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There’s More to Doug McDermott Than 3-Point Shooting

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Doug McDermott of the Chicago Bulls used the Summer League to show he was more than a three-point shooter. He’s a scorer who might have a future in this league after all.

This article comes with the obvious caveat that “this is Summer League.” The degree of competition McDermott was going against is hardly on the level of the NBA, and only a few players he faced will even see regular rotation minutes next season.

And his numbers, while decent, weren’t mind-blowing. Per NBA.com, he averaged 18.8 points on 48.8 percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds. And his three-point shooting was pretty awful. He only hit on two of his 16 attempts. That’s not a huge concern as we know he has the range.

So what’s there to be encouraged about? It’s not what he did; it’s the way he did it. As bad as he was from three, McDermott showed an ability to get to the rim and score there that many Bulls fans may find surprising.

Expectations

What should reasonable expectations of McDermott be, not just for now, but for his career? I bring this up because I hear his draft position brought up as an argument for why he should’ve had a much better rookie season, which isn’t an accurate assessment.

The Denver Nuggets selected him with the No. 11 pick, for which the Bulls either directly or indirectly traded a handful of second-round picks and two first-round picks. This is a fact that much more has been made of than should be.

Part of the reason the Bulls traded up was to save money to try and obtain Carmelo Anthony. That didn’t work out, but the extra money did go towards bringing over Nikola Mirotic from Real Madrid. So the only thing the Bulls got for those picks wasn’t McDermott.

The second-round picks weren’t going to be on the team, anyway, because there’s a limit to how many players can be on a roster. Giving up something you weren’t going to keep for something else you aren’t going to keep (Anthony Randolph) isn’t a significant loss.

And finally, the Bulls traded Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris for Mirotic only as a technicality. In reality, the Bulls drafted the players the Nuggets wanted drafted, and the Nuggets drafted the player the Bulls wanted. People like to assume that on draft-day trades the same decisions would’ve been made by the trading teams. That’s probably not true.

The Bulls probably wouldn’t have drafted Nurkic to keep, and if they did, Thibodeau wouldn’t have played him regardless. So it’s all moot.

The price to get McDermott is overstated. And so are the expectations.

I looked at all the players taken between Nos. 11-15 since the NBA/ABA merger to get a relative picture of how much a player drafted in that range is “worth.”  There have been some home runs hit in that range. Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash were the best.

But for the most part, if you can get a serviceable player for a few years out of that kind of pick, you’ve gotten what you can expect. The median career Win Shares by a player taken in that range is 13.1. That puts Michael Doleac (12.7) and Jared Jeffries (13.1) as the bar.

So let’s adjust our standard for evaluating McDermott accordingly. He doesn’t need to be an All-Star to not be a “bust.” He just needs to be a serviceable rotation player. He played 321 minutes in his rookie year, with 197 of those coming in his first 17 games. And he was playing hurt.

So much so that he required knee surgery. After returning he played his other 125 minutes.

All that means it’s a smidge early to be writing off the rest of his career. Believe it or not, some players have gotten better after their first 300 minutes in the NBA.

Point being: A lot of the discouragement over McDermott from Bulls fans is due to an artificially high bar and prematurely giving up on him. Allan Houston was taken 11th in 1993, had -1.2 Win Shares his rookie year and went on to have a career in which he made two All-Star games.

All I’m saying is, give the kid more than 500 minutes before throwing him away.

Opportunities

All that explanation aside, if McDermott doesn’t show improvement this year, feel free to say whatever you want. He’s in a much better situation this year with a coach who understands his abilities and showed a willingness to utilize them.

McDermott took 107 shots last year. According to NBA.com, 101 of those came off passes. He was given almost no opportunity to playmake. And what he showed in the Summer League when given that chance, is that not only can he do that, when he gets into a rhythm, he can be effective.

He’s not going to be the kind of player who’s going to beat LeBron James off the dribble. But he doesn’t have to be. He has to be able to beat James Jones. If James is guarding McDermott in a playoff series, the Bulls have won the series because that means that McDermott has improved so much he’s worth putting LeBron on him.

In reality, McDermott will generally be the third or fourth scoring option on the floor, meaning he’s usually going to be facing the weakest perimeter defender. And based on the sets that were run for him and the plays he made in the Summer League, he should get the opportunity to prove he can be enough of a threat to account for as a fourth option.

Skills

What McDermott showed was an ability to score around the rim. His outside shot was bad, but he was remarkably effective getting to the rim. Based on a review of play-by-play data, he was only 18-of-48 (37.5 percent) on jumpers.

However, on shots that weren’t jump shots (i.e. layups, hook shots, etc.) he was 23-36, which is good for 63.9 percent.

Furthermore, 10 of those were unassisted. That’s two more unassisted field goals than he had in all of last season. Again, duly noting the Summer League caveats, that’s still an indication he can get to the basket and score there.

And this is where the eye test comes into play. There were actual skills and attributes on display that look like they can carry over into the regular season.

He showed an ability to post up smaller wings:

He has excellent control of his body while he’s in the air. This floater was something he put on display several times, and he certainly should be able to sink this over second-tier NBA defenders:

He ran the court well, which resulted in more than a few easy buckets. That should be a staple in Fred Hoiberg’s offense. He also had a few nice putbacks, which were impressive again because of his body control in finishing around the rim. This play demonstrates both:

As does this:

And this:

And if he does, for some bizarre reason, draw the tougher wing defender, it’s not hard to see this play being run for Jimmy Butler:

In short, he showed an ability to get to and score around the basket. He’s stronger than most wings, and he has really nice touch. He utilizes subtle changes in speed and an array of little fakes that get him an advantage on contested shots. He has what you might call a little “old man game” to him.

That’s not how he’s generally thought of. And he could change that perception this year in the new offense.

Yes, on the other end he still leaves something to be desired, but one thing that he doesn’t lack is effort. He falls victim to a lot a lot of what I call chihuahua defense — where a lot of energy is wasted without purpose — but I’ll take that over not caring. He’s smart enough that given enough playing time he’ll figure things out. He won’t be a great defensive player, but he can get to the point where he can be hidden by learning to play team defense.

Again, I feel the need to wave a caution flag because nuance is the first victim of the Internet age. I’m not declaring him an All-Star. I’m saying it looks like he’ll be a nice cog in the Bulls’ machine, and for a No. 11 pick, a nice cog is a pretty good return on your value. About 10-12 points a game in 20-25 minutes a night on 55 percent true shooting is a reasonable projection.

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