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Bulls Offseason Series: Doug McDermott must expand his game

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

This is the third part in a series of articles focusing on important storylines heading into the 2016-17 season for the Chicago Bulls. Today’s piece focuses on how Doug McDermott needs to expand his game in his third season. 

Chicago Bulls fans might never stop talking about what has become the infamous draft-day trade for Doug McDermott in 2014. For those in need of a refresher, the Bulls traded the No. 16 and 19 picks in the draft (which turned out to be promising players in Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, respectively) along with a 2015 second-round pick to the Nuggets for the No. 11 pick and Anthony Randolph, who Chicago would later dump to Orlando with two more second-round picks. That trade looked bad right away, but it looks even worse two years later.

Chicago could’ve selected Zach LaVine, Dario Saric, Rodney Hood, Jerami Grant or the aforementioned Harris and Nurkic with the No. 11 pick. Hypothetically, the Bulls could’ve kept their picks and chosen two of every player on that list with the exception of LaVine and Saric. Of course, none of this would be talked about so frequently if McDermott lived up to expectations. He hasn’t so far.

The Bulls drafted McDermott because of the potential of everything outside his shooting abilities. That might sound crazy, but everyone knew McDermott would be able to shoot in the NBA. He was a career 45.8 percent shooter from behind the arc during his illustrious career at Creighton. Scouts and NBA execs across the league knew that. What they didn’t know is if ability to score in a variety of ways, which helped him finish fifth all-time in NCAA scoring, would translate to the NBA.

Two years into his NBA career, McDermott hasn’t been able to live up to his “McBuckets” nickname:


***College statistics courtesy of Hoop-Math.com***

McDermott has become a completely different player in his transition from go-to player in college to NBA bench player. This of course was expected with the significant increase in competition, but McDermott was expected to bring some of his versatile scoring methods with him from Creighton. Instead, he’s upped his three-point attempt rate significantly from college and abandoned scoring around the rim.

His field goal percentage at the rim of 68.5 percent during his senior year at Creighton was a phenomenal mark for someone with his shooting prowess and general lack of athleticism. McDermott has struggled to finish over NBA defenders with any consistency and can’t score around the basket on his own. 64.8 percent of his field goals at the rim were assisted during his senior year at Creighton. That number has risen to 79 percent from inside five feet in the NBA, per NBA.com. His field goal percentage in those situations has plummeted to a mark of 53.8 percent, which is below league average.

As much as the front office hoped for McDermott to prove he can be more than a shooter, so far in his NBA career shooting has been his one and only skill. To be fair, he’s pretty darn good at it:


***2015-16 percentile ranks according to Synergy stats at NBA.com***

McDermott compares favorably to the best shooters in the NBA today. He’s neck-and-neck with the group in every shooting play type with the exception of off screens. His dreadful 29.3 percentile rank off screens is odd, but it can also be a product of poor screens and execution from the Bulls as a team rather than McDermott not being able to hit shots on the move.

His 91.6 percentile rank spotting up is especially impressive considering spot-ups made up for 28.1 percent of his plays. That’s a much higher mark than anyone on this list with the exception of J.R. Smith (33.7 percent). At the same time, therein lies McDermott’s struggles: he doesn’t score in a variety of ways. The other shooters on this list fill it up from all over the place, showcasing their versatility and multitude of ways to break through a defense. McDermott waits to get the ball on the perimeter…and that’s pretty much it. To his credit he’s fantastic at doing just that, but spotting up doesn’t exactly strike fear in an NBA defense.

While on the topic of defense, McDermott’s ineptitude on the other end of the floor is why drafting him was a huge risk. McBuckets has allowed plenty of buckets on the defensive end in his NBA career. He’s usually completely lost and hasn’t shown much improvement over his two years.

In fact, McDermott is one of the least active defenders in the history of the NBA. Per Basketball-Reference, he is the only player in NBA history, dating back all the way to the 1946-47 season, to play at least 1,500 minutes in a season and finish with 15 or fewer steals and 10 or fewer blocks. Increasing the minimum blocks and steals to 20 each still only puts Tim Hardaway Jr. and Don Nelson in 1974 on the list. McDermott had 34 steals and 14 blocks total during his four-year career at Creighton, so this isn’t a huge surprise, but this much of a lack of defensive activity is always an issue.

McDermott also doesn’t come out looking any better in the advanced statistics department. He ranked 74th among 76 small forwards in defensive RPM last season with a mark of -2.93. His offensive RPM of -0.79, which ranked 37th among small forwards, couldn’t stop him from ranking in the bottom-five small forwards in overall RPM. The Bulls also allowed 1.6 points per 100 possessions less with McDermott on the bench, per NBA.com. Any measure, whether it be the eye test, advanced statistics, on-court vs. off-court numbers or common sense, shows that McDermott is a sieve on the defensive end. That’s why his offense will likely never be good enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings.

The former NCAA Player of the Year will enter his third NBA season come October. He already turns 25 in January, something the Bulls front office should’ve considered when they nabbed a college senior with the 11th pick. McDermott will wear that No. 11 with Dwyane Wade coming to town next season, representing a chance at a fresh start for the disappointing sharpshooter. The shooting-starved Bulls will need McDermott to be on the floor next season, even with his historically sub-par defense. If he can only hit spot-up shots and doesn’t improve in other areas of his game, that might not be enough to warrant his playing time.

McDermott needs to prove he can be more than a shooter. He needs his alter ego “McBuckets” to show his face once again. The time for him to do it is quickly running out.

Bulls Offseason Series: Doug McDermott must expand his game

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