Bulls

Bulls: Doug McDermott closing games, becoming more valuable in Fred Hoiberg's system

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Bulls: Doug McDermott closing games, becoming more valuable in Fred Hoiberg's system

This time last year was anything but a fruitful season for Doug McDermott, and his face cringed at the mental recollection of being inactive for all the wrong reasons.

It was a slight moment of misery after a night where he made a big leap professionally, so the memory that sticks with him is clearly a driving force behind his emergence.

“Last year right now I was in a hospital bed, getting surgery set up,” McDermott said after scoring 17 in the Bulls’ 98-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center. “I didn’t know what to expect, I was a rookie who didn’t know much. Now to have a year under my belt, it’s been huge. I feel like a completely different player.”

Right knee meniscus surgery put him in a very bad place as a rookie, but being arguably the third best player on the floor Wednesday night behind Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose displays how hard he’s worked to get back — along with his coach’s trust in him.

“That’s the big thing with Doug, he’s put in so much time. And it’s paying off,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

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McDermott hit a pair of 3s to stem the tide while Rose and Butler were getting their rest to start the fourth quarter, and with each substitution that took place, McDermott kept waiting for a teammate to tap him on the shoulder for him to return to the bench.

It never happened.

“Right now we're still trying to find a group to close the game,” McDermott said. “I think it's whoever has the hot hand, to be honest. Last night I had it going, Aaron (Brooks) had it going prior nights. It really depends on who has it going.”

So as the Bulls completed their fourth-quarter shutdown of giving up 19 points, McDermott was on the floor with the thought that not only is he counted on offensively, he’ll have to hold his own defensively, too.

Defending ball screens has been his biggest improvement, and with Mike Dunleavy’s back injury leading to things being very murky, McDermott could see more prime time in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like just as a group, we're talking a lot more,” McDermott said. “For a guy like me who needs all the help he can get, with Jo (Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson) and all those guys, they're talking and communicating way better.”

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But his calling card is as a scorer, something he’s not running away from. The more he puts stretches like these together, where he’s scored in double figures in six of the last eight games, teams will game plan for him more — which could lead to more open-floor opportunities for Rose and Butler.

“I think that always helps when you have somebody out there spacing the floor,” Hoiberg said. “On different nights, we’re going to have different guys. Tony (Snell) shot the heck out of it the game before. He played the whole second half. It was Doug yesterday.”

At some point, you wonder if McDermott’s outside shooting will become feared by other teams. Until then, he has to keep building his resume — which has to catch up to the confidence that brims with every swish in a big moment.

“I feel like when I catch it and I'm open, it's going in every time,” McDermott said. “It's still building, and last night was another block. Earlier in the year or even last year if I missed a 3 or shots, I kinda shut down a bit. Last night I missed three or four shots then got it rolling there. I think I took a big step in that regard last night.”

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

David Schuster, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Dave Wannstedt joins the panel to discuss the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots? Was it a moral victory? Is Matt Nagy crazy to say Mitch Trubisky didn’t play that bad?

13:00- Joe Girardi pulls his name out of the Reds managerial search and Jon Heyman reports that industry sources believe he might wait to see if there’s an opening in Chicago. What are the chances that he replaces Joe Maddon?

14:30- Adam Amin joins Kap to preview the Bulls/Mavericks game and discuss the lack of defense in the NBA.