With essentially no new faces on the team other than the head coach, one of the bigger storylines around the Chicago Bulls has been the development of second-year forward Doug McDermott. There’s been a lot written about McDermott this season with the Bulls, specifically about his defense — or lack thereof. McDermott was never known as a good defensive player, even when he was leading the nation in scoring with Creighton, but the early returns were awful.
How awful was he? Well, to say the Bulls might’ve been better on defense with an orange traffic cone might seem like hyperbole, but at least the cone wouldn’t commit a foul and allow an and-1 after the player blows right by on his way to the basket. Ricky O’Donnell of Blog a Bull wrote one of the more comprehensive articles about McDermott’s dumpster-fire defensive abilities about three weeks back, and there are a few things worth noting from it:
Despite the fact that it seems like McDermott is contributing on the surface level, a deeper dive into the numbers shows he’s actually killing the Bulls. McDermott has a -16.1 net rating, which is the worst on the team by a mile. Derrick Rose has the second worst net rating on the team … at -2.8. There’s an ocean between those two numbers.
To put it bluntly, the Bulls’ defense falls off a cliff when Doug is in the game. With Doug on the bench, the Bulls’ defensive rating as a team is 88.8, which would be the best in the NBA. When Doug’s playing, the team’s defensive rating balloons to 105.5. That would be the sixth worst in the NBA.
It’s gotten a little better on the defensive end for McDermott, who looks like he’s playing with a bit more confidence lately. The Bulls’ defensive rating with McDermott on the court has dropped from the 105.5 that O’Donnell referenced to 103.1. His net rating, which O’Donnell cited as -16.1, has lowered all the way to -7.2. That number is still bad, but it’s lowered a lot over the course of just seven games.
Something I did find interesting in some of McDermott’s splits is how his net rating changes, depending on whether the Bulls win or lose a game (according to NBA.com):
As you might expect, most players perform worse in losses than they do in wins. But the -29.2 net rating in the Bulls’ five losses is quite extreme.
It’s all a small sample, because the Bulls have only played 16 games this season and, even better, have only lost five of those games. But so far, when McDermott has played well the Bulls have won. That certainly was the case against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, as McDermott logged 30 minutes, shooting 5-12 from the field and 1-2 on three-pointers, totaling 12 points and playing what some might describe as “passable” defense:
McBuckets has really improved his footwork on D. Kawhi in 3Q was everywhere. "Wait, how'd he get there? He was just over there!"
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 1, 2015
Hoiberg lauds McDermott's defense on Ginobili. He also guarded Green at times.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) December 1, 2015
Indeed, the eye test lately has shown McDermott clearly trying very hard to keep his man in front of him on defense, and he’s finally been able to accomplish that more regularly. It’s still not great, but it never will be with Doug. All the Bulls need from McDermott is to be good enough that teams won’t abuse him on the defensive end regularly. Basically, just give this kind of effort (vine credit to @MAWitlow):
The reason you can live with McDermott’s below average defense is because he’s developing into quite the offensive weapon. He’s shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from long range while averaging 9.1 points in 21.2 minutes per game. The percentages are good, and it’s coming from a variety of places on the floor — 29.7 percent of his shots are within 10 feet of the basket, 20.1 percent are from mid-range and 44.1 percent are from beyond the three-point line. He shoots a lot of threes, to be sure, but he’s not just a three-point specialist.
McDermott has made noticeable use of the glass on many of his shots, showing off a runner that he can hit with consistency:
If you’re thinking that you didn’t see a lot of this offensive diversity from Dougie McBuckets last season, it’s because you didn’t. He got off to a poor start and just never found his way out of Tom Thibodeau’s doghouse, with a knee injury and lengthy rehab mixed in to add the cherry on top of the crap-sundae that was McDermott’s rookie season.
But there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for the Bulls and the kid from Creighton who they ultimately traded five total draft picks to acquire. Despite his limitations, McDermott has talent that can be utilized in the NBA. He can shoot the hell out of the ball with the best of them, and as long as he’s smart and works hard at his defense and doesn’t throw the ball away or dribble it off his foot, he should continue to develop into a nice piece of the Bulls’ puzzle.