Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Doug McDermott
The degree to which Doug McDermott has become a forgotten man in the NBA was on full display on the Bulls’ final possession of the first quarter in Chicago’s 108–104 win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. Stationed in the left corner, McDermott, a career 45.8 percent 3-point shooter in four seasons at Creighton with a career 39.5 percent accurate deep ball in the pros, was flatly ignored. This wasn’t a situation in which Jimmy Butler’s gravitational pull forced the entire Memphis defense to affix its gaze onto him; no, it was Robin Lopez operating from the high post. Yet all five Grizzlies followed his trail, and he slipped a pass to a darting McDermott for an easy layup right behind enemy lines. And so Dougie McBuckets’ career night began when not one defender on the court cared enough to track his presence — we’re a ways away from Omaha.
McDermott’s first basket of the game was also indicative of another quirk in his game: For as accurate as he is from behind the arc, he often seems to go out of his way to prove that he’s more than just a spot-up shooter. He offered a full array of tricks in his 31-point performance on Sunday: catch-and-shoot 3s, baseline cuts, turnaround midrange fadeaways in the styles of Kobe and Dirk. McDermott completely owned the second quarter, scoring 20 points (on a near-perfect 6-of-7 from the field, including 3-of-4 shooting from 3, and a perfect 5-for-5 at the free throw line) in that frame alone. The floor opens up for Chicago when teams have to account for McDermott. Like the best catch-and-shoot marksmen in the league, his off-ball movements are both consistent and insistent; whether a play is being run for him, or he’s just simply charging in the flow of the offense, he plants hard and runs even harder. His skills have never been more vital to Chicago; he’s one of the only perimeter release valves in a Bulls offense that, because of the team’s architecture, often has to fight through its own self-strangulation.
McDermott was confident and assured against Memphis, appearing to have finally moved past the side effects of the two concussions he suffered less than two weeks apart earlier in the season. Moving forward, you’d hope Fred Hoiberg finds a way to maximize McDermott’s opportunities, because at this point, it’s easy to wonder how much the Bulls’ below-average offense would improve simply from more McDermott attempts from behind the arc. It’s well-known by now, but the Bulls are anemic from distance, taking the fewest 3s in the league, less than half as many as the Rockets have hoisted up so far this season. And McDermott hasn’t done enough to alleviate the issue. His 3-point attempt rate (the percentage of total field goal attempts that come from behind the 3-point line) is at 38 percent, a healthy number for a player who can score in as many was as McDermott can, but one that should probably be in the high 40s if the team wants to make a strong push for a higher playoff seed in the second half of the season. McDermott averages 4.6 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, which is a figure lower than those of centers like DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, and Justin Hamilton, and guards whose 3-point percentage hovers just above 30 percent, like Marcus Smart and Emmanuel Mudiay.
It’d be easier to understand if there were a bounty of 3-point shooters in the Bulls rotation, but there isn’t. McDermott is an oasis in the desert being withheld. There is playing to your strengths (which hasn’t exactly been successful thus far), and there is completely punting on your weaknesses. The world has now seen what Jimmy Butler can do with a spread court, and the Bulls owe it not only to their franchise player, but to the shooters they actually have on their roster, to find ways of modernizing in the face of everything.