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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.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.