. Those basic setups will be effective, of course, but mixing in these other sets will help the Bulls get the most out of him and keep their offense fresh.

We're not expecting gargantuan numbers or stardom from him, at least not in the near future. We are, however, expecting a variety of scoring methods and some dangerous options within the Bulls' revamped lineup.

 

Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

 

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