As much as the rhetoric surrounding the Bulls has focused on the lack of shooting on the roster, not enough is spoken about Doug McDermott and his incredible shooting ability.
Though flaws exist in McDermott’s all-round game — those of which that could curb his career trajectory — unlike many other limited players, the third-year forward possesses an elite skill, one that is valued more highly in the modern NBA than any other: 3-point shooting.
As a sophomore, McDermott found his niche in the league as a dead-eye shooter from deep. Ranking fifth in the NBA last season in 3-point percentage, very few players in the league are feared and run off the 3-point line as hard as defenses do McDermott. So good from behind the arc, the Bulls actively relied on McDermott to use many of shooting attempts from three. And he did just that.
In 2015-16, 43.2 percent of McDermott’s 764 total season points came from behind the 3-point line. Compared to other noted gunners, McDermott was similarly placed to Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who stroked in 46.8 percent of his points from three.
Despite being a capable scorer on the move and owning a reliable midrange game, it’s unlikely McDermott ever becomes anything more than role player capable of breaking open games with his shooting. Defeatist as that assessment may seem for a 24-year-old prospect taken in the lottery of the 2014 NBA Draft, settling and molding McDermott into an elite specialist shooter shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Not when he has such lethal shooting stroke.
More optimistic than myself, the Bulls certainly aren’t subscribing to theory that McDermott is nothing more than elite 3-point marksman. In fact, if McDermott’s shooting dashboard is anything to go by, the Bulls are actively searching for and running set plays for McDermott to score on other areas of the floor, changing his shot area distribution to include more shots from 2-point range rather than leaning on his outside shooting.
In contrast to McDermott’s role last season, more of his points this season have come from 2-point range than three. Through nine games this season, 61.1 percent of McDermott’s points have been 2-pointers, up from 47.4 percent last season. While that uplift may seem minimal, it’s concerning that a team in dire need of 3-point shooting is empowering their best shooter to rely more heavily on traditional 2-point jumpers, and less on the shot type that makes him such a potent offensive contributor.
More and more, the Bulls are using McDermott as route-runner who fights through screens, all to gain an inch of daylight from his defender to get off a shot. Though this is a sound strategy to free any shooter, McDermott seems to be curling up and around the screen into the midrange area, rather than extending himself up and over the screen to the 3-point line. When he does so, McDermott has no choice but to raise up for a 19-foot jumper.
As the frequency of McDermott’s midrange attempts go up, naturally, his 3-point attempts will decline, as they have done. Thus far this season, 25.3 percent of McDermott’s points have come from the 3-point line, down 17.9 percent from last season, while 27.4 percent have been from midrange. Be it chance or by design, that balance is unacceptable. Under no circumstance should an elite shooter like McDermott be scoring more from two than three.
Whilst changing McDermott’s scoring mix may be part of a broader plan to develop talent, it could also be a product of teams adjusting how they guard the Bulls’ best shooter. Should scouting reports perceive McDermott as strictly a catch-and-shoot threat from three, overplaying his shot and forcing him to score from other areas of the court would be an obvious counter, particularly when he is the sole shooter on the floor.
As the first wing off the bench subbing in for Dwyane Wade, McDermott is the only designated shooter when sharing minutes with Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, none of whom are recognized as long-range threats. Leaving McDermott as the lone 3-point threat in this 5-man unit, defenses can easily load up and read the shooters intention: hammer home the 3-ball.
Roster flaws and easy defensive scheming may be forcing coach Fred Hoiberg to find his best shooter looks elsewhere on the court, but there must be a balance. More needs to be done to increase and empower McDermott’s distance shooting; 25 percent of his total points from three is sub-optimal when you have one of the best shooters in the league at your disposal.
A simple adjustment the Bulls must make is to have McDermott step out more frequently to the 3-point line when the screen is set rather than stepping around and into a midrange jumper.
Here, Klay Thompson receives a pick from Stephen Curry. Instead of curling around the screen into the midrange area, he goes past, opting for the damaging long-ball attempt. It’s a subtle movement, but the result is a more efficient shot, an additional point on the scoreboard, as well as a heightened awareness from the defense to extend itself past the 3-point line.
How defenses react to this adjustment, or perhaps more importantly, how the Bulls effectively execute these set pieces remains to be seen.
Though minor, this easy change in using McDermott off screens would not only increase the Bulls’ credibility as a jump shooting team, it would ensure the team is actively using one of their most elite weapons in the most efficient way possible. At a minimum, McDermott needs to return to scoring 40 percent or more of his points from three, though ideally, it would much more.
While there certainly is merit in developing other aspects of McDermott’s offensive repertoire, it shouldn’t come at the expense of executing the best and most efficient offense possible. The Bulls’ offense is already driven heavily through Butler and Wade’s midrange and rim-attacking game, as well as Gibson and Lopez crushing opponents on offensive put-backs. The majority of these forays to the hoop are 2-point attempts, therefore the Bulls need variability to their offense; altering the blend of McDermott’s shooting locations to be more a 2-point scorer than a knockdown 3-point shooter is ultimately lowering the ceiling of an offense that is already flirting with past ideals, therefore Hoiberg and McDermott need to redistribute his shot selection for the betterment of the offense.