VIDEO: Doug McDermott gets 16 points in Bulls’ victory.
LAS VEGAS – Welcome to the NBA, the old saying goes, and it’s not meant as hospitably as it sounds. There’s a smirk inherent, in that life-in-the-big-city, better-it-happened-to-you-than-to-me way.
That’s the way Doug McDermott‘s introduction to the league went last season, a rude welcome to the kid from Omaha in his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls. From college basketball’s player of the year and a Sports Illustrated cover guy to a lost and struggling newbie, all in a few months time. McDermott dealt with rattled confidence, a sore knee and bench splinters for the first time in his basketball life.
“I think maybe when I was 14 years old,” McDermott said Wednesday after the Bulls’ shootaround at the Cox Pavilion, one of the Las Vegas Summer League’s two venues. “I wasn’t a top guy on my AAU team, so I wasn’t playing a lot back then.”
Going through it at 23, after arriving as the No. 11 pick in the NBA Draft, that hit harder.
“But it’s a mental thing where you’ve got to stay positive,” McDermott said. “Your time is coming. Obviously, it was the first time I’d ever been hurt, too. That was hard to get through.”
McDermott got through it – 36 appearances, a mere 8.9 minutes per, and a whole lot of sitting that included 24 games lost to surgery on a meniscus tear in his right knee – but doesn’t intend to go back there. The Bulls can’t afford him to, either, with a familiar roster relying mostly on improvement from within this season.
Already this summer, McDermott has logged long hours at Chicago’s practice facility. He has been the Bulls’ leading scorer in Vegas, averaging 16.5 points through four games, while doing so in uncharacteristic ways: McDermott’s offensive repertoire has featured a variety of floaters, step-backs and layups, coming from isolation and in transition. He walked out Wednesday night with an ice pack taped to his right wrist, the price paid for an open-court dunk in the third quarter against Cleveland’s entry.
But he missed his only 3-point attempt, leaving him – whoa! – just 1-for-11 from the arc here.
“And I saw him make 30 in row in practice,” new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, “so I’m not worried.”
Hoiberg plays a central role in McDermott’s most significant source of inspiration for his second NBA season. If predecessor Tom Thibodeau was tough on the rookie because, well, he was a rookie – and because of McDermott’s surgery layoff, defensive lapses, blown plays, missed shots and passed-up shots – Hoiberg represents a clean slate and a more McBuckets-friendly style of play.
An accomplished 3-point shooter himself (he led the NBA in three-point percentage in his last season, before a heart ailment ended his career), Hoiberg shares the shooter’s mentality, too. He’ll be sensitive to quick hooks that can mess with a guy’s confidence.
“That’s the big things for Doug, to know that he has the confidence to go out there and be a basketball player,” Hoiberg said. “He’s one of the most successful college players in the history of the game, as far as scoring the ball. It’s just a matter of getting that confidence back. If he misses a few, keep shooting. That’s what the great shooters do, that’s what the great players do.”
McDermott’s frame of reference is his time at Creighton. He was a good player when he got there but he blew up as a sophomore, his feet fully wet, his body and mind acclimated to the level of play. His scoring average jumped from 14.9 ppg to 22.9, his accuracy from 52.5 percent to 60.1 percent, his 3-point success from 40.5 to 48.6.
Nobody in the NBA thinks much of college imagery, but in McDermott’s mind at least, he’s physically and mentally ready for his sophomore year.
“Everyone is so much more athletic, everyone is so much stronger than you’re used to,” McDermott said of last year’s transition. “Everyone that’s on the floor is essentially, probably, the best player on his college team. So there’s a reason everyone’s here. It’s just a matter of being able to prove yourself.”
Going from 26.7 ppg as a senior to 3.0 as a rookie wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of fun. McDermott just hopes it’s his idea of done.
“Being a rookie with my rep, everyone wanted to come at me. It’s part of the deal,” he said. “But I’m a competitor – I like that stuff. So I’m not going to back down.”