When Fred Hoiberg was announced as Bulls head coach in early June, many predicted his up-tempo offensive style would perfectly suit Doug McDermott's game.
Granted, Tuesday night's 105-95 preseason victory was just that, and the Bulls were missing four key contributors, but McDermott's 23-point second-half explosion was certainly an auspicious start for the second-year sharpshooter.
"It’s a blast. (Hoiberg) makes it fun, he makes it a lot of fun for us. We move the ball real well, real unselfish, get open looks, he’s not going to pull you out if you have a bad shot," McDermott said after the game. "It’s one of those deals where he just lets you play your game."
McDermott's second half, which included 8-for-14 shooting and five 3-pointers in just 16 minutes, was a stark contrast from a forgettable first half in which he missed all five of his shots, including three open 3-point attempts and a transition layup.
The rookie version of McDermott, who shot less than 32 percent from beyond the arc and fell out of Tom Thibodeau's rotation following knee surgery in November, might not have had the confidence to continue shooting — he struggled in the preseason during his rookie campaign, too.
But the Creighton sharpshooter entered his second season with a different mentality. He spent time in the offseason with Jimmy Butler in San Diego for two weeks where Butler said his confidence improved significantly.
"If Doug’s confident he’s going to be a b-word in this league," Butler deadpanned, "because he can really shoot the hell out of the ball. And if he just doesn’t get down when he misses his first three shots and just wait on that one to go in ... once you get that one, you start rolling.
"He’s going to have a game where he shoots 0-for-15. I’ll probably have more than he will. But it doesn’t matter. It’s part of the game. You can’t let that stop you. If you’re shooting 0-for-15, try to go 1-for-16. Don’t stop shooting at 0-for-15."
McDermott wasn't alone in his slow start, either. He said after the game that the Bulls needed time adjusting to shooting in the United Center for the first time since training camp began, going 3-for-20 from beyond the arc and shooting 28 percent as they trailed the Bucks, 40-37, at the break.
The Bulls heated up with McDermott in the second half, shooting 10-for-19 from deep and outscoring the Bucks by 13.
"For (McDermott) to come out and continue to shoot was a great sign," Hoiberg said after the game. "Might have put his head down a little bit in the past, but he kept his confidence going and it was great to see, I thought he even turned down a couple in the second half when he got hot."
True, McDermott's 23 second-half points came when Jason Kidd had already emptied his bench and sat down his starters — sans rookie Rashad Vaughn — and created a Summer League-type setting that McDermott has thrived in each of the last two seasons. But to have a breakout game in a Bulls uniform in front of the United Center crowd and his entire coaching staff watching was something different, and more important for his progression that must be expedited in the wake of Mike Dunleavy's back surgery, which will keep him out at least the season's first month.
Hoiberg said before the game that he planned on using the preseason to help determine his rotation, adding that numbers and analytics can only take strategy and evaluation so far. His evaluation will include judging McDermott and Tony Snell, who started at small forward Tuesday night, for small forward minutes. McDermott will start Thursday against the Nuggets, a move Hoiberg had decided on before Tuesday's game, as the two battle for minutes behind Jimmy Butler and presumably Nikola Mirotic (18 points, 7-for-10 shooting) on the wing.
Snell has proven to be a reserve contributor, and Tuesday he went 3-for-9 with seven points, five rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes. But Hoiberg's offense caters to shooters as evidenced by the Bulls' 39 3-point attempts. That should mean plenty of opportunities for McDermott to show off his range, and though it's just one preseason game the early returns were positive.
"That’s kind of what I’m judged on. I’m a shooter. If I’m making shots probably going to be out there longer. If I’m missing you never know," he said. "So tonight I had it going, it’s preseason game No. 1 and just have to keep building on it.
"It felt good. That's what they brought me here for."