Doug McDermott of the Chicago Bulls has been playing fantastic this preseason, but “it’s just preseason” is the most cliché expression every preseason for a reason. It really is just preseason. Stuff happens that doesn’t happen in the regular season for a number of reasons.
Players who will get playing time might not be back in game shape. Players who won’t normally be getting playing time get extended run. Coaches experiment with rotations, and some of those experiments don’t go so well. There’s a host of legitimate reasons to doubt inexplicable preseason success.
There are, though, players who add to their game and the first signs of that are obvious in the preseason. Last year, Jimmy Butler exploded during the exhibition agenda, and he went on to win Most Improved Player.
(As an aside, now the Bulls have taken home each of the major awards one time in the last 11 years. Ben Gordon won Sixth Man of the Year in 2005; Derrick Rose won Rookie of the Year in 2008 and MVP in 2011. Tom Thibodeau also won Coach of the Year in 2011 and Gar Froman won Executive of the Year. Finally, Joakim Noah won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
All that happened under the umbrella of John Paxson’s tenure. How historically rare that is, I don’t know, but it’s a neat little factoid.)
But, back to the present-day Bulls, preseason and specifically McDermott, a.k.a. Dougie McBuckets. Can he have a breakout year after what was a monstrous disappointment of a rookie season? He didn’t just have a short leash under Thibodeau; he had a short leash attached to a choke collar.
Then, in addition to having no room for forgiveness, McDermott suffered a knee injury and barely saw the court after that. You might say for the rest of the season he was McDerMOOT because his presence on the roster was just that — moot.
But during Summer League and preseason, there are times when he’s taken over games like a mad dog — and McDerMOOT has become McDerMUTT.
In fact, his total numbers through just five preseason games are closing in on what he did all of last season under Thibodeau. Here’s the comparison:
And a good portion of that damage has come with McDermott playing with and against starters, so some of the preseason disclaimer is annulled by that. And for the most part, it’s coming across the board, though, the difference in rebounding, assist and steals is marginal and probably more attributed to pace.
The scoring, though, is more than that. It’s not just about getting on the court. It’s about getting opportunities, and more specifically, about getting them in ways that give McDermott a chance to utilize his particular skill set.
Pay particular attention to the PTS/36 and FGA/36 and the massive leap in efficiency. His true shooting percentage jumped from 48.0 to 61.7 percent. That’s an absolute indication of at least possible improvement. Is there something on the court that suggests it?
Hoiberg is a better offensive mind, and McDermott is the type of player to thrive in his system. Hoiberg is running sets that highlight McDermott’s abilities, and that makes a big difference.
Here are a few examples. First up, check the touch-pass from Jimmy Butler, which seems fundamental enough:
McDermott is just standing there in the corner, so what’s the big deal? Look at the action which led up to it. Pau Gasol backed down into the post, and the defense converged on him. Then, Mirotic cut up just to the side of the top of the key. Notice how that cut dragged the defender with him and away from the weak side. That left Kevin Martin (No. 23) to defend both Butler and McDermott:
So, when Gasol made the skip pass to Butler, Martin closed on him, but no one was within a mile of McDermott. He wasn’t “just” open. He was open because the design of the play created a chance for him to be open.
Here’s another one:
This was just a simple transition play, but notice how Aaron Brooks cut between McDermott and the defender before the hand-off. That little bit of screen action gave McDermott the chance to step into the three.
And here, Bobby Portis’s dive cut forced the defender to choose:
And here a McDermott zipper cut and Cameron Bairstow screen freed up McBuckets for another three:
These aren’t plays that are just happening, nor are they just McDermott getting a hot shooting hand that’s bound to cool off. These are the result of McDermott having plays set up for him which give him open looks and a chance to drain the open threes. The shot, the ball and the net don’t care if it’s preseason, regular season or postseason. An open look is always going to be an open look, and a definite aspect of McDermott’s preseason success has been that he’s been getting those as a result of Hoiball.
Furthermore, these are three-point shots, McDermott has been misportrayed as just another sniper. He’s far more complete than that, and Hoiberg has taken advantage of those talents as well, such as on this play:
Or when he got the chance to attack the spread-out defense here:
Look, no one is gong to confuse his handles with Kyrie Irving, but he can create and exploit mismatches and Hoiberg recognizes that, so McDermott is getting more chances to prove himself.
There are still concerns about his defense and frankly, the entire Bulls defense. And some of McDermott’s success can be attributed to the whole preseason disclaimer. But the new offense and new opportunities get some of the credit too.